COLUMBIA — At this time last year, coming off a bye week as they are now, Hickman players were on a joy ride: undefeated and cruising to a playoff appearance.
The 9-2 campaign from a season before seems far in the distance now. This year, the ride feels different.
Hickman (2-4) at Jackson (6-1)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Jackson High School
They're emerging from the break with two straight losses and staring at a 2-4 record.
"I've never felt this," senior running back Justise Keith said. "Losing so much in a row, it starts a fire in you. You can't even imagine."
Keith has played through a series of injuries while serving as a key cog in the Kewpies' run-heavy offense. He said the bye week granted him needed reprieve. He most recently carried the ball 32 times in a Week 6 loss to Jefferson City.
Looking to Jackson and the final three-game stretch that will determine if the Kewpies reach .500 and claim a playoff spot, Keith feels rejuvenated.
"I feel like I did at the start of the season," he said.
Coach Arnel Monroe said he wants all of his players to feel that they are starting with a clean slate en route to the district round Nov. 1.
"We know we've got a guaranteed three games, and we’re looking at this as a new season," Monroe said.
Last Friday, much of the team sat in the stands at Battle, where the Spartans hosted and fell 48-19 to Jackson. Monroe said he could hear his players in the game film, rooting on former teammates who left Hickman to join the first-year program.
Many of their departures have been part of the blow to the Kewpies' depth this season.
"Losing all them players really got us," said senior tight end/defensive end Grant Jones, one of many who plays both ways on the team. "We’ve done the best with what we have. But we could’ve (been doing) a whole lot better. We just need to focus more.
"Last year was kind of like, we knew we had everything we needed to get everything done," he added. "This time, we need to get focused and use what we have to get the best outcome."
Focus has been part of Monroe's message approaching Friday and beyond.
"We’ve got to get focused and we’ve got to get consistent," Monroe said. "When we are focused and consistent, we win football games."
Moving forward, they hope to cut memories like Week 3's loss against Fort Zumwalt East, which took an 18-12 lead and win with 46 seconds left after recovering a Hickman fumble. Like the defeat against Jefferson City, which had a 60-yard touchdown run with one minute, 21 seconds left to take the 40-33 lead and win.
"We’ve got to look at (those games) and use that as impetus, and instead of saying, 'Dang we lost those games,' we’ve got to say, 'Look how close we are.'"
Watching their next opponent Friday was enough to spur their excitement.
"It was getting us more hyped for our game," Jones said.
They're ready to start playing again, to put the past in the past.
"(Coach Monroe)'s been talking to us about it in our pre-practice speeches," Keith said. "Just scrap it, scrap everything. Get to 1-0 this week."
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.