2014 BARNSTORM TOUR NOTES
STOP THREE: MONROE CITY PANTHERS
Always entertaining to see David Kirby and his assistants at Monroe City. They seem to strike the right balance with the kids between getting things done on the field and having some fun with it. And you haven't lived until you have heard the Panther Skipper channel his inner T-Boz and croon through TLC's "Waterfalls"
Lots of questions on the Panthers new turf football field. Depending on how badly the morning rain set things back, Wednesday was supposed to be the day they started putting down turf on the new facility. From a layman's glance at the construction site, as of Tuesday afternoon, there still appeared to be a lot of work to be done between now and opening night to get the thing ready for the Clark County game. And bleacher construction has been held up by some form of snafu. Still, David Kirby tells me he is optimistic the field will be a go on deadline. I will say this: the place was alive with activity on my visit. And it's going to be a really neat set up when its all done. I had a hard time initially envisioning how the field was going to fit into the space available, but in seeing that facility in person, I was impressed with how it changes the dynamics of that block of town and what a nice setting ultimately the field will be set off to the East of the School and back away from the main road. I suspect parking is going to be a little easier proposition and it has all the makings of fast becoming one of the area's very best venues when all is said and done.
Even with Valle Catholic now in the postseason mix, it's hard not to like the move to Class 1 Football for the Panthers, which gives Monroe a chance to compete with more like-sized competition in District. Coincidentally, as Monroe dropped in MSHSAA enrollment, the Panthers football numbers have swollen to a recent high water mark of 47. This includes a rare abundance of Senior talent with ten upperclassmen back to help fill the leadership void and who also largely comprise the team's nucleus of seventeen holdover starters. Also heartened to see, by small school standards, a large Freshman Class in the mix. Those are a lot of positive trends for MC.
My go-to guy on all things Monroe City Football, Assistant Coach Jamar "Strawberry" White, told me going in that the Panthers would be a much faster and more athletic team in 2014 vis- -vis last season. He clearly was on point with that assessment. There is edge depth and talent here that goes beyond the obvious returns of Jonathan Shuck and Tariq Garner. If you spent any time watching the Panthers Defensive Backs last season (which should be a considerable source of strength in 2014) you probably already know about the range that Gage Shively and Noah McAfee possess. Both made spectacular pass breakups during 7 on 7 drills Tuesday. Taylon Garner and Terron Ritter headline a very impressive group of speedy "newcomers" who could push into the equation immediately as well. Bottom line, Monroe will be able to stretch the field if the Quarterback situation comes together right.
Only got to watch them work in a limited window but it's easy to see that both Brandon Devlin and Chase Pennewell have their merits under center. Devlin lacks ideal size but has a ton of poise, throws smart passes into safe windows, and impresses me as being very savvy and coachable; a kid who won't make many mistakes and who will grind away at a defense. Pennewell, your reigning state champion Pole Vaulter, is bigger at 6'2" and plenty athletic. He also has a very strong, almost effortless release on the deep ball. Not sure he is as polished or experienced, but his size and arm are beguiling. The Panthers appear to be in capable hands either way. If Pennewell doesn't end up at quarterback, his skill set here would make him an ideal Tight End. David Kirby is happy to have two pretty good bullets in the arsenal here.
Tariq Garner looks to be in line for a position change from Fullback to Feature Back and he would seem to be poised on the brink of a bruising Tony Hall-type Senior Campaign, coming off an off-season in which he muscled up considerably. Coming off that 390 yard rushing performance against Louisiana and an All Conference nod, Garner is probably going to wear a pretty sizable bull's eye this Fall and the Monroe Coaching staff has done a nice job laying out in advance for him how that will change his business moving forward. One would think that clears the way for greater opportunities for the speedy Jonathan Shuck and fast rising Sophomore Fullback Logan Minter (who the coaching staff is very high on) to counterpunch teams that sell out against Garner. Shuck's versatility should make for some real fun in play action and I pity the linebacker that has to check him coming out of the backfield to catch passes.
The Panthers return all five starters on the Offensive Line from a year ago and have a couple of juniors and at least one Sophomore who could push for reps as well. Clearly, there isn't much size here but with former Carthage star Brock Edris on staff, the Panthers understand fully the value of the Jim Unruh speed blocking schematics of the Wing-T to a tee and I think we could see really nice seasons up front from Zach Benson, Tyler Pugh and Alex Falls moving forward. I got to watch Falls work on a Defense Tuesday and he can cover some ground; could make an excellent pulling guard.
Mentioned Logan Minter earlier but I think this Sophomore class as a whole is going to produce a couple of All Conference types before it is all said and done.
After giving up 28 points per game last season, Defense is the dividing line for Monroe City between seven wins or falling back into the three victory rut. Coach Kirby spent the first 20 minutes of practice Tuesday drilling basic tackle fundamentals to his entire team and immediately jumping on even the tiniest imperfections. Suffice it to say, there won't be much tolerance here for missed tackles or blown assignments this season as no one wants a repeat of last years momentum killing generosity.
After viewing Monroe City, I consider this team to be a "grower" and I was far more encouraged by what I saw in terms of talent and development over last season than I thought I would be. I realize there isn't a lot of room for dramatic swings of fortune in the loaded Clarence Cannon Conference but I do think the Panthers are a team that will show as much positive win-column improvement as anyone in the league; particularly when they get into District Play where the Panthers are going to be a nasty out with all that burst at the Class 1 level.