COLUMBIA – Arnel Monroe will tell you he is not that bright, then quote from a book seconds later. He will say he is not the nicest guy right before he calls himself lovable. He leads a defense that in 2009 was called “lazy” and “lackadaisical” and in 2010 is allowing less than 10 points per game.
Hickman (3-1) vs. Helias (2-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Radio: KTGR/1580 AM
The Kewpies are on a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2007 and host Helias for 2010 homecoming Friday night. Quarterback Logan Fitch leads the Hickman offense with seven touchdown passes and just one interception while completing 66.7 percent of his pass attempts.
Rock Bridge (3-1) vs. Rockhurst (4-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Rock Bridge
Radio: KFRU/1400 AM
Rock Bridge returns home after a huge 39-36 victory at Jefferson City last week gave the Bruins their best start since 2006. Senior quarterback Mark Pickerel looks to stay hot after throwing four touchdowns and running for another against the Jays and sophomore running back Freeman Simmons will try to back up his 100-plus yard second-half performance. The Bruins haven't defeated Rockhurst since Oct. 6, 2006, when they topped the Hawklets 21-14.
The personality of the Hickman football team's defensive coordinator has had lasting effects on players, both past and present, who have come through the program. His impact on the 2010 unit is undeniable.
Monroe is a Hickman lifer. He graduated in 1985 after a successful career at wide receiver that led him to Central Missouri State University, where he says with a knowing smile that he “was on the team.” He returned to Hickman in 1993 and has been there since, now working a full-time job as a special education teacher at the school.
His practice-field rants are the stuff of Hickman legend. If a player doesn’t do his job, Monroe is going to let him know loudly. He’s going to get so passionate, so close to a player’s face, that they can smell his breath. Players have called him “hard-edged” and an “angry old man.”
“If you mess up and come to the sideline, he’ll make you look stupid,” senior Dylan Rodes said. “But we know he’s just trying to make you a better football player.”
When they get back to the locker room, or “barn” as Monroe calls it, players see a different side of the coach. He may blast a player for a missed assignment in practice, but soon after joke around with that same player in the locker room.
“When you’re off the field your job is to be there for the kids,” Monroe said. “That’s part of the coaching for me when these kids are young men going into adulthood. You tell stories, the occasional dirty joke, that’s just the natural thing for me.”
Current and former Kewpies called him “passionate,” “wise” and “emotional.” But there was one word that continued to come up more than any other. “Father.”
“His love for his players is very obvious, he really is like a father-figure to us,” said former Hickman defensive back Nick Timberlake, a 2007 graduate. “I feel like I could call him up on a Friday night and get a ride home from the bars.”
Monroe used a quote from Jeffrey Marx’s book "A Season of Life" to describe his philosophy on the relationship between players and coaches.
“There’s a scene in the locker room where the coaches ask the players ‘What is our job?’ and the players respond ‘To love us,’” Monroe said. “Then they ask the players, ‘What is your job’ and the players respond, ‘To love each other.’”
Monroe goes out of his way to embody that spirit.
“They’ve gone from being brothers, when I started, to sons now,” Monroe said. “I love my football kids as much as I love my own kids.”
The teaching moments aren’t always bombastic. Monroe is an expert at simplifying things for his players and using humor to get them to understand. The Hickman defense relies on defensive “keys” from the way an offense lines up that will indicate to the defense what they need to do.
“Keys are like your mother,” Monroe tells them. “They ain’t ever going to lie to you.”
This season's edition of the Kewpies' defense has been doing such a good job reading its keys and reacting that it’s recorded two shutouts in four games thus far. Members of that defense are giving part of the credit to Monroe.
“He’s had by far the biggest impact,” Rodes said. “He gets us up and gives us the tools, then he lets us play football and trusts our athleticism.”
Leave it to Monroe to give all the credit to the players.
“These kids have bought into what we’re doing here,” he said. “They’ve truly become students of the game.”
*This article has been updated. The article originally said that Nick Timberlake graduated in 2004. He graduated in 2007.