Monroe head coach Charles Truitt called sophomore QB Charles Stafford “the best” young signal caller he’s ever had.
ALBANY -- Four.
They can just write the number on the blackboard at Monroe and not say another word. The kids know what it means, they know all too well.
No, it's not Monroe's 4-6 record. It's four games the Tornadoes would like to forget.
"It was hard," Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. "We lost four games in the fourth quarter -- four games in which we led in the fourth quarter. You look at those games and feel we should have won those games. You don't forget that."
Those games linger.
"It was a long, long offseason," said Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Hakeem Porter, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound offensive lineman. "We lost those close games last year, and everyone wanted to get this season started. We worked hard in the offseason to get ready. This year we have to pull out the close games."
Porter will be a big part of that. Even though he's a junior, Truitt is expecting his top offensive lineman to lead on and off the field.
"We didn't finish games last year," Truitt said. "It comes down to leadership, and that's where we want to see the difference this year. We want these kids to be leaders. We've asked these kids to be leaders, not just the seniors, but the juniors, too."
The message came immediately after the final game last season -- a loss to rival Westover, which secured the city championship by beating Monroe, 28-18.
"They were upset after we lost to Westover," Truitt said. "I told them: 'It's simple! Finish it off!' The difference in last year's team and the team we had two years ago that went to the playoffs is that the seniors on that (playoff team) would not let their teammates down in the fourth quarter.'
"The seniors last year didn't finish. You have to have leadership."
Truitt saw some of the new leadership rise over the summer.
"You could tell by the way they worked in the summer," he said. "They were in the weight room every day, and my offensive lineman went over to Albany State and ran the sand dunes on their own this summer. They did that two, three times a week."
Monroe has enough talent coming back to make a statement, and the attitude on the team may carry the Tornadoes a long way. Plus, the kids are still mad over what happened last year.
"We're hungry, real hungry," said Terevious Hudson, Monroe's leading receiver. "We have come a long way since last year. Last year, we had guys who gave up too quickly. That's not going to happen this year."
Monroe had trouble scoring in the red zone, and even more trouble scoring in the red zone late in the game last year. Truitt has changed his offense, and the changes should make Monroe much more explosive.
As a freshman last year, Charles Stafford showed flashes of brilliance when he started for quarterback Devine Noel and threw for more than 200 yards in the 32-6 win against Southeast Macon. He is now a sophomore who will take over at quarterback this season. Noel, a talented and versatile player who can run, throw or catch, moves to running back, where he gives Truitt multiple options.
Noel, a Dynamite Dozen selection, combined for more than 1,000 yards last season passing and running, and will be an even bigger threat now that he will be the featured running back.
"Devine Noel will be more of a slot back and receiver for us," Truitt said. "It opens up our offense. I think he is going to have a big year. With Noel playing that position, we're hoping we can keep teams off balance."
Truitt believes the ceiling is high for Stafford, who -- at 6-2 and 210 pounds -- is a beauty.
"I've been associated with a lot of quarterbacks who went on to college and were successful there, but at this point in his career, he's the best I've been around," Truitt said. "Nothing fazed him as a freshman."
Truitt then added: "He is so accurate. He throws a very catchable ball, and he is bigger this year. He grew a couple of inches and added 20 pounds."
Monroe wants to put the ball in the air and Hudson, who caught 27 passes for 675 yards and six touchdowns in 2010, could have a monster season playing catch with Stafford, who should have time to throw behind a pretty solid offensive line.
Porter, who will be a Division I prospect next season as a senior, has one of the best nicknames in Southwest Georgia. They call him "Wal-Mart," because he is the size of the department store.
"Wal-Mart" leads the way on a formidable offensive line that includes center Demetrius Jordan, a 6-2, 300-pound sophomore, and juniors Marcus Coe (5-9, 250), Mesean Lovitt (6-0, 250) and Cortez Banks (6-0, 215).
The offensive line is made up of underclassmen, but that's Monroe's strength. Almost all the top players are juniors, including Monroe's two top defensive players: linebacker Anthony Smith, who led the team with 98 tackles, including three sacks and five for losses last year, and cornerback Ernest Davis, who led the region with nine interceptions last year as a sophomore.
The Tornadoes return nine defensive starters, including Jawaski Randle, a junior cornerback, and senior defensive end Vontrell McMillian.
"This could be one of the better defenses we've had here," Truitt said. "This junior class is special."
But it's not just talent, it's an attitude that has the kids believing at Monroe.
"They're hungry this year," Truitt said. "They are used to being in the playoffs. Last year left a bad taste in their mouths. I told them they had to step up their game this year if they wanted to get to the playoffs. Last year has motivated this team to work harder and play better."
Those four fourth-quarter losses have hung around, haunting this program.
"We don't want that same letdown we had last year," Smith said. "We still have that bad taste in our mouth, and we want to get rid of it. That's what we were thinking about this summer when we were working out and getting ready for the season. We wanted to show leadership (this summer). Last year, we were lacking leadership, but that's not going to happen this year."
Hudson seconded that statement.
"I remember that last game," he said. "We walked out of there with our heads down. I don't want that to happen again. We've been working hard to get ready for the season. It's not going to be like last year."
Monroe High School's 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Charles Truitt (8th season at Monroe, 10th overall as head coach; 40-37 career record at Monroe; 49-48 career record overall).
2010 RECORD: 4-6.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Jesse Hunt (linebackers); Billy Clanton (quarterbacks); Travis Lockhart (offensive line); Derick Battle (offensive line); Clifford Wooden (defensive line); Scott Hall (defensive backs); Jimmy King (defensive backs).
RETURNING STARTERS: Devine Noel (Sr., RB); Hakeem Porter (Jr., OL); Anthony Smith (Jr., LB); Jawaski Randle (Jr., DB); Ernest Davis (Jr., DB); Charles Stafford (So., QB); Vontrell McMillan (Sr., DE); Derell Price (Sr., DT); Marcus Coe (Jr., C); Terevious Hudson (Jr., WR).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Erron Grant (Sr., DB); Tim McCray (So., DE); Derrick Adams (So., DB); Cortez Banks (Jr., OL); Demetrius Jordan (So., OL); Mesean Lovitt (Jr., OL); Kevin Williams (Jr., WR); Keonte Franklin (Jr., WR); Brenton Truitt (Fr., RB).
2011 Monroe High School Tornadoes schedule
Today vs. Terrell County, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Northeast, Macon, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 10 vs. Albany, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Brooks County, at Hugh Mills 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. Cairo, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Americus-Sumter, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Worth County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Crisp County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Dougherty, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Westover, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.