It wasn’t a long, winding road for Darion Monroe to get here. As the team’s captain and leader, the Tulane senior safety doesn’t need a lesson on leadership or a study session on the Green Wave’s defense entering his final season.
After starting all of Tulane’s 37 games over the past three years, the outspoken and versatile Monroe knows exactly what to say and exactly where to be on the field.
“I’d say I’m pretty comfortable here,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a while.”
Indeed he has.
As preseason practice drags on, before the Green Wave opens its season against Duke in Yulman Stadium at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Monroe has become the face and voice of the team’s most relied-upon unit.
Despite losing its leading tackler (graduated Sam Scofield) and a pair of cornerbacks (Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon) to the NFL draft, Monroe projects confidence about his secondary and the defense as a whole, calling the shots and serving as everything from mentor to coach to playmaker.
“We may as well put him in the coach’s meetings with us,” secondary coach Jason Rollins said. “He literally knows where every person on the defense is supposed to be at any time, in any formation. He makes my job a lot easier, because I know if someone messes up, before I can even say anything, he’s over at their position showing them what went wrong. He knows the system and the scheme backwards and forwards and isn’t shy about helping at any point. That’s what makes him a leader.”
And that’s nothing new, either.
Ever since stepping onto Tulane’s campus as a four-star athlete out of East St. John — turning down an offer from Texas A&M to join coach Curtis Johnson’s first recruiting class — Monroe has been in the spotlight.
He was the incarnation of Johnson’s recruiting strategy: Keep highly touted local prospects close to home, and push the ability to play in front of friends and family over massive stadiums and budgets in power conferences.
Monroe bought in.
“Darion Monroe meant a lot to us,” Johnson said. “He believed in us, and we believed in him, and he’s the type of kid who you can build around. And it’s not just the way he plays; it’s because he’s someone everyone listens to, and it’s really, really good just to have a guy like that on board. And that made our job easier from Day One.”
As a freshman on a talent-depleted team in 2012, Monroe made his way into the starting lineup, shining as a cornerback in preseason camp. He would spend exactly one game at the position.
During the second game of the season, starting safety Devon Walker suffered serious spinal trauma and a life-threatening injury, leaving not only a cloud over the remainder of the season but also a hole at the position. Monroe volunteered his services and has been a mainstay at safety ever since.
“He never hesitated,” Rollins said. “He just wanted to play, and he just wanted to help. He was a high school quarterback less than a year before that, and now he’s back there helping call coverages.”
Tulane struggled the rest of his freshman year to a 2-10 finish, but Monroe was a vital part of its defensive renaissance in 2013 when the Green Wave finished No. 22 nationally as part of the school’s first winning season in 11 years.
He was an even more vital player in 2014 as Tulane’s offense stagnated, and Monroe was there to lift the defense and keep games competitive during a disappointing 3-9 season.
Now his task may be even greater. Instead of being surrounded by proven performers and NFL talent, Monroe’s job as de facto coach may be as important as his play on the field. With a new starting cornerback and nickelback in front of him and an inexperienced strong safety alongside him, Monroe will be heavily relied upon.
“I just look to him and know he’s going to tell me what went right or wrong,” fellow safety Tristan Cooper said. “I don’t even know how he sees every position the way he does and still manages to play his. He just knows everything that’s going on, so I count on him.”
It’s a circumstance Monroe is all too familiar with.
“I’m happy to do whatever it takes,” he said. “This is my last season, so I’ll do anything to help.”