As the KIPP Collegiate Preparatory football team emerged from its school before its game Saturday afternoon against Richard Wright, the players stopped joking and focused.

There’s a place for laughter, but it’s not the football field when you’re looking to earn respect.

Perhaps a 54-8 win over Richard Wright on Saturday will help on that front.

Despite averaging roughly seven wins a season since its inception in 2008, KIPP (6-0) has struggled to garner much respect in the area.

“KIPP is always looked at as an academic school, but these kids want to be viewed as so much more,” Coach Trey Walker said. “They want to be taken seriously as athletes as well.”

KIPP, an acronym for “Knowledge is Power Program,” has a state-of-the-art campus in Northeast Washington, and its reputation lies in academics. Still, its athletes crave recognition for their work on the field, too.

“We’re known for mostly academics, so some people think that putting in all that work in the classroom isn’t worth it because they think that we [stink] at sports overall, but we don’t,” linebacker Nayquan Brooks said. “We’re just as good at sports as we are academics. We just won a state championship in basketball last year, and now football is up next.”

KIPP is in Class A, the lower tier of the D.C. State Athletic Association. The Panthers have outscored opponents 144-10 this year, but they fight to be taken seriously.

“It’s hard on these guys to put in the work that we do and have the success that we’ve had then go home and hang with kids from other schools and have their work discredited,” defensive coordinator Kevin Jones said. “I just tell them that you can only face the teams that are in front of you, so you got to go out there and handle your business — the rest of it will fall into place.”

That approach was on display Saturday against overmatched Richard Wright (0-5) as KIPP jumped out to a 20-0 first-quarter lead. Quarterback Joh’Quel McQueen passed for three touchdowns and rushed for another as the Panthers continued to hammer who’s in front of them.

“Us having so many good athletes over here at KIPP might be the city’s best-kept secret,” McQueen said. “We are really some dogs, bro. We stay ballin’ just like the AA schools.”