COLUMBIA—With a 3-5 record, Hickman football's third-year head coach Arnel Monroe and his class of seniors carry their lowest win total than in any of their previous seasons together.
On Friday, in the first round of the Class 6 District 3 tournament, the Kewpies will travel to Francis Howell Central (6-3) and face a team they've never met before.
Hickman (3-5) at Francis Howell Central (6-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Francis Howell Central
On Friday, they insist, their new season will begin.
"Everybody's 0-0 right now," Monroe said.
Last Friday, before playing against Rockhurst, Monroe took pictures with each of his seniors before their final home game, their senior night, and in each of those pictures, he has a smile that spreads across his face and makes his eyes squint. In the background of those pictures, the sky is orange between day and night.
"It's been a journey," Monroe said, reflecting on his time with the senior group. "It was an emotional night."
The night ended in a 21-6 loss. The next week began with a reminder.
As they watched film of their next opponent on Monday, Monroe told them a new slate was before them. The district bracket for now is comprised mainly of lines and white spaces waiting to be filled.
"He kept telling us this whole thing is wide open," said senior defensive end and tight end Grant Jones.
"We can put everything behind us and look at what we have in front of us," Jones added. "We can't change what's in the past. We can work on what we want for the future."
These seniors, many of them like Jones playing both sides of the ball and doing the bullwork for a team with a small roster, would like for the future to persist.
"We've all been friends for a long time and we want to keep playing football together," said senior center and defensive tackle Donald Blackman. "We don't want to stop playing and we know if we don't want to stop playing, we've got to keep winning."
The playoff system the Missouri State High School Activities Association adopted in 2012 that allows all teams a guaranteed spot in a district playoff will allow the Kewpies a chance to reverse their season.
"Now everybody goes," Monroe said. "Now you can open up and say, 'OK, let's go back and look at what we've done, look at what we haven't done, and let's try and get better going into the playoffs."
There was their Week 1 bummer to Lee's Summit North, the team they handily beat a season before. Two weeks later, they surrendered a fourth quarter lead after a fumble and lost 18-12 to Fort Zumwalt East.
There was the four-point game heading into the fourth quarter that Rock Bridge turned into a 17-point victory. The next week, against Jefferson City, the Kewpies took a lead with 1 minute and 46 seconds left in the game before giving up a 60-yard run that resulted in the 40-33 loss.
"We've been through it this year. We've survived through a whole lot of stuff," Monroe said.
To survive through this first round—setting up a rematch with either Rock Bridge or Jefferson City—the Kewpies will be tasked with containing Francis Howell Central running back Kendall Morris. Morris has racked up 1,611 yards and 21 touchdowns, according to stlhighschoolsports.com.
"I don't care about stats," said senior defensive back and receiver Roderick Beasley. "I know I can go out there and tackle him. I've tackled guys like that before, so I'm definitely not scared or anything."
For what Monroe calls "disciplinary reasons," Beasley, a 2012 all-state selection, was forced to watch two games from the sidelines this season. They were two losses, and Beasley said it was tough to watch.
"That's all over now," he said, waving his hand.
Beginning now is this new season of sorts with his senior teammates.
As he talks here in the locker room, one of them is doing a dance nearby that makes him laugh.
"I've known these guys since elementary school. I've been playing with him for a long time," Beasley said. "We’re like brothers, I guess."
He begins laughing again, and more of the seniors start laughing as well, and they're all hoping the dancing doesn't stop.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.