The Monroe High School football team borrowed the “I’m in” motto Pete Carroll used with his Seattle Seahawks last year as a recommitment to the Hornets’ goal of making the playoffs.
Fifth-year Hornets coach Bill Leach said he believes last year’s 3-7 finish was “a fluke thing” after making the playoffs in 2014 and just missing out by one spot in 2015.
He looks for Monroe to get back on track this fall with help of a renewed focus.
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“We’re an athletic team, and I like having guys that play two or three sports, but they need to be able to change gears,” Leach said. “One thing is getting everyone committed to getting back to the playoffs. We had kind of an off year. Last year was kind of rocky, so it was more a recommitment to doing what we need to do to get back to the playoffs and to try to win the league. In 2014 and 2015 we finished second (in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division), and usually if you win the league, you get to the playoffs. A big part of that is committing to what they need to do individually and team wise.”
Last year didn’t go as planned, but five of the Hornets’ losses were to playoff teams and the two other opponents to beat them finished 7-3.
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Leach is “cautiously optimistic” about his team after returning several starters and other players who saw ample playing time last year.
“Last year I probably wouldn’t have said we were young, but looking at how many returning players we have, there are quite a few,” Leach said. “We’ve got a lot of kids returning with Friday night experience, so that’s a big plus we have going for us.”
The youth likely played a role last year, but injuries took their toll even more so, which forced new players into starting jobs they are now better prepared to handle.
Monroe will be led by two first-team all-league players in offensive lineman Noah Hollar and middle linebacker/running back Alex Page this season.
Hollar anchors an offensive line that Leach said should be a strength with seniors Justin Bair and Matt Kovach also returning as starters, along with junior Quienton Brown, who saw a lot of time in the rotation.
Page is among a slew of skill players back this season, including junior quarterback Nick Osterman (745 yards, 6 TDs, 7 INTs), who became the starter in Week 4 last season, and running back Hunter Collins (233 yards, 2 TDs), who assumed a starting role in Week 3.
Running back Tyler Hendricks and receivers Noah Kovach and Zack Gomia also gained experience last year and will contribute in helping replace the production lost by the graduation of first-team running back/receiver Alex Bannister, who accounted for more than 800 yards and seven touchdowns on offense.
“We just tweaked a few things, but we may have a different look on offense because our quarterback can handle a little more,” Leach said. “He was just a sophomore last year, but he got his feet wet so we will probably do some more reads and things like that, and with the guys around him also more experienced, that should help.”
Defensively, Monroe will switch to a 4-3 scheme, which is better suited for its personnel, Leach said, and the Hornets will rely on a lot of those same players from the offense going both ways.
Page and Sam Bohannon return at inside linebacker, and three return up front on the defensive line with juniors Alex Zimmerman and Garrett Morris and senior Evan Lane shouldering the load with help from the starters on the offensive line subbing in.
Hendricks, Noah Kovach and Gomia also will be key players in the secondary, along with senior Matt Green and junior Tanner Oaks.
“If we can get through the first couple weeks healthy, I think we can be really good because it gets easier once we get through the hot weather,” Leach said. “We just have to keep raising the bar every week.”
Leach said he voted for Franklin as the favorite to win the SWBL Southwestern again — because the defending champion deserves the nod until knocked off — but really it could be anyone’s for the taking. The Hornets finished 2-4 in the league last year.
“It should be a competitive league,” Leach said. “Franklin is the favorite as the defending champions and they still look strong, but it seems everyone has their running back returning, so it will be interesting to see how it finishes out.”