PREP FOOTBALL: Monroe tries to take the next step

MONROE

Coach: Bill Leach, fourth season (14-17 at Monroe, 38-44 overall)

OHSAA designation: Division IV, Region 16

Playoff history: 11-9 in nine appearances (1983, 1986, 1993, 1994, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2014)

2015 record: 6-4 overall, 4-2 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division (second)

Schedule: Aug. 26 — Edgewood, 7 p.m.; Sept. 2 — at Madison, 7 p.m.; Sept. 9 — at New Richmond, 7 p.m.; Sept. 16 — at Oakwood, 7 p.m.; Sept. 23 — Brookville, 7 p.m.; Sept. 30 — Eaton, 7 p.m.; Oct. 7 — at Valley View, 7 p.m.; Oct. 14 — at Franklin, 7 p.m.; Oct. 21 — Bellbrook, 7 p.m.; Oct. 28 — Preble Shawnee, 7 p.m.

Monroe High School football coach Bill Leach turned a talking point into a mantra during the offseason:

Pick up the torch.

“We talked about it a lot that we are going in the right direction,” Leach said. “When this class was freshmen, they went 1-9, so they have been in the program and have seen the change. They have been a part of it and should be looking to make the next step.

“We have some returners, but the guys who played a big role in moving us in the right direction are gone and it is up to this class to carry the torch and keep us going.”

The Hornets went from 1-9 to 7-4 in 2014 and 6-4 in 2015, and while speedster Jacob Vires leads a talented group that has gone, Leach does have a few holdovers.

Carson Hillebrand started six games at quarterback and returns for his senior year as the unquestioned leader of the offense.

“We are feeling a lot better about him,” Leach said. “Hopefully, we just see him be more consistent than what he was last year and so far he has been.”

Tailback Cedric Amaniampong returns as does fullback Alex Bannister.

As for who will be handling the wide receiver spots in the spread attack, Leach is still searching for answers.

“We have to get the ball in their hands,” Leach said of Amaniampong and Bannister. “Everything is up in the air at wide receiver. We may be working on that revolving door at that position.”

Hillebrand will have the benefit of Dakota Fannin, Justin Bair and Matt Kovach returning along the offensive line. However, while he has some experience coming back, it is still a youthful experience.

“It can be good and bad,” Leach said. “It’s good that they have been under the lights, which makes a big difference so they shouldn’t be shocked. But they are still young and are going to make mistakes.”

Bannister returns at strong safety and Chase Morris is back at cornerback. Fannin will also start on the defensive line as will Amaniampong, while returning starter Alex Page has caught Leach’s attention at linebacker.

“He’s going to be a good one,” Leach said of Page.

The Hornets do have one added benefit that most teams would love to have in veteran kicker Nick Amaya. In addition to being automatic from 40 yards in, Amaya has added strength to his leg to provide a weapon on kickoffs.

“When he’s done, he will hold all of the career kicking records at Monroe,” Leach said. “I expect him to have a really, really good year. He has put every kickoff into the end zone this year and that’s huge. Any time you can make another team start at the 20, it is huge for the defense.”

While the kicking game is secured and some returners are back, Leach admits the Hornets walked away from their scrimmages knowing that the road is long ahead of them.

“We feel better about ourselves, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Leach said. “We’ve got a lot of question marks that we may not know until Week 3 or 4.”