Monkus breaks silence between lines

Staff photo by E.J. Harris Stanfield's Thyler Monkus rushes the ball in the Tigers' 49-41 win against Irrigon on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Irrigon.

Thyler Monkus jogged over to the sideline, removed his helmet and set it on the sideline. He offered a hand to shake and says softly, “How are you?”

Softly because Monkus isn’t vocal. He’s not a rah-rah leader and isn’t going to give any impassioned locker room speeches. It’s a running joke amongst the Tigers that he doesn’t speak, or rarely does. It’s reminiscent of a story about Calvin Coolidge, a famously soft-spoken American president who, at a dinner party, was challenged in a wager that he wouldn’t say two words. He smiled and said, “You lose.”

Monkus, like Coolidge, doesn’t speak, but acts.

“He’s not your typical ‘superstar’ guy,” head coach Davy Salas said. “He kind of plays angry all the time, but he’s a nice kid. He’s very reserved. He doesn’t let too many people around.”

“As long as I’ve known him, he’s always been quiet,” classmate and offensive lineman Hunter Barnes added.

That’s reminiscent of an NFL running back who is reserved off the field and productive on it. It’s Marshawn Lynch, the running back from the Seattle Seahawks. Monkus, though not a Seahawks and Lynch fan, agreed with the comparison. So did Salas.

“That’s a fair comparison, it puts it on the money,” Salas said. “He’s more business than anything.”

The first-year coach, who has personality enough for the two of them, has grown close to the reserved Monkus. As an entering freshman, Salas tried immediately to crack the tough shell of Monkus.

“I’m a happy-go-lucky guy,” Salas said, smiling. “I’m not gonna stop until you talk to me.”

So after repeated attempts, Monkus opened up. Now the pair sometimes goes out for dinner or lunch and talks about football.

“We have a good relationship,” Monkus said. “He’s a great coach. He pushes us everyday.”

Sometimes, teammates try to needle him and get him to say something, anything.

“I like to get on his nerves,” junior guard Jose Garcia joked.

Monkus isn’t tall, maybe 5-foot-9, and weighs only 145 pounds, but don’t let his stature fool you. The diminutive running back is the driving force behind Stanfield’s historic run to its first football semifinal since 1957, when the No. 9 Tigers (10-1) travel to Hillsboro to play No. 4 Kennedy at 5 p.m.

As the Tigers’ featured back, the junior has carried 180 times for 1,571 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 11 games, he’s rushed for 142.8 yards per game, and is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt.

As a sophomore, with starting quarterback Dylan Grogan and backup quarterback Ryan Bailey out with injuries, Monkus took all the snaps, attempted most of the rushes and threw almost all of the passes. To head coach Davy Salas, it’s his toughness that makes Monkus such a special player.

“He practices hard,” Salas said. “He’s competitive. Every rep is competitive. When he loses a race, he’s competitive. He doesn’t take plays off. He doesn’t take practices off.”

But he also sets the standard from the other running backs. His relentless style and work ethic provide an example for the others, and it’s worn off on them. Makiah Blankenship, Justin Keeney and even quarterback Dylan Grogan take their cues from Monkus, but so does the whole team.

“He gives it his all 100 percent of the time, so we all feed off that,” senior defensive back Jason Fitzpatrick said. “We have a lot of runners that like to run hard. When something happens, Thyler’s usually the first one there saying, ‘Let’s get it fixed.’”

But what sets Monkus apart isn’t his speed, which is top end, it’s his knack of avoiding the big hit. Because he’s a smaller back, he has a low center of gravity, which already makes him a tough tackle and allows him to push piles with his legs. But it also gives Monkus outs when a big hit seems imminent. He’s got quick feet, so he can tip-toe around a would-be tackler. He’s smart, too, so he’ll slip out of bounds when there’s no hole to hit, conceding a play without risking a big hit or a turnover.

It’s qualities like that which allow him to carry 40 times in a game as a 145-pound sophomore, or 30 times as a 145-pound junior in a playoff game.

“If he was taking big hits, I would be a little more reserved about giving him the ball that many times,” Salas said. “But he’s so shifty, and his linemen are always in front of him. So when he gets in a big pile, its not a head-on hit. If you can catch him and get a head-on hit, you’re a pretty good football player.”

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