Get close enough to David Kirby on the sidelines during a Monroe City football game, and you might hear what he's saying into his headset.
Most of the time he's discussing what plays to run, what's working on the field and what isn't. Sometimes, Kirby will start singing to himself. It can be a variety of genres from rock, to pop and even rap. The Panthers' coach says it helps him relax during a stressful game.
That was a reflection of the entire team during its historic run to the Class 1 state championship this fall, which ended by defending perennial power Ste. Genevieve Valle 12-7 at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.
Monroe City had its sights set on a return to the state championship game after getting blown out in 2016 by Penney. The Panthers were eager to erase the emotions of that loss and replace them with the feeling of winning a state title, but they made sure to enjoy the ride and create their own memories, too.
Monroe City's closest game through the first eight weeks of the season was a 44-36 victory over Clark County -- a Class 2 semifinalist -- in the opening game. The Panthers dominated the schedule with an offense spearheaded by fullback Cole Pennewell, the Clarence Cannon Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and running back Zach Osborn. Monroe City scored no fewer than 36 points in a game while holding opponents to 13.2 points per game and posting three shutouts.
The Panthers' easy-going demeanor helped them avoid pressure of being the top-ranked team in the state.
Practices were loose. Kirby made jokes with his players that helped bring a balance between knowing when to be serious and when to lighten up and enjoy the game. The Panthers even had a little bit of fun when sophomore Nolan Pennewell channeled his inner Ric Flair before every game.
Kirby also knew how to make every player feel important.
In the fourth quarter of Monroe City's 54-0 rout over Paris on Sept. 29, senior Chase Buckman entered the game. Buckman, who has Down syndrome, was a manager for the team his first three years at Monroe City and was given a roster spot for his senior year. He scored his first touchdown on a 39-yard run to cap off the victory.
Buckman was mobbed by teammates after scoring and got a hug by Kirby on the sidelines.
Monroe City got its first true test two weeks later in one of the most thrilling Mayor's Cup games against Palmyra in recent years. With the CCC championship on the line, Monroe City escaped with a 22-20 victory when a field goal went wide left as time expired.
Monore City rolled through district play, then topped Westran 44-7 in the quarterfinals. The most memorable play, however, came after the game when Kirby took a knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Amanda Owens, in front of the entire team.
Owens said yes.
Two weeks later, Monroe City was lifting the Class 1 state trophy for the first time in two decades. Before leaving the field with the trophy in hand, the Panthers got in one more Ric Flair "Woo!"
It was the perfect time to be stylin' and profilin'.