The gym at Monroe Central is dark and seemingly deserted on a recent morning, the court and bleachers all empty. It’s easy to overlook the football team hard at work nearby.
The Golden Bears are in a room tucked away in one of the upper corners of the gym, quietly watching film in preparation for their opener Friday at Edinburgh. It’s an important game for a young football program still trying to fully establish itself.
Monroe Central beat Edinburgh at home last year, its first varsity win in the program’s short history. Friday will be the first chance for a rematch against the opponent from that historic night last year. The Golden Bears are also eager to improve on last year’s win total, when they went 2-8 and lost a third win to forfeit. A victory against Edinburgh would be an important step toward that goal.
As the film session ends and the doors open to the upper bleacher level, players say their goodbyes to coach John Hochstetler and members of his staff. Hochstetler, the Golden Bears’ first-year coach, is the man in charge of developing the program as it takes its next steps. Friday will mark the beginning of the Golden Bears’ third full varsity schedule. They played a sectional game the year before, their only varsity game in 2009.
Hochstetler coached at Central for 13 years before moving east to take over Monroe Central this summer. As he looks through the gym decorated in brown and gold, he talks about how he’s beginning to develop the same loyalty for Monroe Central that developed over more than a decade in Muncie. His children, at least those who are school-age, are enrolled in the Monroe Central district, something he said is helpful in building relationships with the families at his new school.
Along with loyalty, Hochstetler talks about potential. Monroe Central is a growing school, he says, and he’s eager for his future there. He’s brought several of his assistant coaches with him from Central, including longtime defensive coach Rich Green.
As for the immediate future, though, Hochstetler said he’s more focused on daily improvement from his team instead of reaching for a win total, which depends a lot on which opponents are scheduled.
“I’m most interested in feeling like we play football at a high level,” Hochstetler said. “From what I’ve seen, we can tackle a lot better than we have. We can play blocks a lot better, we can make decisions on offense. And then if you’re having a hard time matching up, you’re OK with it. But we aren’t there yet. We still have some slack in our line, and that’s what we’re working on. Turnovers, hitting, our pass protection, being able to tackle well in open space.”
Senior defensive lineman Vance Butler said Hochstetler has brought more of a college atmosphere to the Golden Bears, a change Butler has enjoyed.
“He takes it that serious of a level,” Butler said. “So it’s kind of nice knowing somebody cares about it as much as we do.”
While at Central, Hochstetler established the John Frank League to get players involved in football at a young age. He remained heavily involved in the league during his tenure with the Bearcats. A youth program has already been established at Monroe Central, and Hochstetler’s already been spotted there.
Senior Davey Tinsman coaches his younger brother in flag football on one of those youth teams. He’s noticed Hochstetler’s presence at some of those practices. As Tinsman talks about the popularity of the youth football program, he talks about how he thinks a pipeline will be built of younger players who grow up wanting to play for the Golden Bears when they hit high school.
Butler, sitting to Tinsman’s right, begins to talk about his desire to come back years after graduation to see a game, to see the future of the program they played for in its early years. Tinsman and teammate Coby Jones, who’s also sitting in Hochstetler’s office share the desire to come back and see the program when it’s more established.
Asked if he thinks Hochstetler will be the coach when he comes back to see a game years later, Tinsman isn’t certain. He can only go by what he’s seen in his early interactions with his new coach.
“He acts like he’s going to be here (13 years) like he was at Muncie Central,” Tinsman said. “And he acts like he wants to make this program grow and make it one of the programs that wins all the games and has all the crowd all pumped up. He acts like he’s going to be that coach that stays.”