MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT - As day turned to night and dusk into darkness, Meskwaki head football coach Todd Dale turned on the stadium lights while helping his team of workers paint the lines on the Warriors' football field.
The Meskwaki Settlement School will host Central City at 7 p.m. tonight in a Week Zero, season-opening 8-man football game - and the first-ever home varsity football game for Meskwaki.
"I can't speak for the community, but for me myself, it's a stressful release," Dale said of the school's first home game. "There's so much that we have to do for the first time. We have never marked the field for varsity competition before, we've never had to worry about a lot of that because (last year) we were going somewhere else.
"There's a lot of stress but at the same time, the excitement to know our community can come out and they don't have to drive two hours, they can drive five minutes and come to the game, I just think it's going to be an awesome feeling.
"I'm looking forward to it so much."
There are projects as yet unfinished, like the press box and the concession stand, and Highway 30 just to the north, but Dale - the school's athletic director - says he's hoping they can make it through the season opener relatively unscathed while still satisfying all fans.
A?Warrior First: The Meskwaki Settlement football team has its first home game in program history tonight against Central City at 7 p.m.
"We're hoping that's it as far as the facility goes," Dale said, "and we're hoping there's no rainstorms (today) so we can get a little more work done on the press box."
The only way into the settlement school, with the main entrance on Hwy. 30 blocked off by construction, is to go east on 305th St. from the Meskwaki Casino.
The still-nubile Warriors football program sustained a season's worth of defeat in 2009, going 0-8 through its inaugural campaign that featured a schedule full of the state's best.
Meskwaki took over the schedule vacated by Exira when it joined forces with Elk Horn-Kimballton, but the Warriors had to play every game on the road.
Five of Meskwaki's opponents from last year's 0-8 slate were playoff teams, including eventual semifinalist Adair-Casey and quarterfinalist Stanton.
"I think maybe one thing that we learned was you can set your expectations too high for an inaugural season," Dale admitted. "We were coming out with very few kids who had any experience, and of course going into a tough district didn't help.
"The kids understand 8-man football now even though we got pounded so many times. They have a better understanding of the game, which in ways has made practice easier even though our numbers are so low, and they know what's going to be coming at them."
Last year's eight opponents finished 2009 with a combined record of 55-29, with five teams advancing at least as far as the substate finals. This season's 10 scheduled opponents went a combined 47-52 last fall, yet six of them made the first round of postseason play.
"In a lot of ways for us it's the inaugural season again because we get to play at home, and that's something we haven't done as a varsity team," Dale said. "There's still a lot of excitement in the community, which is awesome. They're pushing for it so that's great.
"I think the expectations have maybe come down a little bit from going to the playoffs, that dream might be gone so now people are just wanting to see us be successful. It'll be interesting (tonight) just to see the number of people who come out."
The Warriors will open the season with 16 players in red-clad uniforms, but only 11 of them will be eligible to compete. Five players joined up on the last day of practice before tonight's season opener against a Central City squad that went 4-5 last fall.
"We feel like we're in the same boat with (Central City)," Dale said. "Of course I'd like to have all our guys eligible for this opening week, but we're going to play the hand we're dealt and we're going to do the best we can.
"We have to realize we're going to be better in a week or two as we get these kids who can't play this first week ready to go. We're going to continue to improve as a team."
Meskwaki will play this season as members of Class 8-man's District 5, squaring off against Grandview Park Baptist, Harmony, Melcher-Dallas, Moravia, Seymour, Tri-County of Thornburg, and Twin Cedars. The Warriors - with half of their 10 games at home this season - are also playoff eligible for the first time.