By AUSTIN COLBERT
Entering the 2014 season, the Thomas More Prep-Marian football team has something it hasn't had under the current coaching staff -- an established quarterback.
Two years ago, in John Montgomery's first season leading the Monarchs, Shane Zimmerman, a converted wide receiver, led TMP to a 2-7 record. Last season it was junior Max Megaffin who won a highly contested quarterback race and started every game, also leading TMP to a 2-7 record.
The quarterback position was a significant question mark each of the last two years, but with the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Megaffin back for his senior season, the TMP coaches can finally experience a level of comfort they haven't felt before.
"It feels nice. I have a lot more confidence in Max this year," TMP offensive coordinator James Harris said. "He's coming out in practice and being a great leader. He's putting guys in different positions and helping them out. The comfort level is there."
Statistically there wasn't a lot of improvement during the course of the season for Megaffin. He was 10 of 19 for 153 yards passing in a season-opening 24-8 win over Ellinwood. His season average ended up being 123.7 yards per game through the air, with a season high of 169 yards coming in Game 8, a 51-7 loss to Scott City.
But taking more than just numbers into account, Montgomery feels Megaffin advanced far beyond what any stats could show.
"His development from Game 1 to Game 9 was night and day," Montgomery said. "He came along and he grew tremendously as the season progressed. And we look for him to carry that trend into this year. He's certainly not as good as he can be. It's a work in progress for him, and one of the great things about Max is he comes to work looking to improve, looking to get better each week."
Megaffin will lead an offense this season looking to build upon the foundation laid out over the past two seasons. The base offense will be the same, but Montgomery has added more formations and more wrinkles, something the offensive players are excited about putting in motion.
Along with Megaffin, the backfield returns both of its running backs in senior Nick Schmidt and junior T.J. Flax. Montgomery said Flax added about 20 pounds of muscle over the summer to get to his current 5-foot-10, 160-pound frame. Senior Joe Walters (5-9, 150 pounds) will step into the fullback position this season.
TMP is replacing three of its five starting offensive linemen and its top offensive weapon from last year, 6-foot-4 wide receiver Ryan Mayorga. But the Monarchs do have converted tight end Cameron Fouts back for his senior season, this time at wide receiver, alongside much improved juniors Jared Schumacher and Chase Romme.
"We aren't quite where we need to be but we are definitely on our way," said senior Parker Cox of the offense. Cox, the reigning Class 3A powerlifting state champion, will play left tackle while on offense and anchor the inside of the defensive line. "We have two great running backs in T.J. and Nick, and Max is a really good quarterback. And we also have some good wide receivers this year ... we've come a long ways in the last two years and we are just ready to prove it right now."
With Fouts and Cox the mainstay of the front six in TMP's 4-2-5 defense, the secondary will be led by multiple players, including Schmidt, Flax, Schumacher and Romme. Joining the mix will be sophomore Tucker Rhoades, who will also see time at wide receiver.
Also key is the return of senior kicker Jack You, while Fouts will once again handle punting duties.
"Last year we came up short on record, but we were better than we were the year before. We are getting better," Schmidt said.
"We did get better and in stats and everything but our record was the same. But this year we are turning the corner and all. This is the cornerstone of the program we are trying to build here. I think overall it's a whole new team. The past is in the past. This is a new beginning."
Megaffin, Fouts, Cox and Schmidt were named team captains for the 2014 season, which will be the first for TMP as part of the Mid-Continent League.