Arnel Monroe taught Hickman players more than football

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Family, coaches, players and members of the Columbia community all gathered at Alumni Stadium Thursday night to remember Hickman football coach Arnel Monroe.

Monroe wore a Kewpie uniform as a high schooler and rejoined the program in 1995 as a coach. He coached as an assistant until he earned head coaching honors in 2011.

Over his 21 seasons coaching at Hickman he had the opportunity to work with several hundred players. Some of his players said his impact on their lives went beyond the game they were a part of.

"He just taught us what it was like to be a man, not just on the field but off the field," sophomore football player Ryan Padgett said.

"Coach Monroe, he finds out about everything," sophomore football player Foster McCormick said. "And every time I got in trouble he had a talk with me, like he sat me down and he just kept telling me 'You've got to quit what you're doing, you’ve got to get your life back together,' like he really cared about us and he was always there for me."

Hickman running back Darmarion Avery said he might not be on pace to graduate high school without Monroe in his life.

"I probably would have dropped out and said, 'Forget it,'" Avery said, "but he kept me on the right path."

Atah Knighten, an assistant football coach at Hickman and Monroe's fraternity brother, said he had a special bond with Monroe.

"Me and coach, that’s my brother," Knighten said. "He was a big brother, I was a little brother."

Knighten said Monroe strived to teach students more than football.

"Family, dedication, loyalty. That's what we teach the kids," he said. "Life knocks you down, get back up."

If Monroe noticed a student needed help getting back up, he would provide assistance.

"Like this year he sent me to Douglas [High School] to get my grades up and all that," Avery said. "If he didn't want me to get my grades up he would have let me stay here and would’ve let me struggle, but he sent me somewhere he knew I could get an education and come back to play football my senior year."

Avery said Monroe wanted to help him achieve his goals.

"He said 'I got a big dream for you', and he said, 'You’re going to go to JUCO [junior college]. You're going to go D-I [division one]. If you try hard and stay in school you’re going to make it,'" Avery said. "Every time I was in bad or doing bad he would tell me, 'What did I tell you? What dreams do I have for you? And he just let me know, 'Hey, you’re going to make it. Just pay attention."

"I hope what he has instilled in these kids is, like I said, the fight," Knighten said. "To keep on fighting. No matter what, keep fighting."