By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Two years removed from a Class 3 State Championship, Monett sports its youngest roster in the 11 years that Derrek Uhl has been on staff.
Youth can be invigorating, and in the case of the Cubs, it will need to be. Only two of the seven returning seniors played significant minutes last year’s 3-7 squad. Four All-Big 8 selections are out the door, including Patrick Valentine, who accounted for nearly half of the ground production from 2017.
Still, nine starters return and they will be tasked with getting some new faces up to speed.
“We’re young but we’re pretty good,” said Uhl. “Our expectations will always be as high as the last group. Those don’t change, but we understand that we don’t have a ton back that was a part of what we did last year.”
There will be a heavy junior and sophomore presence on the 2018 squad, but that does not always equate to inexperience Juniors Karter Brink and Jaime Guinn saw ample snaps at quarterback and wingback last year, respectively.
Brink completed 56 percent of his passes as a sophomore, totaling 877 yards with seven total touchdowns. Junior Cavazos, also a junior in high school as well as in name, could also vie for snaps.
Senior running back/linebacker William Murphy is the old man of the backfield and will take the bulk of the carries. He racked up 559 total yards in 2017 but did not find the end zone.
Defensively, Murphy will be a key factor on the linebacking corps along with Junior Villa, who is coincidentally another junior. They combined for 136 tackles last season while Villa hauled in a pair of interceptions.
Cavazos will double as a mainstay in the secondary once again after picking off a team-high three passes as a sophomore.
Junior Wes Merriman and sophomore Ray Villalta expect to head up the defensive line duties.
The new-look Big 8 prevents the Cubs from their long familiar journey to California. That has been replaced by a 90-mile season-ending trip to Nevada, now a West Division opponent. Uhl said there is cause for excitement and nostalgia with the switch.
“There are mixed emotions because you don’t have the same opponents,” he said. “We potentially lose the rivalries with Aurora and Mount Vernon, but we also don’t have these long road trips that other teams have.”
Monett expects speed to be its friend in 2018. Size and execution are question marks heading into the season opener, where they do still get a matchup with Class 3 runner-up Mount Vernon. It could lead to a different-looking Cubs club, but one that Uhl anticipates will still be a tough out every game.
“We’re going to change up to our strengths. It’s good for competition but there just isn’t much experience. We’ll go slow and, hopefully, by doing that we’ll be ready to go when the season starts.”