Redhawks abundantly talented
Johnny Sowell has built Monroe High's football program into a perennial powerhouse.
Since taking over as head coach in 2005, Sowell has guided the Redhawks to a combined record of 65-38 and six straight seasons with at least eight victories.
Monroe won the Rocky River Conference title three of the last four years, including 2012, when it finished 11-4 and advanced to the 1AA state semifinals.
Senior Tre Shun Wynn, who is entering his fourth year as a starter, said the expectations are high every year.
"Coach Sowell goes into every season with a chip on his shoulder," said Wynn. "He lets us know right off the bat that he's not settling for anything less than last year. He's won a state championship in basketball and coached champions in track, so the only one he's missing is football. Being a player you want to give your coach that."
"We have the mentality of playing team-oriented football," said senior linebacker Isaiah Thomas. "We know if everybody does their part we'll be all right."
The Redhawks, who open the season at Lexington on Friday, are moving from the 1A classification to an all-2A league with Forest Hills, Parkwood, Central Academy, Mount Pleasant and West Stanly.
Sowell hopes a challenging non-conference schedule prepares his team for the league and the postseason.
Monroe has a three-week stretch against teams that all won nine games a year ago, including Weddington (9-3), Charlotte Christian (9-3) and Sun Valley (9-4).
"We only have five conference games now, so we had to pick up some non-conference games, and we picked up some competitive ones," said Sowell. "If we can survive our non-conference schedule, we feel good about our chances."
Thomas said the Redhawks welcome the challenge: "1A or 2A, it doesn't matter. It's all football at the end of the day."
The offense is stacked.
Wynn, senior Julius Stradford and junior Chase Byrum return in the backfield after putting up big numbers in 2012.
Wynn, who has scholarship offers from N.C. State, Duke, East Carolina, Charlotte and Appalachian State, rushed for 576 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Byrum ran for 770 yards and a team-high 14 scores while Stradford had 775 yards and 13 TDs on the ground.
"The fun part about our offense is you never know who's going to get the ball," said Wynn. "We can spread the field and that makes it hard on the defense because they can't key in on every person. We have a lot of guys that can make a move and take it the distance."
The starting quarterback job is still up for grabs.
According to Sowell, junior Rahmaad Sturdivant, freshman Zephaniah Wall and Thomas are all competing to start under center.
Thomas was 5-of-9 for 46 yards in the second half of last year's state semifinal loss to Swain County after starting QB Quay Chambers suffered a shoulder injury.
Chambers went on to sign with Duke University.
"We don't have a problem with rotating quarterbacks this year," said Sowell. "One guy can do something better than the other, but all three are capable of getting the job done."
The quarterbacks will have the luxury of throwing to standout receiver Jaylan Barbour, who recently committed to Wake Forest.
Barbour has caught a combined 86 passes over the last two years. His best season came as a sophomore in 2011, when he hauled in 44 receptions for 861 yards and 10 TDs.
A lingering ankle injury forced Barbour to miss three games last year, but Sowell said his star WR is healthy again.
"He's on schedule right now," said Sowell. "He's going to return kickoffs and punts for us, too, so we feel good about where he's at. He brings that senior leadership, not necessarily vocally, but by his actions."
The offensive line returns three starters, including senior left tackle Jamarcus Glenn, junior left guard Malik Covington and senior center Dequavis Allen.
At 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, Allen is one of the biggest lineman in Union County.
Glenn was a first-team all-UC selection last season, while Allen was a second-team pick.
Monroe has six returning starters on 'D', including two-time, first-team all-county linebacker Ashad Byrd.
As a junior last season, Byrd had 122 tackles (18 for loss) and five sacks on his way to being named all-state by ncpreps.com.
Byrd is moving to outside linebacker after playing in the middle the last two years.
"I think he's going to do the same thing he did when he was playing middle," said Thomas of Byrd. "He's an all-state linebacker and that speaks for itself. He sees the football and he's going to get it."
Thomas and Stradford will join Byrd at LB. Thomas had 105 tackles, including 11 for loss, in 2012 while Stradford recorded 43 stops.
The D-line includes Allen, senior tackle Montez Rorie, senior end Jeremy Brown and sophomore end Nick Ashcraft.
Allen ranked fifth on the team with 67 tackles last season.
The secondary returns Wynn at strong safety and senior cornerback Deon Sturdivant.
Wynn had 58 tackles and two interceptions last year while Sturdivant totaled 22 tackles and had an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown in a win over North Stanly.
Junior Richard Blakeney, who is expected to start at the other safety, also has experience in the defensive backfield after recording 23 tackles and a interception in 2012.
"We have a lot of the same faces back, so our defense should be good again," said Wynn. "We have a lot of speed and a lot of energy."
The Redhawks were one of Union County's top defenses last season. They gave up an average of 14.7 points and posted four shutouts.
"Our defense is similar to last year," said Thomas. "We're going to fly around and make plays. We just have to stay disciplined."
Monroe Redhawks Projected Starters
3^RB^Tre Shun Wynn^6-0^164^Sr.
3^SS^Tre Shun Wynn^6-0^164^Sr,
Monroe's 2013 schedule
Aug. 23^at Lexington
Aug. 30^vs. Anson
Sept. 6^at Cuthbertson
Sept. 13^at Weddington
Sept. 20^vs. Charlotte Christian
Sept. 27^at Sun Valley
Oct. 11^at Central Academy
Oct. 18^vs. Mount Pleasant
Oct. 25^at Parkwood
Nov. 1^at West Stanly
Nov. 8^vs. Forest Hills
Monroe's 2012 results
Porter Ridge 35, Monroe 13
Monroe 54, Robinson 14
Concord 21, Monroe 7
Marvin Ridge 20, Monroe 18
Monroe 28, Piedmont 20
Monroe 40, Union Academy 3
Monroe 64, North Stanly 0
Monroe 68, West Stanly 0
Monroe 41, Cuthbertson 24
Monroe 48, Central Academy 9
Monroe 28, Forest Hills 23
1AA state playoffs
Monroe 69, Bishop McGuinness 0
Monroe 53, East Surry 0
Monroe 61, Mount Airy 31
Swain County 28, Monroe 21