COLUMBIA — Every weekday at roughly 3:30 p.m., Arnel Monroe’s voice echoes through the practice football fields at Hickman High School.
Monroe’s voice is loud, barking out plays and keeping his players in line, and the entire Kewpies football program feels his presence. The respect he commands will be needed to develop the type of program the second-year head coach wants to see.
“We wanted to change the culture around here and get kids to buy into team and buy into each other, and we think they’ve done that,” Monroe said. “We’re trying to get back to some of the tradition that we’ve known here over the years.”
Hickman's past includes seven district championships, with the most recent coming in 2004 when the team won a state title.
That tradition and culture is especially important for a team that boasts only 11 seniors and will rely heavily on underclassmen for production this season. Assistant coach Ben Smith says the work the coaching staff and players put in over the summer will help them adjust quickly.
“We worked their butts off in the spring and in the summer,” Smith said. “We had great attendance from those guys. We really feel like we had such a good spring and summer that these guys have experience now, because they had a chance to play in the offseason.”
The summer workouts were particularly important for junior quarterback Mason Murray, who will have his first shot at starting for Hickman this season. Despite the new leadership role, Murray is still focused on his coach’s message.
“He just wants us to play as a team,” Murray said. “Always compete for the man next to you; just always believe in yourself and believe in each other."
Lucky for Murray, next to him on offense will be a trio of running backs that Smith refers to as a "three-headed monster." Senior Deven Larry and juniors Bohannon Davidson and Justise Keith make up the strength of Hickman’s offense.
“Hickman has traditionally been a school that rushes the football,” Monroe said. “We have three of the better backs in the central Missouri area, a senior and two juniors, and we’re going to utilize them.”
Monroe hopes the strong ground game and culture surrounding the program will help the Kewpies build off a season in which the team obtained its first postseason berth since 2004. Hickman beat their highly-ranked rivals, the Jefferson City High School Jays, to get to the playoffs, fueling more interest in what Monroe calls the second oldest high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi River.
“We pulled the whisker on the tiger there,” Monroe said. “It’s a very close rivalry right now and they’ve got to feel a little embarrassed about the end of their season last year. Jays remember beating the Kewpies and Kewpies remember beating the Jays."
For now, Hickman is focused on coming together as a team. That challenge starts at 7 p.m. Friday, when the Kewpies travel to Lee’s Summit to take on the Lee's Summit North Broncos.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.