MONROE — Fielding a team that includes skill-position standouts Brody Ballard, Dylan Irwin and Zach Young and returning linemen in Todd Koch and Ricky Ramos has provided Monroe High’s football team a solid foundation to start the season.
The challenge now is finding and developing the players around them as the Dragons try to continue their run of recent success on the field.
Monroe loses graduating seniors just like everybody else. But in the past few years coach Bill Crowson and his staff have been able to discover new players with talent to fill the holes.
The Dragons had been regular playoff entrants for about a decade before breaking through in 2017 to win a state championship. They followed that up last fall with a semifinal appearance.
“It changes the bar a little bit, I think,” Crowson said. “That’s a culmination of things. Just the fact that the program’s been successful. Kids come in with that notion, so it’s a little bit easier to reload.”
The Dragons will have several first-year, non-freshman players when they host a jamboree this Friday before opening the regular season Sept. 6 at home against Sheridan.
Among them are juniors Dylan Lynn and Edgardo Rodriguez, both basketball and track and field athletes expected to play receiver initially, with their roles expanding as they learn the system.
Young, a former 2A offensive player of the year at running back and an all-state performer in basketball and track as well, did some in-school recruiting that yielded Lynn and Rodriguez, among others.
“I’ve been trying to get every kid that goes to Monroe to play football this season,” said Young, a senior. “We’ve got quite a few new kids out here, so I think they’ll be able to fill some roles that need to be filled. There’s a lot of potential in that weight room.”
Young has been a dominant ball carrier in the 2A classification the past two seasons. Crowson says he’s the most explosive player he’s had in his quarter-century of coaching at Monroe.
The coach says individual accolades early in Young’s high school career didn’t change his desire to get better as an athlete and leader.
“It’s nice to see kids that have had success that he had as a 15-year-old guy … I’ve never seen it diminish in what he does as an athlete,” Crowson said. “He works really hard and he’s trying to take on a lot of leadership roles. He takes it seriously and he wants to be in that role. Not a lot of kids do.”
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Irwin, a junior, will also carry the ball again for the Dragons.
Other returners include junior Austin Teran, whom Crowson described as a “utility guy” on offense for last year’s team, and sophomore Trent Bateman, whose role will grow with experience.
The team’s offensive and defensive lines are no longer the hefty, experienced group that plowed holes for Young and others in recent years.
Koch and Ramos, both juniors, started last season and senior Darren Parker saw playing time.
“I think we’ve got some really good teammates on the line who have been there,” Ballard said, adding that the newcomers have shown promise. “I think they’re still going to figure it out. I think we’ll be a tough, gritty line.”
Ballard took on the starting quarterback position as a freshman. It was his first time playing the spot as a full-time starter.
He had the expected ups and downs but grew into the role.
“It was pretty hard. The first few weeks of practice were definitely tough,” Ballard said of the transition. “Especially a young guy, didn’t know the plays very well. Didn’t know the audible calls. I think those tough practices prepared me for the first few games.”
“We were thrilled with him as a young guy,” Crowson added of Ballard, who made big plays as a defensive back as well. “Very hard-working, competitive-minded type of guy and he picked it up quick. He really did a good job.”
Ballard says that experience has him much more comfortable with his responsibilities and expectations this time around.
Ballard and the Dragons will continue to run the veer offense. But without a huge line, they might do it a little differently. Maybe smarter, the coach said.
“We’re definitely going to try to find what we’re good at,” Crowson said. “The fact that we have three pretty explosive skill kids, you need to find a way for them to get out in space.”