By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
With quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a smattering of other Chiefs players already on Missouri Western's campus, and 'Welcome Chiefs' signs in yards all over town, the energy surrounding training camp in 2021 is palpable.
After being confined to Kansas City in 2020 due to COVID-19, Missouri Western leadership and the Chiefs organization made every effort to extend their agreement and bring camp back to St. Joseph in 2021, as long as NFL protocol allowed for it.
The negotiations were successful and the NFL gave the go-ahead, as roughly 30 players arrived in St. Joseph Friday and over the weekend to get some early work done.
On Wednesday, veteran players, and a few thousand fans, will be back as well to mark the start of the 11th training camp at Missouri Western. The first was in 2010.
"The excitement is palpable," Chiefs president Mark Donovan said. "I would say, over a decade later, to be standing here today and knowing how efficient we are and what a great partnership we have, it really does set us up for success and we're very appreciative of that."
Donovan personally thanked outgoing Missouri Western athletic director Josh Looney - a former Chiefs public relations employee who oversaw multiple contract extensions between the team and university.
Looney is grateful for that ongoing partnership, but certainly does not take sole credit.
"I think that trust and knowledge of what's important has certainly helped this camp and the (contract) extension," Looney said. "But, it's all about this community, elected officials and our whole campus making this happen. Mosaic and being a partner with them. It can't be just one of us, or camp will not thrive."
Looney secured a contract that guarantees Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph through 2024.
"If it wasn't a competitive advantage for (the Chiefs) on the football side, they wouldn't be coming back to Missouri Western," Looney said. "And likewise, if it wasn't a great fan experience and we couldn't deliver there, they wouldn't be coming to Missouri Western."
University president Elizabeth Kennedy expressed confidence that the relationship between the Chiefs and St. Joseph benefits all involved.
"I'd like to thank President Donovan and the Chiefs for continuing to make Missouri Western their summer training camp home," Kennedy said. "We have very much appreciated our association with the Chiefs and believe that we and the community have benefited greatly."
Kennedy will help in the search for Missouri Western's next athletic director. Looney announced Monday that he's taking the A.D. job at North Alabama - a school that transitioned to Division I in 2018.
While interviewing candidates, Kennedy believes the training camp aspect of the Griffons' A.D. job will be an appealing part of the position.
"What an opportunity for an A.D. to come in and to connect, recruit, fundraise and engage with our community," Kennedy said of training camp, as she gets ready to experience it for the first time as Missouri Western's president. "It's my first camp, and I'm so excited."
Mosaic Life Care, the primary sponsor for Chiefs' training camp this year, was also recognized by both Donovan and Kennedy on Monday.
Mosaic has been leading the effort in trying to get more people in St. Joseph and Buchanan County vaccinated against COVID-19. Only 20 percent of Buchanan County residents are fully vaccinated.
There'll be practically no fan-to-player interaction at training camp this year, per NFL protocol. No traditional helmet walk with young fans, and no autographs after each practice.
As thousands of fans from near and far get ready to descend on St. Joseph for the next three weeks, Mosaic Chief Operations Officer Michael Pulido encourages everyone to stay safe and to be a team player in the fight against the virus.
"Our theme this year at Mosaic this year has been, 'Be a team player and get vaccinated,'" Pulido said. "We fought the fight against COVID for four quarters and thought the game was over. Now, we're in overtime. Our best weapon is the vaccine."
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