COLUMBIA — Hickman’s defense has plenty of talented individuals. Just make sure you don’t tell them that.
Eric Wise, a senior defensive back, has been forcing turnovers all season long. The biggest came in the final minute against Jefferson City on Sept. 28 to preserve an upset victory. But Wise said that was more about the defense as a unit than his impressive break on the football.
Hickman (7-0) at Rockhurst (6-2)
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Rockhurst High School
Senior linebacker J’den Cox scored two defensive touchdowns against Smith-Cotton early in the season. Both touchdowns were incredible individual efforts, as Cox tossed would-be tacklers aside with ease. But his teammates deserve most of the credit, Cox said.
“We’re a family,” Cox said. “We’re united, we’re together and we’re going to fight anybody that comes on the field.”
That team-first mentality is a change from the attitude the Kewpies had on defense a year ago, when Alex Keith, now playing for the Minnesota Gophers, was the center of attention. Hickman’s defense has replaced him well, holding opponents under 20 points in five of their seven games this season and helping the team to an undefeated 7-0 record.
“The things that made (Keith) good were that he was coachable and the coaching that he got,” Cox said. “I believe in our coaching, and I believe in our players even though they’re young. They’re wearing Hickman purple and gold just like me.”
The younger players have blended in well on a defense that has averaged just over 12 points allowed per game this season. While Wise and Cox are leaders, coach Arnel Monroe has been stressing the team aspect of defense with his team over the past few seasons.
“We laid those foundations the last three years,” Monroe said. “We’ve been talking about team, team, team. It didn’t come until late last year, but we started playing good football because we were playing as a team.”
The strong play of the defense has helped the Kewpies stick to their offensive game plan, which revolves around running the football and controlling the clock.
“That's kind of our formula,” Monroe said. “We’re going to control the ball, control the clock and control the offensive touches. That allows us to play fast on defense. It’s a hand in hand thing. It all works together.”
It’s worked well so far this season for the undefeated Kewpies. With the playoffs around the corner and the highest hopes surrounding the program since the team won a state championship in 2004, Hickman is taking things one game at a time. While the approach seems simple, Cox said the team’s record was a distraction last season. This week’s focus is the road game against Rockhurst High School.
“The last couple years we’ve looked at it like ‘Oh, we’re 3-4,’” Cox said. “This year, we look at it every week as we’re 0-0 and we’re trying to get to 1-0.”
Victories over rivals Rock Bridge and Jefferson City, combined with a perfect record, have made this the most successful season for Hickman in recent memory. Just don’t tell them that, because the Kewpies’ goals for the 2012 season are far from complete.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.