It can be hard for adults to not only commit to a plan, but stay with it even when the situation can become dispiriting and chaotic. It can be even harder for kids undergoing a painful process, who may wonder more quickly and definitively will things ever get better.
Give Monroe High credit. The Vikings have staggered through six losing seasons since 2007, none more so than 2012 and 2013 when they won a combined four games (one being a forfeit) while Coach Don Senegal, who was revamping the program’s approach and philosophy, and force-feeding many freshmen and sophomores through the rigors of varsity football.
That faith is being rewarded this season. The Vikings are 5-1 going into their game against Grant High this Friday, Oct. 10. The primary roster players who endured the losing and the derision have a bond and maturity that has shown itself in a couple ways. And Monroe is in a position to not only make the City Section playoffs, but earn a first round home game.
Senegal, the head coach here since 2005, knows there is still much football to be played. But he and his staff — many of them former Monroe players who have come back and help coach — can feel relieved that past decisions are showing up in current results that may bode well for the future.
“We decided this two years ago, when we had a bunch of underclassmen we’d play,” Senegal said. “We revamped our weight program, we stuck with our kids. A lot of underclassmen were playing varsity for two years. We knew that we would get hammered, but this would be the year we would have some success.
“It’s been a plan we had, so this [success] doesn’t surprise me at all. And it doesn’t surprise the kids because this is what we talked about a couple years ago.”
Quarterback Luis Dorame is in firm control of the offense, having passed for 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns (against nine interceptions) in the six games. He has four receivers with at least 300 receiving yards, led by David Flores, a senior, with 529 yards and eight touchdowns.
The defense, anchored by linebacker/strong safety Arman Arkelian (53 total tackles), has been solid enough to fight through tough times rather than crumble at the first sign of adversity. That was evident in the road game against Belmont, when the Vikings trailed by 14 points in the fourth quarter, and still managed to pull out a 27-21 victory on Sept. 19.
“That was our turning point, when these kids realized ‘we’re pretty good to go over the hill and play a team that’s tough,’” Senegal said. “[Belmont] didn’t give us anything, and we stole that game. And what they went through has paid off.”
Dorame, 17, a senior, agrees that the hard times have matured the Vikings into a cohesive group.
“It’s been completely worth it, especially after the past couple of years,” he said. “This year, out of all the years, I can truly say we are a family. We’ve come together in unison.
“And it’s more than just football, it’s a lot more than the game. It’s being with your brothers on the field, fighting for them, fighting next to them. The time you spend off the field with them, going to class, getting your grades up, motivating each other. It feels good to be part of this.”
Arkelian, 17, is a classic example of what Senegal calls “the Monroe player” a neighborhood kid who didn’t necessarily gravitate toward the game. He was thrust onto the varsity as a sophomore even though he hadn’t played football before, forced to learn as he went along.
“Coach threw me onto the varsity as a linebacker and I was scared,” said Arkelian, who now weighs a sturdy 165. “I didn’t know much about football; I just wanted to play something.”
The only slip-up this season was the 70-6 loss to Arleta on Sept. 26. The score was somewhat exaggerated by a flurry of Monroe miscues that day, but it was a loss Senegal said he could see coming, and in some ways was good for the team.
“After the game we got on the bus and had our emotional moment,” he said. “I think it was a lot of pressure for them to be undefeated at that point (4-0). They haven’t been in that situation. I think the moment was a little too big for us. But it was also a nice humble pie. It’s tough to play there. And we bounced back the next week against Poly[ winning 33-15]. That’s the kind of group I have.”
The game against Grant could decide who finishes second to Arleta in the East Valley League. (Grant plays Arleta on Oct. 24). Dorame said the Vikings are still smarting from the 49-15 beating they absorbed from the Lancers last year. “This game has been circled on the calendar since the first day of practice,” he said.
Senegal certainly wants his team to do well. But he doesn’t want them to lose sight of the course they’ve been following the last two years. Neither Arleta nor Grant (Division II) would be a playoff team for Monroe. Keep playing well these last four league games, and be in a position for the reward — a home playoff game — that it can bring.
Dorame also wants that kind of finish.
“Ever since I came here, all I’ve heard about is the (7-4) 2007 team making it to the playoffs and having a home game. And they lost,” he said.
“I want us to be the team that changes things. Although we weren’t able to beat Arleta, I want to leave a new legacy — not only have a winning season but a winning playoff season.”