Bryant High School Athletics


Craig returns to the football field


Come tonight, thousands of high school football players across Kansas will have that excitement and anxiety that comes with the season-opening game. The shaky knees. The stomach pains that people compare to butterflies, but will probably feel more like bee stings. Hutchinson High senior Conor Craig will probably feel all that and more. For the first time in two years, Craig will sit in a locker room, get taped up, toss on shoulder pads, don the Salthawk jersey and slip on a helmet with the iconic H-hawk sticker on each side. “To be honest, I’ll get butterflies just walking there,” Craig said about when the Salthawks make the journey from the locker room to Gowans Stadium for tonight’s game with Olathe East. “I always get jitters before a game. But when I get on the field, I’m in my element, and I let the instincts take over.” Craig is expected to play quarterback, sharing reps early in the season with fellow senior Canyon Maldonado. Maldonado is also expected to play linebacker. Craig hasn’t been on a football field since the season opener two years ago, when the Salthawks opened the Ryan Cornelsen era at home in a 24-2 loss to Olathe South. Craig – a starting defensive back then – played just one half and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. The shoulder injuries – he suffered one as a freshman too – also prevented Craig from playing his junior year. For a time, Craig thought he was done playing football. Baseball would be the sport he’d focus on. “My left shoulder, there are times it may get sore, and my right shoulder has six anchors inside,” said Craig, who will play only on offense this season. “If I hadn’t gotten hurt my sophomore year, I would have played my junior year. Honestly, I thought I was done with football.” So what changed Craig’s mind? Teammate Wyatt Akins gets credit. The two took the same biology class last spring, and Craig said Akins was relentless. “Every day, he’d try to get me to come back out,” Craig said with a laugh. “My dad left it up to me.” Thus, Craig figured he had nothing to lose. He will not play defense in attempt to cut down on injury possibility, but of course, few offensive players get hit more than the quarterback. Craig especially should expect to take some hits, given his strength is running the ball. But Craig said getting hit as on offensive player wasn’t the same as trying to deliver a hit as a defensive back. Cornelsen said he wasn’t concerned with Craig’s ability to take a hit and keep playing. “I don’t think he’s different than any of our other kids,” Cornelsen said. “I have no more concern for him than with any other kid. He looks healthy. We don’t talk about it, and we don’t expect (injury) to happen.” Craig still has some learning to do. He hasn’t participated in a live game since that loss to Olathe South, and it’s likely Craig will have a few missteps early this season. But Cornelsen said he sees the bigger picture, and the Conor Craig that would play in mid-October is going to be superior than the Conor Craig that plays against Olathe East. “I’m excited with where he’ll be in game five, game six, when he catches up to the speed of 6A football,” Cornelsen said. Photo Credits: Brad Hallier