MONTICELLO — Last year, the Monticello Billies made it to the Class 4A state playoffs, but were mercy-ruled 42-0 by Pea Ridge in the first round.
Rather than forget about it, head coach Greg Tiner wants to use last season as a teaching tool.
“We always expect to win games and more times than not in this program for the last 25 years, we’ve done that,” Tiner said. “Everybody’s going to have down years and we’ve all had that in the last 25 years. …
“I think the thing that was more disappointing that I shared with our guys this year, especially the guys that were on the team last year, is that we’re not going to say that we’re going to win every game we play. But the thing that we have done the last 25 years that we felt like we didn’t do last year was when it got a little tough, instead of pushing through and playing hard for four quarters, there were a couple of instances, especially the playoff game, that we didn’t do it.”
Senior quarterback Imani Riley is one player who doesn’t want to go through another season like his junior year.
“It was hard,” Riley said of last year. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve faced since I’ve been here at Monticello.
“I know my sophomore year it was great and everything, but last year was just very disappointing.”
The youth on this year’s team will need to step up if the Billies are to have a more successful season. Monticello will look for senior leadership to help ease the pressure on the sophomores.
“I like our football team, again, we’re going to very young in spots, but we’ve got some seniors,” Tiner said. “We don’t have a lot of them but we’ve got some experience, some with three years experience because a lot of those guys played as 10th-graders.
“We are expecting a lot of big things from those guys on the field and also from a leadership standpoint.”
A lot of those big things will be expected to come from Riley.
“No. 1 he’s a competitor,” Tiner said of his quarterback. “He’s a guy that his motor runs fast.
“He likes football. He enjoys every phase of it. He likes practicing and he’s a leader. He’s trying to be a good leader aside from being a good football player. He’s got all of that in his favor, but the thing that we have to have is that it just can’t be him. We’ve got to have some of our other upper-classmen step up and take on that role.”
Riley still knows there is always room for improvement.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot more I need to learn at the QB position,” he said, “and I feel like I need to work a little bit harder than what I’ve been working.
“Every practice you’ve got to get better and better. I feel like I haven’t reached my peak yet.”
According to Riley, he is surrounded by talented wide receivers and running backs, including Omar Simpson, Austin Harper, Quitterius Brown, Justin Berry and Sherrod Lucas.
“We’re young. I mean, the senior class that left they had the skill positions covered,” Riley said, “but I feel like skill position-wise we’re a lot younger, but I think we’re going to be good once the season gets going.
“I feel like they’re going to do real great.”
Just like in the backfield and split out wide, Riley will be behind mostly inexperienced offensive linemen, including Ryan Tassin, Grant Roberts and Darrien Watson.
“We’re real young there,” Tiner said. “We’ve got a couple of guys who played for us back. We’ve had a couple injuries. Guys kind of been in and out of the lineup.
“The thing that we’re struggling with right now is trying to get the same five being able to practice every day. … For me, the biggest thing right now we have to get everybody healthy, everybody practicing and everybody knowing what to do.”
As for the Billies’ defense, coach Tiner is still looking for the right kind of players.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball,” Tiner said. “We’ve got to find guys who can learn what to do, but we have to find guys that, basically, want to go hit people and strike people; because that’s the name of the game, especially on that side of the ball.
“We feel like we are going to have two or three sophomores playing for us on that side of the ball. … They’re improving, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”