COLUMBIA — Coach Arnel Monroe thinks his inexperienced team just needed to "pop that zit" during a rocky scrimmage last week.
Hickman High School faces a challenge in fielding a team that includes only 14 returning seniors, a new starting quarterback in junior Carter Nicoli and a backfield with only one running back who saw playing time last season.
Aug. 15's High School Football Jamboree at Rock Bridge High School presented many inconsistencies offensively for Hickman, with only one 21-yard pass connecting between Nicoli and junior running back Elijah Crum.
"We graduated all our experience," Monroe said. "A lot of these kids haven't taken varsity snaps, but you pop that zit, you know, you busted that blister."
"We weren't showing everything we had, so that's why the offenses struggled and the defenses shined," Nicoli said.
Coming off a 3-6 season capped by a 17-24 loss to Francis Howell Central during the first round of the playoffs, the Kewpies have been working to contend with teams such as Christian Brothers College.
"You can't rest on your laurels. We know we are only as good as our last game. Our last game wasn't really good," Monroe said.
Breaking in quarterback Nicoli will be one of the Kewpies' first challenges. Nicoli comes in throwing only three passes for a gain of 32 yards in last season's final game.
"That's the biggest change, when you gotta find new leadership at a key position," Monroe said.
As a result, Hickman will look to their run-heavy offense this fall with strong contenders at running back in senior Cameron Wright and juniors Crum and Adam Knowles. Running back coach De'Vion Moore thinks the unit is a strong point this year.
"If we get consistency, we will be fine," Moore said.
Wright is the only one who has seen field time. He was third-down back in last season's final game behind Justise Keith, who went on to play at Northern Iowa. The 185-pound, 5-foot-11-inch senior is expected to be the lead back, followed by Crum and Knowles.
"I consider all of them leaders," Moore said. "Any given day any one of them can step up and be leader."
The Kewpies will be tested both offensively and defensively, but Monroe thinks his team is ready to "step up" to the task of keeping CBC from "explosive plays."
The Cadets have the home field advantage and boast a No. 7 Class 6 ranking, according to STLHighSchoolSports.com, with 34 returning seniors and a 2013 season record of 9-3. CBC also has a seasoned offense with six returning starters who "can turn a 5-yard play into a 75-yard play," Monroe said.
Defensively, CBC returns senior all-state safety Eric Carrera, who led the team last year with 69 tackles while also claiming two interceptions and a sack.
"We've been preparing for CBC all summer," Monroe said. "You gotta take the challenges as they come."
Friday's game kicks off at 7 p.m. at CBC in St. Louis. Hickman's first home game of the season will be next Friday against Lee's Summit High School.
Supervising editor is Raymond Howze.