PITTSBURG — Football was in the air at Pittsburg State on Monday, where the Gorillas began preparing for opening kickoff with the first practice of the new season inside Carnie Smith Stadium.

The energy, hustle and enthusiasm was high, as the players and coaches were excited to get back to work.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” PSU head coach Tim Beck said. “We’re here at the first practice, excited to see how our guys do and how they look. A majority of our guys have been here over the summer, but then there are some who did go home and there are freshman we haven’t seen on the field yet, so we’re excited to see everybody today.”

The first practice comes on the heels of a productive off season.

“We had a tremendous spring,” Beck said. “Coach Nelson and his staff did an absolutely awesome job with our guys. He’s very demanding, so the work ethic and character of our guys throughout the spring was very high. We’re excited to get out here and reap the benefits of all of that.”

The intensity may be low in the helmets-only practice, but the first week provides an opportunity for veterans to get back into routine and for the incoming players to learn the ropes.

“For the freshmen and the transfers, it’s very important to understand the pace of practice,” Beck said. “That’s going to be different for them. They have to feel their way through it a little bit and learn to fit in. They’ve been told since junior high to pay attention when they’re not in, and that’s ultra important here. Not everybody is going to get as many reps as they want to get, but when they do get that opportunity, they have to be ready to go.”

Learning the playbook quickly is essential for newcomers, as full-contact practices are a week away.

“We just really want to install offense and defense,” Beck said. “We want to make sure we do everything we need to do, so when we go into full-pads practices, we can get after it. We still do a little bit of stuff together, we just have to be careful not to have too much contact.”

Although only a few positions are considered to be open, nothing is guaranteed in position battles.

“The most competition right now would probably be in the secondary,” Beck said. “There’s also still a lot of competition at defensive end. The thing about the defensive line is that we’re going to play about eight or nine guys during games, and there's still some work to be done to find out who those guys will be. In the secondary, we have a good feel about who will be in some of those positions, but there are others that are wide open.”

With the season opener against Central Missouri set for 7 p.m. on August 31, the Gorillas work with a chip on their shoulders after an underwhelming 2016.

“Our players have big expectations,” Beck said. “They understand that they came here to win conference championships and have an opportunity to play for a national championship. They have high goals and worked very hard, so now it’s time to go out here and see what we can do.”

 — Jordan Buckamneer is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at jbuckamneer@morningsun.net and follow him on Twitter @jbuckamneer.