MONTICELLO — During early football practices last season, Cully Welter had a plan in place for his Monticello football team.
Initially, Alek Bundy was set to finish off his high school career as a wide receiver, where he played his junior season, and then-sophomore running back Chris Brown was going to be the primary back for the Sages.
Things changed, however, and Bundy took over as running back. The rest is history. Bundy rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns and turned in an all-time clutch performance in the Class 3A state championship win over Byron with three total touchdowns and a game-sealing interception.
In turn, though, Brown took a backseat. He still rushed for 597 yards on 62 carries — 9.6 yard per carry — and four touchdowns while also playing a bit of receiver, but he wasn't quite in the role as a feature back. The Sages lost most everybody to graduation off of their state championship team, though, and Brown will now move into that starting running back role.
“Chris was kind of a change-up running back for us last year — someone we tried to get on the perimeter periodically," Welter said. "... We tried to get his speed on the field wherever we could. "
Brown was on the Monticello 4x100-meter relay team last season that set a new school record in 43.26 seconds, but an injury in sectionals stopped his season before advancing to state.
Naturally, that speed plays on a football field. As a freshman, Brown returned a punt for a touchdown and broke a 66-yard run in Week 2 last season against Chillicothe IVC.
“It just really helps a lot, getting down the field and being faster than everyone else," Brown said.
Welter has had his eyes on Brown for years, dating back to when Brown moved to Monticello from Rantoul in the fourth grade. Even then it was clear that eventually Brown would be a contributor on the high school field. That speed that Brown possesses kept showing up play after play, especially in JFL.
Brown began running around players, not frequently needing to absorb any contact. It's a much preferred path for most running backs with the speed to make it look effortless.
“He was one of those kids at the JFL level, who, nobody could touch him," Welter said. "He’s learning at the varsity level that there are kids with comparable speed, so he can’t lean on that attribute, as good as it is."
In practices last season, the Sages' coaching staff made sure to point Brown in the direction of Bundy to watch and learn while also pitting their speed up against on another. Brown credited those teaching experiences for making him a better player, which he hopes leads to a breakout junior season.
Welter admitted the offense won't be as pass-heavy as it's been in recent years, especially with the graduation of former quarterback Braden Snyder. That admission translates to more handoffs to the speedy running back wearing No. 8.
That means more chances for Brown to blow by the defense, something he's particularly grown to enjoy.
“Running around because you get to look at them while you’re running past them," he said of if he prefers to run through or around someone.
At Monticello's 7-on-7 camp last week, where running backs aren't exactly taking carries, Brown lined up in the slot as a receiver on offense and took his place as a defensive back on the other side of the ball.
He delivered with at least two touchdown receptions, where he juggled the ball both times before completely securing the catch and darting into the end zone. There's still work to be done and fine-tuning to take Brown's game to the next level, but Welter can see the tools.
“He’s not a big kid, but he’s pretty tough," Welter said of his 5-7, 150-pound running back. "He relies a little bit too much on his speed, but it’s not because he isn’t tough, he’ll lower his shoulder, but he’s used to running around them.
“We’ve got to get him more disciplined in his tracks, but now that he’s going to get a lot of carries I imagine that’s going to be a little easier to get done."