Dan Reese and his fellow seniors have been waiting two years for their own crack at “Midnight Madness.”

The Natrona County senior linebacker and his classmates finally got their chance on Monday, as the Mustangs were the first Class 4A football team to hit the practice field in a 12:01 a.m. practice at Cheney Alumni Field.

“We thought it was so cool, that whole philosophy behind ‘First ones on, and last ones off,’” Reese said.

The Mustangs hope that philosophy holds true in the third year of what is quickly becoming a program tradition. When the idea — NC coach Steve Harshman credits former standout Cole Montgomery as the originator — was first presented to the NC coaches prior to the 2010 season, the basis was that by opening fall camp at literally, the first minute allowed, the tone would be set for the season.

It worked in 2010, as the Natrona County won the Class 4A title. Even though last year ended with disappointment (NC lost at home, 24-19, to Cheyenne East in a state semifinal game to finish 10-1), the Mustangs have plenty to be excited about for the 2012 campaign.

Natrona County returns eight all-state selections from last year’s team, along with four unanimous all-conference selections. Four of five offensive lineman return, along with the entire linebacking corp — which includes Reese and fellow senior Ryan Anaya, who committed to Wyoming in June.

All told, 15 players who garnered postseason accolades are expected to return. Reese, who was the unanimous selection as the West Conference Defensive Player of the Year last year, said last year’s finish is still in the back of the team’s collective mind.

“You have that bad taste, and we’ll probably carry that into the season as more of a redemption kind of thing,” said Reese, who was also a Star-Tribune Super 25 first-team selection last year. “We’ll work even harder [this year].”

But, like the other nine 4A teams to open camp, the first day of practice offers hope, excitement, and ultimately the unknown. Harshman opened his 22nd year as head coach of the Mustangs, and offered these words after the team completed another annual ritual — watching Kenny Chesney’s “Boys of Fall” music video to close the first official practice.

“I don’t know how it will all play out,” Harshman told his team. “But you control your attitude and effort.”

Added Reese, the final player to leave the locker room on Monday: “It’s a new year and we’ll see what happens. We have a lot of camaraderie between us, a lot of brotherly love.”

Contact sports reporter Clint Robus at clint.robus@trib.com or 307-266-0615. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRobus

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