MONROE — Bob Mullins witnessed enough competition within his Monroe High School football team the past couple of weeks for him to believe that things are going in the right direction.
The fifth-year Hornets coach has an 80-man roster to choose from in 2023, and the number of players vying for starting positions is plentiful after a healthy portion of seniors graduated last year.
“Our expectations are always high,” said Mullins, who noted that this is largest squad he’s coached at Monroe. “We lost some guys to graduation, but if I was to use one word to describe our offseason, it’s ‘compete.’
“I think competition breeds excellence,” Mullins added. “We’re really deep. We’ve been really pleased with the effort of our guys through strength training. It’s been really good to watch.”
Monroe, which went 7-5 and fell to Western Brown in the second round of the Division III playoffs a season ago, hosts Talawanda on Friday to kick things off.
“What’s really special is that guys that have been working hard their freshman and sophomore year who haven’t really had an opportunity yet to play varsity football, this is going to be their year,” Mullins said. “‘It’s your time. Let’s see what you can do.’ I’m excited to see what some of them young guys can do.
“They are hungry. They want to play. They want spots,” Mullins added. “They’re competing for them. Guys that haven’t played under the lights yet — they’re going to get an opportunity.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Hornets are no stranger to operating under the triple option offense, and Mullins said that’s not changing.
Monroe led the Southwestern Buckeye League in rushing with 4,154 yards in 2022, and it was Elijah Jackson who paved the way with 1,458 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. But he has since graduated.
Senior quarterback Ryan Miles is returning after logging 1,231 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns as a junior.
“High-powered offense and great defense that’s led by a great front,” Miles said of what to expect from the Hornets. “I think we’re going to leave a footprint like we have the past few years. I think we have some doubters, but we’re looking to break the mold that they kind of put around us now.”
Senior EJ Jyan will start at fullback, while senior Landen Wynn is at the slot. Up front offensively, Mullins said to keep an eye on senior Jaxson Hounchell and junior Sam Hamilton.
“I think they’ll see a team that competes — a team that really gives everything that they’ve got on every play,” Mullins said. “We’ve got a lot of skill players back that are big, strong, fast kids. We think we’re going to have a really good year this year, and we’ll put a good product on the field.”
Defensively, senior Caden Vance and junior Brayden Reece lead the charge as linebackers. They had a combined 112 tackles last season.
“We lost a lot of seniors, so I think a lot of people are going to look down on us,” Vance said. “They’ll say, ‘They lost all of their good players.’ I think we’re going to be just as good as we were last year and the year before.
“Every position is open,” Vance added. “We’re fighting for positions. I feel it’s like this every year. Everybody is kicking butt and playing some good football.”
Other players to watch are junior Kade Loper (TE/DL), junior Myles Terry (OL/DL) and junior Karson Marcum (QB/DB).
“We’ve got a new schedule, and we moved some of the seniors out from last year,” Miles said. “We’re bringing in some new guys. But after this offseason, we’ve got good chemistry.”
“With some of these new teams coming in (on the schedule), we haven’t really seen what their stuff is before. We’re getting used to that,” Miles said. “We’ve also played some of the same teams the past two years, and a lot of the same guys are playing. New teams and new concepts being thrown at us — we’re just going to have to work through that.”
“It’s more of being a student of the game this season rather than coming out and working on the field,” Miles said. “There’s going to be some exciting football.”
“It’s not going to be a whole lot different playing those guys,” Mullins said of Edgewood and Ross joining the SWBL. “I think it’s cool that it’s revitalizing some old-school Butler County rivalries. We’re going to be playing some really, really special games against Ross and Edgewood. Our league is already tough. Then you add those two, it’s just going to make it better. The competition is going to be really good. The communities are going to be excited. I know when we play Ross, it’s always a big crowd — whether we’re at Ross or here. The same with Edgewood. It’s going to be a really cool environment for our kids to play in.”
IN THE KNOW
Mullins has a 21-21 record as head coach at Monroe (four seasons). … The Hornets have reached the playoffs each of the last three seasons.