MONROE CITY, Mo. -- A ringing endorsement let David Kirby know he was in for a special season.
During the offseason at a 7-on-7 camp, the Monroe City football coach crossed paths with Jim Unruh, the offensive coordinator at West Hancock who also won several state titles with the Carthage and Illini West football teams.
Kirby wanted Unruh's opinion of this season's Panthers.
"I asked him what he looked for in those really good Carthage teams," Kirby said. "He went, ‘Man, you've got a pretty good group. I think you guys can win it.' Here's Coach Unruh saying that."
It was the first instance Kirby believed Monroe City could not only get back to the Class 1 state championship game but could win it after suffering a 47-14 loss to Penney the year before.
With a roster loaded with title game experience coming back, Kirby knew it was possible to return to the title game. He needed to make sure the players didn't lose focus of their goal. To do that, Kirby and the Panthers made a rule -- no one talked about last year's championship game.
Behind the scenes, however, they were eager to get back.
"We all were," Kirby said. "We wanted to get back there. That was the thing. We had to tell ourselves we had to stay focused as well. If we're good enough to get through the regular season, maybe we're good enough to get through districts.
"We really made a conscious effort to not look past anybody, and I think that helped everyone stay on the same page."
There was only one bump along the way. Kirby thought his team was looking past Centralia.
"We knew the Palmyra game was coming, and there were a couple moments we weren't as sharp as we should," he said. "We just needed to relax and bring it back in."
Monroe City rolled through the regular season by beating opponents by an average of 27.2 points per game. The closest game was a 22-20 victory over Palmyra in the regular-season finale.
"It woke us up," Kirby said. "We did some things uncharacteristically in that game with fumbles and penalties. Palmyra came out really physical and forced us into that, and it made us uncomfortable.
"We needed that game to get us ready."
After the teams finished their postgame prayer huddle, Palmyra coach Kevin Miles told Monroe City to go win a state championship.
Six weeks later, Monroe City was lifting the state trophy for the third time in program history and first time since 1996.
"(Palmyra) showed us what kind of football we have to play to win a title," Kirby said. "Lo and behold, that's what we ended up doing."
COACHES OF THE YEAR
017 -- David Kirby, Monroe City
2016 -- David Kirby, Monroe City
2015 -- Kevin Krietemeyer, Unity-Payson
2014 -- Kevin Miles, Palmyra
2013 -- Kevin Miles, Palmyra
2012 -- Brad Dixon, Central
2011 -- Tom Little, Brown County
2010 -- Jim Unruh, Illini West
2009 -- Rick Little, Quincy
2008 -- Jim Unruh, Illini West
2007 -- Matt Smith, Clark County
2006 -- Mark St. Clair, Hannibal
2005 -- Kent O'Laughlin, South Shelby
2004 -- Tom Little, Brown County
2003 -- Don Bigley, Pittsfield
2002 -- Jim Unruh, Carthage
2001 -- Mark St. Clair, Hannibal
2000 -- Par Pitts, Palmyra
1999 -- Jim Unruh, Carthage
1998 -- Tony Merryman, Pleasant Hill
1997 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe CIty
1996 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe City
1995 -- Jim Unruh, Carthage
1994 -- Bill Connell, QND
1993 -- Tom Gramates, Mark Twain
1992 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe City
1991 -- Will Bavery, Rushville
1990 -- John Morris, South Shelby
1989 -- Gary Brickman, Unity
1988 -- Jeff Wright, Mark Twain
1987 -- Dale Labuary, Monroe City
1986 -- Dean Cappel, Quincy
1985 -- Jim Repplinger, Hamilton
1984 -- Ken Miller, Carthage
1983 -- Bob Winstead, QND
1982 -- Jim Henry, Brown County
1981 -- Dave Bennett, Pittsfield
1980 -- Jeff White, Knox County
1979 -- Bob Steinman, Carthage
1978 -- Don Flowers, Pleasant Hill
1977 -- Jim Repplinger, Hamilton