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FOOTBALL

Faulkner County Your guide to local football

Changing with the Cats Ashcraft ready to get team on track n Page 3

Fortune telling See how the conference races will play out

Inside

See overviews, features and more from:

H Conway H Conway Christian H Greenbrier H Vilonia H Mayflower H UCA H Arkansas


OVERVIEW

 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

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Lots of new touches everywhere this season

F

aulkner County football this season has a touch of newness. New coaches, new offenses and defenses, new coordinators, new unis, new faces, new turf, new vistas. So, as we begin another football season, let’s examine some of the challenges and questions around the county. UCA: The Bears begin the season in Hawaii on Labor Day weekend and end in Conway against North Dakota on Thanksgiving weekend. In between, we’ll find out how they will fare in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision for the first time without Nathan Brown at quarterback. Can a much-vaunted defense buy some time for the offense? How will the Bears fare with two NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, Hawaii and

MCCOLLUM’S COLUMN David McCollum david.mccollum@thecabin.net Western Kentucky? How will the Bears be different with two new coordinators, Brooks Hollingsworth on offense and Todd Williamson on defense? How will the Bears fare with a big target on their backs after finishing in first place last year in the Southland Conference? Can the Bears avoid all the distractions of Hawaii? CONWAY: The Wampus Cats begin a new era under Clint Ashcraft and

FAULKNER COUNTY FOOTBALL 2009 TABLE OF CONTENTS Conway

7

7A Central Overview

4

5-2A Central Overview

11

Conway Christian

12

5A-West

14

Vilonia

15

Greenbrier

17

2-3A Overview

19

Mayflower

19

Southland Overview

22

UCA

23

SEC Overview

26

Arkansas

27

his staff. Switching philosophies will take some time. Another big change will be on the surface, where synthetic turf has been added to John McConnell Stadium. The Cats will face an immediate challenge with an opener at Bentonville. How long will it take the Cats to adjust to Ashcraft’s spread offense and a more multiple defense? Can the Cats make the playoffs and challenge the top teams in 7A-Central? How will the fans react to the new coaching regime? CONWAY CHRISTIAN: The Eagles begin their second year of 11-man football in the Arkansas Activities Association with most of their skill players returning. Can they make the playoffs again? Can the Eagles stop the bigger teams better this season? Last season, the Eagles beat the teams they were

supposed to and lost (usually by decisive margins) to the teams they weren’t supposed to beat. Can they pull an upset or two this season? GREENBRIER: Coach Randy Tribble, in his second season, is trying to change the culture after years of losing. The Panthers will also play on new turf and face an uphill climb in one of the toughest leagues in the state. Can they move out of the cellar? Will promising sophomore quarterback Neal Burcham make a difference? Can the Panthers pull an upset or two? How will the influx of a talented junior high class affect their competitiveness? VILONIA: It’s another team with new synthetic turf. Can the Eagles avoid the injuries that devastated them from the beginning of last season? Can the Eagles, a run-oriented team

in a passing league, make their unique system work? Can they again move into a contending position in 5AWest? MAYFLOWER: The Eagles, defending champions, return the fewest players in 3-2A. Can they continue their winning tradition with a target on their backs? Can they replace several players who gave strong leadership over three years? Can they beat Harding Academy again? Can they make a return trip to the playoffs? Many of these are old questions with a new touch. The beginning of the season is a lot like the Christmas season. We know there’ll be some surprises, but we don’t know the packages they will be in.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 5051235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)


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COVER STORY

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 

Changing with the Cats New Conway coach embraces challenge of getting team on track By MARK BURKE LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

A

big change came to the Conway High School football program last November. Longtime coach Kenny Smith, who had been with the school in various capacities for more than two decades, resigned his post as the leader of the Wampus Cats, as school officials decided “to go a different direction.” That led to a search that drew quite a bit of interest from many in the state and even several out-of-staters. More than 20 officially applied. Many more inquired. When it was all said and done, then Siloam Springs coach Clint Ashcraft took the reins. The move came after helping build the Panthers into a strong program, including a nine-win season after missing the playoffs a little earlier. Sure, leaving Siloam was hard. In the end, though, coming to Conway was a nobrainer. “It’s hard leaving everybody up there (Siloam Springs),” Ashcraft said, “but from a coaching standpoint, it was easy. Conway’s been down a little bit, but I always thought there was great potential here. “When I got a phone call to come interview here, I didn’t hesitate. I always thought this was a great place to coach football. After being here for eight months, I still believe that.” Ashcraft, Lonoke’s Jeff Jones and Neosho (Mo.) High’s Shawn Flannigan were the only candidates who had second interviews for the position made vacant by Smith’s departure. After talking with Ashcraft and seeing what he was all about, superintendent Greg Murry and athletic director Buzz Bolding found their guy.

And it wasn’t just about X’s and O’s. “What really drew us to him was how he talked about dealing with the kids,” Bolding said at the time. “That’s so important because we want to win games, but the kids are what really matter the most.” After that point, the Conway School board held a

‘When I got a phone call to come interview here, I didn’t hesitate. I always thought this was a great place to coach football. After being here for eight months, I still believe that.’ — Clint Ashcraft, Conway football coach

special meeting, and Ashcraft was hired in late December. SInce then, there’s been new philosophies, new schemes and a whole new system put into place for a once strong program that was in contention for a conference title quite often. The days have been dim, though, in recent times. Five wins over the past two seasons — and obviously no playoff berth — have caused many in and around the program to become disgruntled. That prompted a major change in the program to take an accelerated pace. Even a change in style of of-

A lot of change has come to the Conway High football program in recent months with the hiring of Clint Ashcraft. After former Wampus Cat coach Kenny Smith roamed the sideline for 18 years at the helm, Ashcraft has taken over and installed a band-new system, including a Spread offense. He’s hoping these changes will help get Conway back to its winning ways and back into the postseason. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

fense was a reason, as Murry said a coach who’d run the spread offense was part of the focus during the search. But that’s all said and done, and a new era has been

ushered in. There has no doubt been plenty of change in the program, but that applies to Ashcraft himself too, as he’ll be on the sideline for a different school for the first

time in five years. Making the adjustment, though, isn’t something Ashcraft sees as a lingering problem.

CHanging n 10


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EMTs help add ‘extra layer of safety’ on sidelines By JOE LAMB LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

The Wampus Cat football team has had some great moments in its past. That list includes an undefeated season and state championship in 1964, finishing as state runners-up in 1993 and seeing players such as Peyton Hillis, now with the Denver Broncos, come through the program. But according to Conway

athletic director Buzz Bolding, having Conway Fire Department EMTs on the sidelines at every home game and every practice is “probably the greatest thing that’s ever happened to our football program because we have an extra layer of safety.” Since 2001, CFD EMT intermediates have been at-theready to administer speedy remedies to players who suffer injuries or heat exhaustion. They’ve also been at

little-league games for about eight years, and about three years ago, CFD started doing the same at Conway Christian School. “It’s a contact sport,” Bolding said. “It’s a comfort to all of our coaches and players and parents to have this. We do have a trainer that is available to the school and she does a great job, but she’s one person. These firemen are there for us and they have the equip-

ment to take care of overheating and just about any kind of injury we might see on the field.” Conway Fire Chief Bart Castleberry said it’s a pleasure for his firemen, many of whom are “armchair quarterbacks.” “The guys get to know the kids by name,” Castleberry said. “They’ve watched some of them from little league through high school, when they’re starting for Conway

Christian or the Wampus Cats. We’re all armchair quarterbacks. Through the week we talk about the programs in Conway.” Thankfully there’s been no critical injuries on the field since CFD started watching over the young athletes, Castleberry said, though there have been a few heart attacks among those in the stands and a neck injury or two, “and it was all handled appropriately.”

North Little Rock favored to take 7A-Central By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

With a lot of new faces and variables affecting the situation, the race appears to be a scramble with North Little Rock, Cabot, Russellville, Little Rock Catholic and Bryant. FAVORITE: North Little Rock SLEEPER: Bryant BIGGEST HILL TO CLIMB: Little Rock Central NORTH LITTLE ROCK Coach: Brad Bolding, 2nd season, 10-11. Last year: 7-4, T-4th Returning starters: 11. Top returning players: Running back Michael Tillman; wide receivers Devonta Rich and Marcus Brown, tackle Hunter Hess, guard Chris Ferguson, defensive tackles De’Arius Hudson and Colt Schallar, linebacker Bryan McCleary, safety Colby Miller. The skinny: The Charging Wildcats have 42 seniors, a quality sophomore class and several top transfers. Their defense will be tough. If they solidify things at quarterback, they’ll make some noise

Projected 7A-Central Finish 1. North Little Rock

2. Cabot 3. Russellville 4. Little Rock Catholic 5. Bryant 6. Conway 7. Van Buren 8. Little Rock Central in the playoffs. CABOT Coach: Mike Malham Jr., 227-93-4 Last year: 9-2, 1st Returning starters: 9 Top returning players: Quarterback Seth Bloomberg, fullback Michael James, noseguard T.J. Bertrand, fullback/ linebacker Spencer Newman. The skinny: Typical solid Cabot team with an experienced backfield. The Panthers figure to be somewhere near the top. RUSSELLVILLE Coach: Jeff Holt, 64-52.

Last year: 9-3, T-2nd Returning starters: 7 Top returning players: Quarterback Barrett Hughes, tight end Damarius Neal, wide receiver Matt Lutz, offensive lineman Logan Purtle, nosegurd Ty Osborne, defensive end Ru Massey. The skinny: Rebuilding job on defense, but Hughes gives the offense a dynamic look. LITTLE ROCK CATHOLIC Coach: Ellis “Scooter” Regsiter, 37-30. Last year: 7-5, T-2nd Returning starters: 13 Top returning players: Quarterbacks Taylor Bartlett and Zach Conque, back Garrett Uekman and wide receiver Blaine Tanner, defensive linemen Matt Casanova, Drew Turner, Tylor Mattox and Travis Williams, cornerback Eric Redmon. The skinny: Bartlett is a three-year starter at quarterback. This appears to be a balanced Catholic team that will be dangerous. BRYANT Coach: Paul Calley, 45-213

Last year: 8-4, T-4th Returning starters: 9 Top returning players: Running back Chris Rycraw, quarterback Jimi Easterling, wide receiver Brandon Parish, cornerbacks Tanner Tolbert and Logan Garland. The skinny: Rycraw should be one of the top backs in the conference. The Hornets could rise in the standings if they get solid defensive players up front. CONWAY Coach: Clint Ashcraft, 1st season. Last year: 2-8, T-6th Returning starters: 6. Top returning players: Quarterback Xavier Acklin, backs Cameron Azumura and Jemarkus Harmon, receiver Jalen Jones, offensive lineman Fadil Prelvukau, linebacker Spencer Noggle, place-kicker Ben Riner. The skinny: With the switch to a spread offense, uncertainty at quarterback and a new defense, it may take the Cats a full year to get used to Ashcraft’s system. Fourth or fifth place will be a major achievement.

VAN BUREN Coach: Mike Lee, 2-9 Last year: 2-9, T-6th, playoff berth Returning starters: 15 Top returning players: Quarterback and wide receiver Tyler Spoon, fullback Connor Joyce, receiver Jake Thompson, linebacker Quentin George. The skinny: The Pointers made the playoff last year. The program is improving steadily but probably not enough to get into the top part of the standings. LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL Coach: Bernie Cox, 271113-8. Last year: 0-10, 8th. Returning starters: 7. Top returning players: Quarterback Adam Meeks, place-kicker Walker Hawkins, linebacker Blake James, lineman Justin Henderson. The skinny: The Tigers had an almost unprecedented winless season last year. With some undersized linemen and uncertainty in the backfield, the prospects may not be much better.

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New-look Wampus Cats ready to claw through 7A Central By MARK BURKE LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

For the first time in nearly two decades, the Conway Wampus Cats will enter the season with someone other than Kenny Smith in charge. Clint Ashcraft’s arrival has brought many changes to the program. There have also been a couple of major changes in appearances. For starters, the Cats will be playing in new uniforms after reaching a deal with Under Armour. The games at John McConnell Stadium will have a different look too, as synthetic turf now makes up the field surface. There’s a lot of newness in the program, and as a result, a lot of uncertainty. After failing to make the playoffs the past two seasons, Conway is looking to right the ship and get back to its postseason ways. Just be patient. Among all the uncertainty, one thing is certain — the changes leading to success

will take time. That’s something Ashcraft is aware of, but the Cats aren’t looking to sit idly by this year. “It is sort of (a rebuilding year) because everything is new,” Ashcraft said. “But, we’re not going to chalk this up to a rebuilding season because that’s not fair to our seniors. “We want to win, and we want to win now.” That sort of attitude has brought out increased numbers, as the Cats have had 119 players come out. Last season’s high was in the 80s. Much of that has been a result of the new system being installed. On offense, Conway will move away from its traditional wing-T in favor of a spread offense. The defense will feature more multiple schemes. The installation process has been critical. It’s still somewhat of a work in progress for the coaches as well. “The hardest part is getting everyone on the same page,” Ashcraft said. “I think

we’ve gotten a good start on that. It just takes time for us to start thinking alike as coaches. We’ve got to be of the same mindset.” A group of 27 seniors will look to lead the way, but a strong corps of underclassmen will be counted on heavily. Particuarly from the junior class, youth will be something the Cats look to build on — just not dwell on. “We’ve got a lot of juniors who are going to play,” Ashcraft said. “We don’t want to talk about next year because any time you talk about next year you take away from this year. “(Having a lot of young players get playing time) bodes well for the future, but we want to talk about today.” Things will be tough from the beginning, though, as Conway opens the season at Bentonville, a strong force in Class 7A. FROM THE OFFENSIVE SIDE: Senior quarterback Xavier Acklin adds

a dual threat with his ability to run and throw. However, handling the spread offense for the first time isn’t necessarily an easy chore. Acklin’s targets in the passing game aren’t accustomed to catching the ball, as the Cats have predominantly been a run-oriented team in the past. The running game should be strong, even if Desmond Cox isn’t able to play at all. Camaran Azumara, Jemarkus Harmon and Corven Alexander will add depth in the running game. FROM THE DEFENSIVE SIDE: Conway lost a lot of experience from last season’s defensive group. However, a strong group of underclassmen should help this year’s seniors pick things back up. The main chore will be adjusting to the more multiple schemes in the new system. Marquez Massey and Terrence Cartwright provide strong play at defensive end, while Darion Hill and Spencer Noggle will lead the linebacking corps. Wesley Hoover adds experience in the secondary. ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Running backs Camaran Azumara and Jemarkus Harmon, quarterback Xavier Acklin, defensive linemen Marquez Massey and Terrence Cartwright, linebackers Darion Hill and Spencer Noggle. VARIABLES: Adjusting to a new system. No proven wide receivers. Question marks on offensive line and secondary. TELLTALE GAMES: Sept. 25 at Cabot, Oct. 9 at Little Rock Central and Oct. 30 vs. Russellville. A GOOD SEASON WOULD BE: A .500- or near-.500 season. The Cats could be in the mix for a postseason run if they win half their games, as six teams from the 7A-Central Conference earn a playoff berth.

CONWAY The Basics Coach: Clint Ashcraft Last year: 2-8, 7th Returning starters: 4 offense, 5 defense Basic Offense: Spread Defense: Multiple Coaching staff: Offensive coordinator Brian Ramey, assistants Scott Schwartz, Buck Bing, J.R. Ross, Johnny Kennedy, Ray Sessions, Greg Hughes.

The Schedule Sept. 4 at Bentonville Sept. 11 FS Southside Sept. 18 Benton Sept. 25 at Cabot Oct. 2 North Little Rock (homecoming) Oct. 9 at LR Central Oct. 16 Bryant Oct. 23 at Van Buren Oct. 30 Russellville Nov. 5 (Thu.) at LR Catholic

The Keys The Cats have depth at most skill positions but need to get early experience to turn that into success. Finding the right combination of interior linemen on both sides of the ball will be critical. They must truly become a more-balanced offense and shore up a defense that was vulnerable to big plays.

The Reality The 7A Central appears to be strong at the top with North Little Rock and Cabot leading the way. Those teams and a tough opening opponent in Bentonville will give the Cats tough hurdles to get over. Winning many of the remaining games would be important if a realistic chance of a playoff berth is to be gained. Things will be shaky, at least initially, with the newness of the overall system.

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Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 

Acklin ready to blaze trail for new offense

By MARK BURKE LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

When the Conway Wampus Cat offense takes the field this season, the quarterback will be in somewhat of an unfamiliar position. That doesn’t mean Xavier Acklin will be uncomfortable. In fact, the senior signal caller is looking forward to that challenge. He’ll be the first quarterback in the Wampus Cats’ Spread offense implemented by new coach Clint Ashcraft. That’s quite a difference from the wing-T Conway had been accustomed to for many years. But the challenge brings nothing but excitement for Acklin. “It feels real good (to be the first quarterback in the new system),” Acklin said. “I like how we have so many plays and that it’s so spread out that if someone stops one thing, we can hit them with

something else.” This will be Acklin’s first year as a starting varsity quarterback. However, just like backups Aaron Latta, Patrick Mann, Tyler Langley and Chase Calcagni, Acklin has had the same task of learning a new scheme and how to line up in a different formation. “Last year, we were always under center,” he said. “Now, 90 percent of the time, we’ll be in the shotgun. It’s taken some adjustment, but I like it.” A Spread offense almost always means there will be plenty of aerial attacks. But for Acklin, the Spread means there’s more versatility, too. “I love it because you can throw, but you can also run,” Acklin said. “You’ve just got to do whatever is necessary to help the team win games.” That takes more than just athletic

Acklin n 9

When Xavier Acklin steps onto the field this season, he’ll have a role unlike any Conway quarterback in the past, operating out of the shotgun. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO


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Stable of backs looks to get Wampus Cats running

CMYK

By MARK BURKE LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

Believe it or not, the Conway Wampus Cats aren’t going to abandon the running game anytime soon. In fact, that may be a strong suit. It’ll just come in a different fashion. The Cats are by no means disappointed with the stable of running backs that will look to give opposing defenses fits. Those backs come with a variety of specialties of their own. First, there’s one of the most experienced in Cameron Azumara — he brings power. Jemarkus Harmon and Corven Alexander are newcomers looking to quickly get into the mix. That duo has skills of speed (Harmon) and agility (Alexander) — or so they say. Put it all together, and that’s a combination Conway hopes will lead to plenty of yards and touchdowns. “Everybody’s got different attributes,” Harmon said. “We’ve got a variety of things we can do.” Sometimes, those things may not be right, though. But the group works well enough together that those miscues can be corrected. “We learn from each other’s mistakes,” Alexander said. The running game took a hit when Desmond Cox, who emerged as the top back midway through last season, suffered a knee injury during the spring scrimmage. His status for the season is still up in the air, but indications are leaning toward a comeback being later rather than sooner. Still, whether it’s on the

Even with a Spread offense, the Conway Wampus Cats are looking to have a strong running game this season. Schemes will be different, and the Cats are hoping to find the right combination at a position with some depth. That effort will be led by (from left) Jemarkus Harmon, Cameron Azumara and Corven Alexander, as last year’s feature back Desmond Cox could miss the season. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

sideline or on the field, Cox wants to be a leader for the group even if he has to sit out his junior year. “If it’s a miracle, I might can play,” Cox said. “It’s going to be hard (watching from the sideline). If they start messing up, I’d want to be out there helping them, but I’ll just do whatever I

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can to help them get better.” Whoever is in the backfield, there could a little more ease getting past the line of scrimmage. “Last year, defenses were putting nine guys in the box,” Cox said. “They won’t be able to do that with the spread offense.” Rotating running backs should help keep defenses at bay as well.

That’s something the group is hoping helps increase the statistics. “We’re going to spread the defenses out more yards,” Azumara said. “We’ll get a lot more yards.” Cox was able to surpass the 200-yard mark against then-unbeaten Russellville last season. This year, reaching that amount will most likely take a more col-

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lective effort. “All of us can break it at any time,” Cox said. Azumara and Harmon are most likely to see the bulk of the playing time. Who plays the most will no doubt be determined by their production, but it doesn’t hurt to have options. “If one of them is hot, we’ll lean on him,” Cownay coach Clint Ashcraft said. “In this league, you’ve got to have two running backs because I don’t know if one can take that beating.” Injury is what led to Cox starting last season, after fullback Ivan Mendoza suffered a leg injury. With the fullback being a key cog in the wing-T, the injury left a void that led to the Cats running out of the I-formation, which is where Cox came in. Sure, Conway will use the pass a whole lot more this season. There’ll be a large variety of schemes and plays on the field, but that includes the ground game. “You’ve got to be able to do both (run and pass) if you’re going to be successful,” Ashcraft said.


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CONWAY

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 

Junior trio hopes to bring familylike attitude to defense By MARK BURKE LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

When it comes to defense for the Conway Wampus Cats, youth will definitely be served. The Cats may have 27 seniors on their roster, but there will be plenty of underclassmen seeing action. On defense, juniors Marquez Massey, Darion Hill and Terence Cartwright help solidify the group. Massey and Cartwright bookend the defensive line, while Hill helps clog up the middle at his mike linebacker position after having played noseguard last season. The success of that trio will greatly impact the defense’s success as a whole. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. “The front seven has always been the strong point,” Massey said. Regardless of where a given player is, though, it takes all the pieces working together. “The defense is like a big family,” Hill said. “You can’t do anything without each other.” “I’ve got to have my brother’s back,” Cartwright said. Like Hill, Massey is also making a change in position. He saw some action at linebacker last year. Now, he’s looking forward to his new role. “It’s a change in the feel for the game,” Massey said. “I think I can get more tackles since it’s closer to the line. It’s more fun.” For Hill, though, his new po-

sition and counterparts will go as well as the guys in front of him. “The linebackers are going to be as good as the defensive line is going to be,” Hill said. “It takes all of us doing our assignments and working together.” All three juniors saw significant playing time as sophomores. This time, though, they think things will be better. Having a different offensive system on the team could aid in that. “The new offense is going to spread things out more and keep us off the field more,” Massey said. “It’s going to take some pressure off us.” Many times last season, the Cats staggered on offense and saw many drives quickly end. A new system is something CHS is hoping will help revive success from the offense and keep the opposing defenses on the field more instead of its own. But when they are on the field, the juniors can benefit from the experience they got playing last season. “It helps a lot with the confidence, especially since it’s a whole different system now,” Cartwright said. It’s a system that will take time to fully grasp. In the meantime, especially given the youth of the team, it’s important that all involved are going through that process together. “We’ve got to try to be a family and be close,” Hill said. “We’ve got to be our brother’s keeper.”

If the Conway Wampus Cats are going to have a strong defensive effort, it will take the services of many underclassmen. Juniors (from left) Darion Hill, Marquez Massey and Terrance Cartwright should help in that area. The trio saw significant playing time as sophomores and are looking for more. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

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from

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3

“It won’t take long for that to disappear and all go away,” Ashcraft said. “I’m all about Conway now and making the Wampus Cats a good program. That’s what we’re worried about right now.” That task in and of itself is one of that major focal points put on Ashcraft, as he looks to get the Cats back to their winning ways. Doing that takes time, and it starts from the bottom. “My main goal is to build a program from the bottom to the top,” Ashcraft said. “We’re getting the seventh, eighth and ninth grades all running the same offense and defense. With all things working together, we’re building the program how we want it. “It takes four or five years for the results to really show up. You’ve got to give the kids time to grasp the new things.” So what about any pressure to win right away? “I don’t think anyone is going to put any more pressure on us than ourselves,” Ashcraft said. “We want to win now, but it takes time. You’ve just got to focus on what you’ve got to do to get better and go to work each day.” That work has many similarities to what Ashcraft has done in previous jobs. Things are just a little bigger now. “It’s a bigger stage,” Ashcraft said of his current position. “The No. 1 thing I bring is you’ve got to have discipline and you’ve got to do the little things right. If you do that, then the wins will start to take care of themselves.” Seeing more wins is obviously a goal, even right away. For Ashcraft, having such expectations is the only way to go. “We set our goals high,” Ashcraft said. “I mean, we’re realistic and know we’ve got a long ways to go, but we still have high goals. If you don’t set your goals high, then you get content and slack off some.

Acklin

CONWAY

7

skills. In fact, there’s plenty of intangibles that come with the job, but the new Cats coach is confident in his guy. “(Acklin) has kind of become a leader,” Ashcraft said. “He picked up on things quickly. He’s got to be in charge, and everybody’s got to respect him. “I think all the guys re-

One of the most notable on-the-field changes in this year’s Conway football team will be the offense using the pass as more of an option. Ashcraft has installed a Spread offense after taking over at the helm. LOG CABIN FILE PHOTO

“We can’t slack off. We’ve got to continue to work and get better every day.” Day by day is the approach Conway’s taken, as installing new bits and pieces along the way has been the name of the game. That too will take time, even possibly the entire length of the season. “Our biggest deal is by the end of the year to get everything put in,” Ashcraft said. “We want from that point forward for nothing to be new to the kids. We’ll tweak things from opponent to opponent, but the foundation will be there. “You’re a better team if you’re repping stuff instead of installing stuff.”

In his first season, Ashcraft has already seen a larger turnout from previous seasons. In the past, potential players have either moved to another school district or just not played, but this year’s squad has 119 players. “We’ve added 25-30 kids this season,” Ashcraft said. “Our coaches have made a conscious effort to talk to anybody who would be interested and anyone who could help us. We gave anyone a shot who wanted it in the spring.” A big part of the increase is obviously the excitement that comes with a new coach, but also the excitement of what the new coach brings in terms of

schemes and philosphies. “The style we’re playing now may be more attractive to kids because it’s what they’re used to seeing on Saturday mornings on TV and on video games,” Ashcraft said. “The philosophy of what we’re doing on offense and defense is appealing to teenage boys.” Getting the coaches on the same page and sold on the new system has had importance of its own. “The coaches have been great,” Ashcraft said. “They’re here early and stay late. They’ve taken ownership of their position, which is big. I think we’ve got a good chemistry. “Every one of our coaches

enjoys walking into the office everyday, I think. They all enjoy being here and working together, We have a lot of fun as a staff.” It takes a staff working together to get through a process, and that’s no doubt what the Cats are in. Like the players, Ashcraft is in a learning process of his own with things being new. The process will continue for awhile, but, so far, so good. “Everybody has been real supportive,” Ashcraft said. “The kids have done everything we’ve asked. That’s made this an easy transition.” It’s a tradition Ashcraft hopes becomes a tradition of winning.

spect Xavier.” Acklin may have quickly emerged as the top candidate for what Ashcraft has said to be “the most important part of the offense,” but that doesn’t mean others didn’t drive him to take the leading role. “Competition makes everyone better,” Acklin said. “If you know a guy is coming for your spot, you’ve got to try harder.”

The battle for the quarterback spot has been an intense one. Ashcraft said he’s liked what he’s seen from that group. “Xavier has done a great job,” Ashcraft said. “The guys who are repping there behind him have all done a good job behind him. It starts with Xavier, though.” Then with where his arm and legs can go, that leads to a potential strong finish.

“When you’ve got a guy who can run a little bit and throw too, that really loosens up the defense,” Ashcraft said. “In a one-back offense, if you’ve got a quarterback who can run, you’ve really got two running backs back there. The defense has to respect that.” Defenses are going to see plenty of different things from the Cats’ offense this season. A team that has used few

passes in the past, Conway will now vary the playcalling a lot more. How much success that leads to remains to be seen. But, it starts with Acklin in the center. “I’m honored to be in this spot,” Acklin said. “There’s so much that goes on with a quarterback. I’m glad to have this opportunity, and I’m going to enjoy this ride.”


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5-2A OVERVIEW

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 11

Three teams likely to fight it out for 5-2A title LOG CABIN DEMOCRAT

Bigelow, Danville and Mountain Pine should fight it out at the top. Everybody begins with one victory since Hector has forfeited the season because of a lack of players. FAVORITE: Mountain Pine SLEEPER: Danville BIGGEST HILL TO CLIMB: Little Rock Lutheran MOUNTAIN PINE Coach: Jody Frazier, 5052 Last year: 9-2, 2nd Returning starters: 17 Top returning players: Quarterback Ryan Herron, fullbacks Cory Hopper and Jacob Crawford, receiver Brannon Wiles, center Chris Rice, linebacker Johnny Snow, cornerback Levi Ellison. The skinny: More experience should put the Red Devils in a challenging position in conference and give them a chance for a deeper

Projected 5-2A Central Finish 1. Mountain Pine

2. Danville 3. Bigelow 4. Conway Christian 5. Two Rivers 6. Cutter Morning Star 7: Quitman 8. LR Lutheran run in the postseason. DANVILLE Coach: D.J. Crane Last year: 7-4, 3rd Returning starters: 10 Top returning players: Quarterback Justin Roy, backs Mile Giles and Edwin Tapia, tackle Eddie Ventura, place-kicker Ulises Gutierrez, linebacker Travis Klober. The skinny: The Little Johns have the size, strength and speed to make a title run.

Recession spurs interest in refereeing By NOAH TRISTER AP Sports Writer

Like so many others in Michigan, Art Francisco is struggling in these difficult economic times. About a year and a half ago, he lost his job at Chrysler. Now his part-time career — officiating high school and youth sports — takes up most of his time. “As soon as I got laid off, I started calling assigners,” said the 54-year-old Francisco, who lives in Macomb Township near Detroit. Administrators around the country are reporting an increase in the number of people interested in officiating, especially in areas hit hard by the recession. The job typically won’t make ends meet but it can help: A particularly active referee can earn more than $10,000 in a year. Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials, has long no-

ticed an inverse relationship between the economy and sports officiating. When more people have free time and are looking for work, it’s easier to find officials. “In a down economy, a certain number of officials who work only one sport normally start working two or three sports,” Mano said. “They morph from being a basketball referee to also take up football or soccer or some other sport so they can keep that stream of earnings coming in.” High school sports organizations in the Rust Belt are reporting a significant uptick. Michigan had just over 13,000 officials last school year, up 1,000 from five years previous. The situation is similar in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Hank Zaborniak of the Ohio High School Athletic Association says it’s easy to tell which parts of the state are struggling economically. Those

Refereeing n 14

BIGELOW Coach: Jeff Starks, 53101 Last year: 11-2, 1st Returning starters: 7. Top returning players: Quarterback Spencer Langston, receiver Trent Harris, offensive lineman Ty Kibbons. The skinny: Langston is a strong leader on offense, and the Panthers have some strong returning players, recipe for a title run. CONWAY CHRISTIAN Coach: Chuck Speer, 47. Last year: 4-7, 5th. Returning starters: 19. Top returning players: Quarterback Kirby Powell, running backs Adam Ragland and Bates Isom, receiver Jeremy Jacobs, tight end/linebacker Jonathan Watson, noseguard Mark Harris. The skinny: A good group of returning skill players, who have gotten past their first year of 11man football. The Eagles

should contend for a playoff spot and move a little closer to the top echelon in the conference. TWO RIVERS (consolidated Ola, Fourche Valley and Plainview) Coach: Josh Harrison, 1st season Last year: 6-5, 4th Returning starters: 6 Top returning players: Quarterback Blake Noakes, tailback/linebacker Clay Damon, noseguard Toby Robinson, The skinny: Lots of enthusiasm with consolidation and a strong sophomore class. Should be very competitive in the middle of the standings. CUTTER MORNING STAR Coach: Rich Colananni, 6-14. Last year: 4-6, 6th. Rturning starters: 16 Top returning players: Quarterbck Zach Newton, tailback Ryan Gillham, linebacker Tyler Donaldson.

The skinny: The Eagles lost to the five playoff teams a year ago. They’ll make a better run at the postseason this time. QUITMAN Coach: Fitz Heidenreich, 1st season Last year: 1-9, T-7th Returning starters: 13 Top returning players: Quarterback Tim Smith, receiver Forrest McPeake. The skinny: Not much speed. Must play better defense to be competitive this season. LR LUTHERAN Coach: Josh Oberg, 1-9. Last year: 1-9, T-7th Returning starters: 8. Top returning players: quarterback Alex Becker, running back William Betzner. The skinny: A first-year program last season and a long way away from being competitive with the best in the division. Should again scrap it out with Quitman for the cellar.

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12 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

CONWAY CHRISTIAN

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Conway Christian seeks to add power to 5-2A mix By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

Conway Christian begins its second season in 11-man football with 23 players. “But for the first time, every single man can play,” Eagles coach Chuck Speer said. “We can sub and not miss a beat.” The Eagles lost receiver Will Wooten for the season with a neck injury. “I think our preparation has been better,” Speer said. “We were overpowered a lot last season. We did a lot of work in the weight room getting bigger and strong. I think we can compete very well, but the key will be staying healthy. With this few players, it’s hard to lose some people and even have a good practice.” The Eagles, as well as the other conference schools, will begin with a victory. Hector has forfeited the season because it does not have enough varsity players. FROM THE OFFENSIVE SIDE: Junior quar-

CONWAY CHRISTIAN The Basics Coach: Chuck Speer Last year: 4-7, 5th Returning starters: 8 offense, 9 defense Basic Offense: Pistol Spread Defense: 5-3 Coaching staff: Offensive coordinator John Flaherty, assistants Bryan Norich and Helm Cooper and Mike Isom, part-time volunteer assistant.

The Schedule The Conway Christian Eagles earned a playoff berth in just their first season of 11-man football. Eagles coach Chuck Speer is looking forward to what this year’s squad can do, as CCS boasts more depth at each position. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

terback Kirby Powell is a strong runner and has experienced guiding the offense.

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The Eagles return their skill position players and have a strong duo in running backs Adam Ragland and Bates Isom, who combined for 2000 yards last season. Jeremy Jacobs in the top returning receiver along with senior Jonathan Watson. Ezra Wiley had some strong games at slot last season. Mark Harris, a fullback last season, may move to the interior to help the line situation along with Tyler Spangler, Stephen Hay, Forrest McDougal, Chris Bell and Will DenHartog. FROM THE DEFENSIVE SIDE: The main chore will be replaced Matthew Shiew, the Eagles’ leading tackler a year ago. Hay and Spangler will lead the charge up front while Watson, second on the team in tackles, should be one of

the best linebackers in 52A. He’ll be joined by Daniel Sims, Lamdon Lagree and Wiley. Jacobs and Tyler Kalahiki are the top players in the secondary. ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Running backs Adam Ragland and Bates Isom, quarterback Kirby Powell, tight end/linebacker Jonathan Watson, receiver/ defensive back Jeremy Jacobs. VARIABLES: Lack of depth. Replacing a strong defensive front. TELLTALE GAMES: Sept. 18 vs. Cutter Morning Star and Oct. 30 vs. Two Rivers. A GOOD SEASON WOULD BE: Another trip to the Class 2A playoffs and a victory over one of the top four teams in the conference.

Sept. 4 Earle Sept. 11 at LR Lutheran Sept. 18 Cutter Morn. Star Sept. 25 Danville Oct. 2 at Quitman Oct. 9 at Moutain Pine Oct. 16 Bigelow Oct. 23 Norphlet Oct. 30 Two Rivers

The Keys The Eagles have strength at the skill positions but need to stay as healthy as possible with no depth. They must improve on last year’s tendency to self-destruct and shore up a defense that was vulnerable to big plays.

The Reality The bottom half of the conference is not strong, and CCS has a good shot at the playoffs again. A fast start in early conference games against Little Rock Lutheran and Cutter Morning Star is important.

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CONWAY CHRISTIAN

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 13

Eagles’ one-two punch ready to soar again By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

A one-two punch on offense, which developed with two sophomores last season, should again give Conway Christian a chance to put opponents on the ropes this season. Both Adam “Fuzzy” Ragland and Bates Isom had big moments as running backs in the Eagles’ first season in 11-man football last year. “Adam has a lot of speed and quickness and more upper-body strength than I do,” Isom said. “I’ve got good leg strength. I think it’s a good combination. We are good friends on and off the football field.” “If a team shifts to my side of the field, we can always go to Bates; it doesn’t matter,” Ragland said. Both learned a lot during the Eagles’ first season in Arkansas Activities Association play last year. “I learned we have to work a little harder and rely more on my teammates,” Ragland said. “And we’ve got to have the same focus.” “The key for us is to make our opponents adapt to us and not us adapt to them,” said Isom, a son of former University of Central Arkansas coach Mike Isom. “But a lot of us have been doing this for awhile. We are confident in ourselves and each other. I think the coaches have realized that and have given us more of a variety of plays.”

The Conway Christian running duo of Bates Isom (left) and Adam Ragland help provide a strong one-two punch for the Eagles. The pair helped the Eagles reach the postseason last season as sophomores, and now they are looking for a return trip. Each player thinks when he is out of the game, the other can come in and pick right up. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

Ragland rushed for 1,300 yards last year, including a 255-yard, four-touchdown game against Quitman. Isom rushed for 700 yards. Both players talked about the annual weeklong preseason camp at Beaverfork Lake, which coach Chuck Speer instituted from the

beginning, has again had a bonding effect. “I think it’s the best our team has come together,” Ragland said. “It’s a very focused camp on football-oriented stuff but there’s also an emphasis on drawing us closer to God. We developed a lot of chemistry. But many of us

have grown up together. We’ve been playing together since the fifth grade.” “I think this team had bonded before the camp, but we built a lot of chemistry,” Isom said. “We did some exercises in which we learned to rely on each other and to be able to push each other

through in the tough times.” “I’m mentally pumped for this year, but it’s a tough one,” Ragland said. “Going into a junior year, there is so much schoolwork to do to get ready for your senior year and the things you have to worry about to get ready for college. It’s an exciting time.”

Watson goes back to the beginnings of CCS program By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

Jonathan Watson is one of the charter members of the Conway Christian football program. The senior was there as a seventh-grader when the school began football. He remembers the rough pasture the Eagles practiced on, those makeshift blocking sleds, those old store pallets that were drug about with ropes dur-

ing drills, the PVC pipe for goalposts. “Time goes by pretty quickly; it seems like just yesterday I was just meeting coach (Chuck) Speer,” said Watson, a tight end and linebacker for the Eagles, who begin their second year of 11-man football in the Arkansas Activities Association. “There’s a lot of memories from the seventh grade on. This program has come a long way and it’s been a lot of fun.” As one of the leaders of the

team that went 4-7 in its first AAA season, Watson thinks he’s a wiser player and this will be a wiser team even though the Eages were a respectable 4-7 and made the playoffs. “We’ve learned how different coaches in our league do certain things,” he said. “We learn how certain teams play. This year, I think we are gonna try to play our game and not play the other team’s game. We want to make them adapt to us rather than us

adapt to them.” He’s confident of the returning players. “The main thing I feel is a chemistry on this team,” he said. “We have a lot of chemistry. We’ve been together awhile and a lot of us have played together a long time. We’ve learned not only what each other can do, but how each other thinks. Sometimes we know what the other players is thinking even before the play happens.” He said he also learned a

lot during the transition to eight-man football. “The biggest difference from eight-man is it’s a lot more intense competition,” he said. “But that’s a good thing. It pushes us to play harder.” He said he’s much stronger this year and also has improved his speed and flexibility. He’s ready to go both ways for the Eagles. “I’m better prepared,” he said. “I enjoy defense probably better than offense but offense is a lot of fun.”


5A-WEST

14 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

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Greenwood easy pick to run away with 5A-West BY MICHAEL ALLEN LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

1. Greewood — It’s hard not to pick Greenwood at the top of this conference until some school knocks it off. The Bulldogs have made four consecutive trips to the Class 5A state championship game before Pulaski Academy put them out in the state semifinals last season. Coach Rick Jones is excited about the 11 returning starters on both sides of the ball, which includes six on offense. Any time he’s happy about one of his teams, other conference coaches and teams better take note. 2. Alma — The Airedales ended up being one of the

Projected 5A-West Finish 1. Greenwood

2. Alma 3. CAC 4. Greenbrier 5. Siloam Springs 6. Morrilton 7. Harrison 8. Vilonia hottest teams last season. After a 1-3 start, Alma won five in a row before losing its Week 10 regular-season finale to conference-rival Greenwood in a close battle. Alma has the talent on both sides of the ball to contend for a conference champion-

ship. After finishing with a 2-8 record in 2007 it appears that Alma football is back on the map. 3. CAC — Central Arkansas Christian seems to be one of those schools that reloads every year no matter what happened the year before. Fans are looking for a team filled with new faces to shine on Mustang Mountain this fall. 4. Greenbrier — Surprise! The Panthers are hoping to be not only the surprise of 5A-West, but the entire state of Arkansas. Greenbrier is picked to finish last in the West by most of the state’s preseason publications. Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble has a quarterback in his spread system to make the wheels turn. Sophomore Neal

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Burcham has a big-time arm and he has the talent around him to make things happen. An improved defense should also keep the Panthers in every game this season. 5. Siloam Springs — The Panthers’ former head coach Clint Ashcraft took the head coaching job at Conway High earlier this year. Siloam Springs has three returning starters on both sides of the ball, so there’ll be new faces all over the place. 6. Morrilton — One thing that the Devil Dogs have usually is speed, and they have plenty of that this year. The only question for Morrilton is will it have the discipline and the work ethic to make it work for them. 7. Harrison ­— Longtime

refereeing

from

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are the places with plenty of officials. “When the steel mills closed down in Youngstown and the manufacturing drops off, we’ll see a spike,” Zaborniak said. “We’ll see more folks from that area of the state enter officiating, and often times it’s because of the additional income, just to help offset what they might have lost.” There’s some evidence of that in California, too. Jim Jorgensen, who directs a group that assigns officials in the Sacramento area, said more than twice as many new officiating hopefuls than usual showed up for a recent football meeting. The flip side of the phenomenon is true, too. In North Dakota, where unemployment rates have been among the country’s lowest, there has been concern that not enough officials would be available for the upcoming academic year. In Arkansas, the unemployment rate has consistently been about two percentage points lower than the national average, and there doesn’t appear to be a major influx of referee hopefuls. Mike Whaley of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association has a message for people in sports officiating classes offered by local colleges: “This is a great part-time job.”

coach Tommy Tice has been happy with the improvement of his Golden Goblins this preseason, but they still have a little ways to go. The Golden Goblins will miss their two-way starter at tight end and defensive end Austin Tate, who is a freshman at the University of Arkansas. 8. Vilonia ­ — This is what Vilonia coach Jim Stanley wants is for his team to fly under the radar, especially after the Eagles were no where near their preseason expectations a year ago. The Eagles are young, but they have talent. Just like last season, sophomores will be counted on to grow up in a hurry as several of them are listed as starters for the first game against Searcy. Obviously, being a referee allows someone to get back on the field or gym floor, and gives them a chance to help develop sportsmanship among young athletes. But officials also need thick skin, and they better be in reasonably good shape if they want to work enough games to earn significant money. Francisco, who officiates softball, football and basketball, remembers heading to an AAU basketball tournament and officiating 10 straight games on a Friday night. He expects to work six days a week this coming season. “You wind up almost using it to make a living, you know?” the longtime auto worker said. Francisco said a football referee could conceivably make $1,000 in a week, but that stamina-testing schedule would include junior varsity games, middle school games and plenty of youth football on the weekends. It’s not much different in Ohio. Zaborniak said a ref might make $12,000 to $14,000 a year “if you work three sports and you work as often as you might be asked to work.” The good news is there are plenty of events. Bob Lombardi of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association said a growing sport like lacrosse can provide more opportunities for officials.


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VILONIA

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 15

Eagles strive to be fundamentally sound By MICHAEL ALLEN LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

VILONIA — Vilonia coach Jim Stanley wants to keep things simple and hopes his team can stay healthy this season. Last year, the Eagles were picked by many of the state’s media outlets to finish first in the 5A-West Conference. However, Vilonia didn’t live up to expectations as key injuries put a damper on the season. The Eagles finished near the bottom of the 5A-West Conference. Vilonia missed the state playoffs last fall, just a year removed from making it to the state semifinal game. Stanley’s team is young, so he wanted to stress the importance of learning the basics and getting down the fundamentals of football in the preseason. “I just wanted it to be like it was on my first day I came here,” Stanley said, after an intense practice where the team repeated offensive plays. “We have to go back to the fundamentals. That’s where it all starts.” Vilonia’s sophomore class was superior as ninth-graders in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference. The Eagles’ threepronged rushing attack consists of three sophomores Trey Lewis, James Sax and Jacob Weidmeier. Each of them has been an integral part in the running game this preseason and the coaching staff is hoping their hard work can carry over to Friday nights. “We’re just so young,” Stanley said. “We’re very young, but the guys are working hard. I couldn’t ask for more.” The Eagles open against a familiar foe, Searcy, the first week of the season. Construction crews are working around the clock to get the synthetic surface ready for when the Lions come to town on Week 1. Stanley is hopeful that all of the right pieces will come together this year for a defense that was near the top in most points given up on the season a year ago. TOP COLLEGE RECRUIT: Clay Patterson is 6foot-3, 275 pound lineman who could follow in the line of former Vilonia standout Tyler Stauch. TOP NEWCOMERS: Trey Lewis, 6-0, 175, So.; Jacob Weidmeier, 5-11, 230, James Sax, 6-1, 180. ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Clay Patterson, 6-3, 275.

VILONIA The Basics Coach: Jim Stanley, 8th year (46-33) Last year: 4-6, 6th Starters returning: 6 (3 offense, 3 defense) Offense: Double wing Defense: 4-4 Coaching staff: Jim Stanley, offensive coordinator; Bill Buckner, defensive coordinator.

The Schedule Sept. 4 Searcy Sept. 11 at Jacksonville Sept. 18 at Beebe Sept. 25 Harrison Oct. 2 at Siloam Springs Oct. 9 at Alma Oct. 16 Greenwood Oct. 23 CAC Oct. 30 at Morrilton Nov. 5 Greenbrier

The Keys The season depends on avoiding injuries and how the young, inexperienced players develop.

The Reality It’s a tough road in a tough conference.

FROM THE OFFENSIVE SIDE: The Eagles are counting on senior quarterback Eric Ebmeyer to beat the defense with his arm. Opponents are going to stack nine and 10 people in the box to stop Vilonia’s doublewinged attack, so the Eagles are looking to pick up chunks of yards through the air. FROM THE DEFENSIVE SIDE: This side of the ball was hurt the most by injuries last season. The return of several players have first-year defensive coordinator, Bill Buckner, feeling optimistic. A GOOD SEASON WOULD BE: If the Eagles can win two out of three nonconference games before locking up a state playoff berth. A GREAT SEASON WOULD BE: If Vilonia can stay away from injuries and return back to the state playoffs.

The Vilonia Eagles had their share of injury problems last season. That’s something the Eagles are hoping to stay away from this season. With a lot of youth on the team, staying healthy takes even greater importance, as does getting the basics right. Vilonia coach Jim Stanley is looking to get the Eagles fundamentally sound as they work to get back to the playoffs. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

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VILONIA

16 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

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Eagles’ youth movement

Vilonia coach Jim Stanley (second from right) will have to look to youth to help lead the team in 2009. The Eagles graduated a strong senior group from last season’s team. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

Vilonia looking to underclassmen to revive football team By MICHAEL ALLEN LOG CABIN DEMOCRAT

VILONIA — The Eagles are even younger than they were a year ago. Vilonia graduated a strong senior class in the spring, but most of the seniors missed at least one game last season, which made for a long season for the Eagles. Vilonia’s lofty expectations turned to desperation by the middle of the season as many of the sophomores and juniors who had little game experience were thrown in the fire somewhat prematurely at some positions. There are many sopho-

‘We’re gonna be counting on a lot of young guys this year. We’re just so young, but the guys are understanding what we want from them.’ — Jim Stanley, Vilonia football coach

mores who will get their chances to show what they can do under the lights this year. This group of sophomores plowed over competition last season as ninth-graders in the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference. Of course, play-

ing under the Friday night lights is not playing Thursday nights against junior high teams from Central Arkansas, but the Eagles’ coaching staff is hoping that the winning attitude that the sophomore class has had can come to the forefront

this season in high school. “We’re gonna be counting on a lot of young guys this year,” coach Jim Stanley said. “We’re just so young, but the guys are understanding what we want from them.” The Eagles didn’t have to look far to find youth as three sophomores in the backfield are projected to start that first home game against Searcy. Jacob Weidmeier, Trey Lewis and James Sax carried the load last season in junior high with each back rushing for multiple 100-yard games. Sax has the speed and power to break a long touchdown. He placed in the finals of the

100 and 200 at the 5A state track meet this past spring, running as a ninth-grader. Lewis is a gritty player who can also break the long run and his soft hands can certainly be an attribute for the Eagles this spring. Weidmeier is a bruising fullback who is a north-and-south runner. Even with his power, Weidmeier has shown that he has the ability to make a tackler miss. This may be the year that Stanley has to play more sophomores than any other time in his career at Vilonia. But, the underclassmen appear ready to answer the request when their numbers are called Friday nights.


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GREENBRIER

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 17

Greenbrier expects to be a force in 5A West By MICHAEL ALLEN LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

GREENBRIER — The Greenbrier Panthers hope their offseason success can trump their depth issues on Friday nights this fall. The Panthers have gotten noticeably bigger in the offseason and during the 7-on-7 season this summer. They ended up as one of the top teams in the state. The only drawback for Greenbrier this season could be that several players may be called on to go both ways due to some recent injuries. “I believe we’ve gotten better, but I’m concerned about our depth. Right now, we don’t have a lot of it,” Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble said. “We have a little depth on the Dline, and it’s getting better. In the secondary, we have three corners and one of those corners can play safety. We have one safety hurt right now and two linebackers. We need them well to give us some more depth.” Under the direction of the Panthers’ sophomore quarterback Neal Burcham, the offense has been scoring touchdowns at an accelerated rate. Junior Hunter Winston is a game-breaker in the backfield. “I think we’re improved, and I think that you can tell that we’re doing a great job in the weight room,” Tribble said. “We have some kids that like the weight room. It’s just part of life. If you’re gonna be a good football player, then you lift weights three times a week. I think our 7-on-7 experience is helping on both sides of the ball, and it should help in our league, since it’s a spread league.” In recent years, Greenbrier has been the doormat of the 5A-West Conference, but Tribble has instilled a winning attitude back into the program. Having a solid junior class and a sophomore class filled with talent has blended well with the selected seniors. “We’re expecting to be a lot more competitive team, but I’m still wishing we had a little more depth,” Tribble said. “I wish some of the guys didn’t have to play both ways. But, we’re in pretty good shape. That first ballgame or two al-

GREENBRIER The Basics Coach: Randy Tribbie (2nd year, 1-9) Last year: 1-9, 8th Returning starters: 7 (4 offense, 3 defense) Offense: Spread Defense: 4-3 Offensive coordinator: Todd Langrell Defensive coordinator: Alan Buchanan

The Schedule Sept. 4 at Beebe Sept. 11 at Mayflower Sept. 18 Heber Springs Sept. 25 Siloam Springs Oct. 2 at CAC Oct. 9 at Greenwood Oct. 16 Alma Oct. 23 Morrilton Oct. 30 at Harrison Nov. 5 at Vilonia

The Keys Much depends on the progress of first-year quarterback Neal Burcham and the development of a stronger defense.

The Reality The Panthers are picked at the bottom, but they could be the surprise team in the league.

ways kills you, but I think we will respond real good to that.” TOP NEWCOMERS: Neal Burcham, soph.; Joe Joe Oluokun, soph; Ryan Alexander, soph; ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Hunter Winston, jr.; Trent Virden, line; Matt Cain, line. TOP COLLEGE RECRUIT: Even though he’s a sophomore, Burcham will have college coaches requesting film and writing letters to attend camps next summer. The tall quarterback is projected to add inches in the next couple of years, which should make him an even desirable prospect for colleges. FROM THE OFFENSIVE SIDE: The offense put up big numbers in the preseason, so

The Greenbrier Panthers are entering their second year under coach Randy Tribble, and signs are pointing to a better output in 2009. The Panthers could be the surprise team in the 5A-West Conference. LOG CABIN FILE PHOTO

there are a number of playmakers on this side of the ball. If the Panthers can keep everyone healthy, they have the potential to ring up some yardage. FROM THE DEFENSIVE SIDE: Everything starts up

front for a defense that surrendered over 35 points a game last season. The underclassmen can allow this defense to make some noise during the season. A GOOD SEASON WOULD BE: If Greenbrier

can compete with its opponents, resulting in closer scores. A GREAT SEASON WOULD BE: If the Panthers can find a way to make their first state playoff appearance in a number of years.


18 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

GREENBRIER

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Big buildup for Burcham

Even thouogh he has yet to take a snap in a varsity game, sophomore Neal Burcham should help bolster the Greenbrier passing game as he’ll lead the Panther offense this year. Burcham turned in strong performances during 7-on-7 competition this summer. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

Sophomore quarterback takes over reins of Panthers offense By MICHAEL ALLEN LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

GREENBRIER — For Neal Burcham, playing quarterback comes second nature. The sophomore, who was named the Log Cabin Democrat’s Faulkner County Junior High Player of the Year last fall, is forming into a top-college prospect in the state’s 2012 class in two-sports, basketball and football. Burcham led the team during spring practices and then switched over to the basketball court late spring and early summer, playing for a local AAU team. While put-

ting up big numbers on the court, Burcham posted more impressive numbers directing the Panthers’ offense against 6A and 7A competition during the 7-on-7 season this summer. “He has a good throwing motion, and he throws it well. He has had an awesome summer,” Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble said. “A lot of people are starting to take notice of this big, tall sophomore that they don’t know anything about, especially if they’re not around here or came to our big 7-on-7 tournament. He’s just getting better all of the time. I think he’s going to be

really good. He’s something special.” Burcham seldom misses on passes and when he does, it’s not by much. He downplays all of the hype and directs the praises to his teammates. “We have great receivers,” Burcham said. “When I let go of it then I know that they’re going to catch it. And, I have great confidence in them.” He added, “One of the main plays in our offense is the screen game. We run a lot of screens. That’s mainly a toss outside to the receiver. I just throw it out there and they do all of the work. Our offensive line is great. When we scrim-

mage and in practice, nobody gets near me.” Burcham displayed his abilities during Greenbrier’s annual Blue-White scrimmage recently. He also showed just how accurate he can be at the Panthers’ scrimmage at Pulaski Robinson on Monday. “Coach Tribble really does a nice job of coaching that to us,” Burcham said. “We spend everyday in practice in our offensive sessions, working on what we need to work on. We go through our progressions and footwork. Coach Tribble and coach (Todd) Langrelle do such a great job of working on the fundamentals. We do it so

much in practice that when it gets to the game, then it’s easy.” The Panthers battered teams this summer in some of Arkansas’ biggest 7-on-7 tournaments, and Burcham hopes some of that success can carry over to Friday nights. “We play in one of the toughest, if not the toughest conference in the state of Arkansas,” Burcham said. “It’s going to be tough be we have confidence. Our coaches keep reminding us to keep our confidence up. We just have the confidence. Hopefully, that can turn into some wins this year.”


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2-3A OVERVIEW/MAYFLOWER

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 19

More challenges at the top in 2-3A for Wildcats, Eagles LOG CABIN DEMOCRAT

Recent powers Harding Academy and Mayflower figure to be again in the title pictures — but Barton and Brinkley — two schools with great traditions in another era, may be ready to make a push. The form chart is not as pat as in some years. FAVORITE: Harding Academy SLEEPER: Mayflower BIGGEST HILL TO CLIMB: Episcopal HARDING ACADEMY Coach: Randy Mote, 102 Last year: 10-2, 2nd Returning starters: 10 Top returning players: Quarterback Seth Keese, running back Will Hardin, running back/receiver Tyler Gentry, center Matt Calhoun, tackle Montgomery Fisher. The skinny: The Wildcats, who were nosed out by

Projected 2-3A Central Finish 1. Harding Academy 2. Barton 3. Mayflower 4. Brinkley 5. Riverview 6. England 7. Rose Bud 8. Episcopal

Mayflower for the conference title last year, seem to be in a nice position to reload with a mixture of veteran players and newcomers. BARTON Coach: Mike Bush Last year: 8-3, 3rd. Returning starters: 13 Top returning players: Halfback Bryan Gause, end Jake Chaney, offensive lineman Trevor Wooten, defensive end Curtis Holden,

safety Jordan Ketchum. The skinny: The Bears averaged 27 points per game on offense last season. If the quarterback situation stabilizes, they will be dangerous. MAYFLOWER Coach: Jed Davis, 17-7. Last year: 10-2, 1st. Returning starters: 4 Top returning players: Running back Demetris Lasker, quarterback Jordan Dycus, tackle Preston Hurt. The skinny: The Eagles lost the bulk of a conference championship team. However, they have quality skill position players and strong newcomers to be a rugged opponent for anybody in the league. BRINKLEY Coach: Perry Goodell, 12-38 Last year: 5-5, 5th Returning starters: 16 Top returning players: Running back Elvyonn Bailey, center Tyler Foster,

Lasker looks beyond personal stats By MICHAEL ALLEN LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

MAYFLOWER — Mayflower’s Demetris Lasker wants a state championship. Lasker isn’t concerned with gaining any personal accolades this season, and he’s not worried about padding his statistics just to get the attention of an extra college coach or two. Lasker feels that it is his responsibility to give 100 percent each game and practice, so the Eagles can accomplish the ultimate team goal in high school football. “We’re pushing hard every day, harder than any team has been pushed,” Lasker said. “I really want us to go to state this year. Since me and one of our linemen, Preston Hurt, are captains of the team, we’re pushing everybody hard and trying to be leaders. I believe we’re going to state and we’re gonna win it all.” For Lasker, the letters from college coaches are

coming in more and more as the weeks pass. Many coaches, including Arkansas recruiting coordinator Tim Horton, have Lasker on the radar as a running back or a safety. However, the 6-foot, 198-pound senior isn’t worried about courting the college coaches just yet. “We’ve made it to the state playoffs the last couple of times, and it has hurt every time,” Lasker said of the Eagles’ last two premature exits out of the playoffs. “We have to change it this time and make Mayflower come out on top.” Lasker recorded 25 solo and 30 assisted tackles last season for a total of 55. He also was part of the reason the Eagles averaged a conference high 3.5 takeaways a game and a conference low of 13.8 points a game given up. Lasker had a sack, a tackle for a loss, two caused fumbles and two fumble recoveries. “Lasker is the anchor of our secondary at the safety spot,” Mayflower coach Jed

Davis said. “He is a great leader. and he has worked really hard this offseason.” Lasker was third on the team in rushing last season behind Deshaun Bagby (1,101 yards) and Gavin Pace (758). Lasker had 376 yards rushing on 39 carries with two touchdowns. He had a remarkable average of 9.64 yards a carry and made nine two-point conversion attempts. “I won’t be surprised by the end of the year if he is rated one of the top running backs in the state,” Davis said. “For most teams in the state, he could have started at running back last year. But, of course, we had Deshaun as a senior who was also one of the best backs in the state.” Davis noted that Lasker may not be as fast as Bagby, but he’s bigger and stronger. “Demetris is not slow either,” Davis said. “He can run, but his size makes it even better. We’re counting on him to do big things for us this season.”

linebacker E.J. Tucket, linebacker Steven Dixon. The skinny: “The cat is going to have some scratch in him,” says coch Perry Goodell. And he may be correct. RIVERVIEW Coach: Stuart Hill, 5-6 Last year: 5-6, 4th. Returning starters: 15 Top returning players: Quarterback Grafton Harrell (2,000 yards of offense and 26 touchdowns), running back Dillon Chandler, center Stetson Evans, defensive tackle Brian Williams, defensive back Chayse Parson. The skinny: A playoff team last season, should make it again. ENGLAND Coach: Brandon Barbaree, 1st season Last year: 1-9, 7th Returning starters: 12 Top returning players: Quarterback Tim Howard, running back Mark Hatton,

tackle Ryan Johnson. The skinny: The Lions have some experience and a new coach. Lots of question marks. ROSE BUD Coach: Steve Rose, 1-9 Last year: 1-9, 8th Returning starters: 10 Top returning players: Quarterback Aaron Parker, running back Joe Dalrymple, tackle Derrick Ring. The skinny: Young Rose Bud program has more experience but faces an uphill climb. EPISCOPAL Coach: Jim Brown, 5-15 Last year: 2-8 Returning starters: 14 Top returning players: Quarterback Jake Agar, tight end Grant Richardson, offensive lineman A.J. McCray, rover/receiver Curt Bradbury. The skinny: Lack of speed and a defensive that allowed 36 points a game last season create real problems.

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20 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

MAYFLOWER

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Mayflower out to prove something in 2009 By MICHAEL ALLEN LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

MAYFLOWER ­ — Mayflower coach Jed Davis had one glaring question after the release of many of the state’s preseason magazines: “Did they forget that we won the conference last year?” Davis’ Eagles have been picked as low as sixth in the 2-3A Conference and as high as third, but most publications had them sitting at fourth or fifth. “I tell the kids that I refuse to finish fifth in this conference,” Davis said. “When I do a preseason poll, I usually pick the defending conference champions No. 1. Last year even though I thought we were going to finish No. 1, I chose Harding Academy at the top because they were the defending champions. Obviously, everybody else didn’t do that. We’ll see how it ends up, but I’m confident in the team that we’re going to put out on the field.” Davis was making a ref-

MAYFLOWER The Basics

Coach: Jed Davis (17-7, 3rd season) Last year: 10-2, 1st Returning starters: 4 (2 offense, 2 defense) Offense: Spread Defense: 3-5-3 Offensive coordinator: Chad Floyd Defensive coordinator: David Davenport

The Schedule

Mayflower coach Jed Davis, right, hopes the Eagles can prove the critics wrong in 2009 and have another strong finish, after capturing a 2-3A Conference championship. However, many aren’t giving the Eagles a chance to repeat. LIBERTY PARKS PHOTO

erence to the coaches in the conference who voted his

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team to finish fifth in their preseason selection after the Eagles graduated 22 seniors in the spring. “They may think that losing those guys will hurt us, and I hope they overlook us, Davis said. “I hope they don’t take us seriously because they’re going to be in for a rude awakening. I told our coaching staff that it’s kind of a slap in our faces, like they don’t think we can coach our kids up.” Davis continued, “I understand that we haven’t won for 25 years like a Barton or a Harding Academy, but we’ve put four solid years together, and I believe that we have gotten this program to where we don’t have to rebuild. We expect to win every year no matter who it is.” One thing is for certain this season for Mayflower, the Eagles will have a chip on their shoulders when they take the field on Friday nights. And the seven seniors, along with the slew of newcomers, will be out to prove that they belong with the best in the conference. TOP NEWCOMERS: Wesley Varnell, Sr., 6-1; Quincy Tims, Jr., 5-8, 183. ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Dominique Simpson, Sr., 5-11, 221; Demetris

Lasker, Sr., 6-0, 198; Preston Hurt, Sr., 6-1, 243; TOP COLLEGE RECRUIT: Lasker without a doubt is one of the hottest rising prospects in central Arkansas. According to Davis, several NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams are interested in him, including Arkansas. UPSIDE: Mayflower plays in arguably the weakest conference in Class 3A. Most of the Eagles’ games were over by halftime last season. They enforced the mercy rule on every conference opponent last season except for one, Harding Academy. DOWNSIDE: The Eagles lost 22 seniors, including the Class 3A Defensive Player of the Year, Stuart Hollon, and the 2-3A Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Year, Deshaun Bagby. TELLTALE GAME: Of course, this section may never change as long as Harding Academy and Mayflower are in the same conference. Again, the conference champion may be the winner of this game. FROM THE OFFENSIVE SIDE: Lasker will be the workhorse as the Eagles go to a mainly one-back set out of the spread formation. Hurt is a leader up front and should be immediately considered for

Sept. 4 at Clarksville Sept. 11 Greenbrier Sept. 18 at Glen Rose Sept. 25 Riverview Oct. 2 Brinkley Oct. 9 at Rose Bud Oct. 15 Harding Academy Oct. 23 at Barton Oct. 30 England Nov. 6 at Episcopal

The Keys Several players who were in backup roles last season or are newcomers need to grow up quickly.

The Reality The Eagles play in one of the weakest Class 3A conferences in the state. Even with the loss of key players from last year’s championship team, they should make a strong run at the top three.

all-conference and all-state. There will be new faces at each of the receiver slots. FROM THE DEFENSIVE SIDE: Davis said the team is still looking for some of the guys to step up and fill a role. There are a lot of question marks on this side of the ball, but the return of defensive end Dominique Simpson and Lasker at safety should help pad the unproven defense. A GOOD SEASON WOULD BE: Seven victories and a trip to the state playoffs with a home game in the first round. A GREAT SEASON WOULD BE: Another 2-3A Conference championship and a deep run in the playoffs, after winning two out of three non-conference games.


Smith Ford Salutes the Coaching Staff of Faulkner County’s High School Football Teams for their Commitment to our Young Athletes. MAYFLOWER Jed Davis

Chad Floyd

David Davenport

Jeff Hill

Jeff Cox

VILONIA Jim Stanley

Patrick Smith

GREENBRIER Randy Tribble

TJ Slough

Todd Langrell

Alan Buchanan

John Steward

Drew Cates

David Jordan

Bill Buckner

CONWAY CHRISTIAN

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CONWAY Clint Ashcraft

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22 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

SOUTHLAND OVERVIEW

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Another wild scramble expected in Southland Conference By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

The University of Central Arkansas, ineligible again for the official Southland Conference title and the postseason, hopes to send the second-place team to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs this season. The key for the Bears will be finding some offensive consistency after the graduation of Nathan Brown, the most prolific quarterback in state history. Most of the league’s team will have experienced quarterbacks this season. Both the title and playoff berths could come down to the final weekend. FAVORITE: Stephen F. Austin Sleeper: UCA Biggest Hill to Climb: Sam Houston State UCA Coach: Clint Conque, 10th season, 68-36 Last year: 10-2, 6-1, 1st place Starters returning: 18 Top returning players: Running back Brent Grimes, offensive linemen Lane Freiwald and Will Merritt, receiver James Lovett, defensive linemen Larry Hart, Taylor Scott, Uriah Perry, linebackers James Lancaster, Jessie Sims and Jacob Bane, defensive backs Anthony Gambles and Pieri Feazell. The skinny: The defense, with quality depth in both the line and the secondary, could be one of the best in school history and could buy some time for the offense. The major question is how the offensive can develop behind the leadership of quarterbacks Robbie Park and Nathan Dick.

Projected southland Finish 1. Stephen F. Austin

2. SE Louisiana 3. McNeese State 4. Texas State 5. Northwestern State 6. Nichols State 7. Sam Houston State STEPHEN F. AUSTIN Coach: J.C. Harper, 3rd season, 4-19 Last year: 3-8, 2-5, T-6th Returning starters: 21 Top returning players: Quarterback Jeremy Moses, wide receiver Duane Brooks, running backs Vincent Pervis and Tyrone Ross, offensive linemen Karl Glimp and Max Holmes, defensive end Tim Knicky and linebacker Jabara Williams, safety Cory Barlow. The skinny: The Lumberjacks appear ready to challenge for the title with returning about everybody on offense and defense. Moses led Division-I FCS quarterbacks last season with 41 touchdowns and was second with 4,026 passing yards. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA Coach: Mike Lucas, 3rd season, 8-18 Last year: 5-7, 2-5, T-6th Starters returning: 14 Top returning players: Quarterback Brian Babin, wide receivers Simmie Yarborough and Chris Wilson, running back Jasper Ducksworth, offensive linemen Kevin Hughes and David Ward, Defensive linemen Devin Boutwell and Brian Rogers, safety Tommy Connors, and linebckers Quinten Piere and Ryan Godare.

The skinny: Southeastern is a good pick as the league’s sleeper team, certainly one of its most athletically talented. Babin is one of the league’s best and experienced quarterbacks, and Yarborough was freshmen of the year as wide receiver last year. Connors is one of the best defensive backs in the league. If the Lions get off to a strong start, they could roar. MCNEESE STATE Coach: Matt Viator, 4th season, 24-7 Last year: 7-4, 4-3, T 3rd. Starters returning: 9 Top returning players: Quarterback Derrick Fourroux, running back Toddrick Pendland, tight end Wes Mangan, linebacker Deron Minor, defensive end Terrance Freeman, defesnive back Darrell Jenkins. The skinny: Fourroux is a four-year starter at quarterback, and Pendland is one of the top backs in the league. Defense wil be a key. The Cowboys’ season could hinge on how some players who have been in backup roles in previous seasons perform in starting roles this year. There’s good reason for optimism because since 2000, McNeese has a .745 league winning percentage, 41-14.

TEXAS STATE Coach: Brad Wright: 3rd season, 12-12 Last year: 8-5, 5-2, 2nd place, NCAA FCS playoff representative. Starters returning: 15 Top returning players: Quarterback Bradley George, running back Kerrington Bush, offensive lineman D.J. Hall, defensive end Travis Houston, linebackers Marcus Clark and Joe Bell. The skinny: George and Bell are two of the top returning skill players in FCS football. Bush is also one of the country’s most dangerous return specialists. Depending on the defensive play, the Bobcats could challenge for first place again. NORTHWESTERN STATE Coach: Bradley Dale Peveto, 1st season Last season: 7-5, 4-3, T3rd Returning starters: 18 Top returning players: Center Marcus Washington, guards Jace Prescott and Michael Booker, quarteraback John Hundley, tight end Gordon Freeman, safety Gary Riggs, defensive tackle Allen Smith, defensive end Ledell Love and linebacker Blake Delcambre. The skinny: The Demons are a dangerous team

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with the largest senior class in recent history. It depends on how the players adapt to Peveto’s defensive scheme and the new offensive attack instituted by former UCA offensive coordinator Todd Cooley. NICHOLLS STATE Coach: Jay Thomas, 6th season, 24-27 Last year: 3-6, 3-4, 5th. Starters returning: 18 Top returning players: Running back A.J. Williams wide receiver Antonio Robinson, offensive linemen Aric Flowers and Spenser Langthorn, defensive linemen Quenton Mims, Kyle Hughes and Zac Reddix, defensive backs Jordan Oglethree, Jordan Nevaqls and Dominque Daniels, punter Patrick Dolan and placekicker Ross Schexnayder. The skinny: The Colonels are one of the thinnest as far as depth. Their success could depend on the development of a quarterback to lead the triple-option attack. They return one of the best kicking games in the league. SAM HOUSTON STATE Coach: Todd Whitten, 5th season, 20-22 Last year: 4-6, 2-5, T-6th Starters returning: 10 Top returning players: Running backs James Aston and Chris Poullard, offensive lineman Hunter Schmidt, defensive end Chris Brown, linebacker Luke McCall and defensive tackle Kevin Smith, placekicker Taylor Wilkins. The skinny: The Bearkats go up or down depending on three factors: The develop of a more effective defense; finding a replacement for quarterback Rhett Bomar and moving toward postive figures in turnover margin.


UCA

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Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 23

UCA much different team from last season By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

The University of Central Arkansas Bears will be a different team this season. The question is whether the differences can translate into another challenging position at the top of the Southland Conference standings. One big difference is the absence of quarterback Nathan Brown, the most prolific and one of the most successful in state history. Fifth-year senior Robbie Park seems ready to take over and his progress is crucial considering an early season injury that limited the work of backup Nathan Dick, a transfer from the University of Arkansas. The running game may be the best and deepest in recent years with the one-two punch of Brent Grimes and Leonard Ceaser. “Our defense played quick and fast and at a high level during both the spring and preseason camp,” UCA coach Clint Conque said. “We have great depth in the kicking game so that should be another solid area for us.” ON THE OFFENSIVE SIDE: “The main thing is we want our quarterbacks to play within themselves and do what they can do,” Conque said. Grimes, Ceasar, Anthony Blackmon and Terence Bobo give the Bears some versatility to go with a veteran offensive front headed by Lane Freiwald, Will Merritt and Casey Thurber, Matt Dickerson and Austin Emerson. Nick Cowger has grown up in the UCA system as fullback. Even with the loss of Willie Landers (the leading returning receiver) to a season-ending knee injury, the receiver corps has some playmakers in James Lovett, Isaiah Jackson, T.J. Adams, Preston Echols, Trae Cook (who will also see action at quarterback) and Darrius McNeal, who begins the season with a 1 1/2-game disciplinary suspension. Junior Rico Moss and transfer Brennan Rushing could give the Bears a tight end combination that could help make up for the depature of Marquez Branson. ON THE DEFENSIVE SIDE: Deep at every position and strong up front with All-

America end Larry Hart. Taylor Scott, Trey Lippe, Hutton Andrew, Uriah Perry are forces up front with a deep secondary headed by Anthony Gambles, Henry Minor, Desmond Wilcox, Pierri Feazell, Zach Hyatt, Phillip Johnson and Derrick Boyd. The linebacking corps has more depth with James Lancaster, Tok Opeloye, Jessie Sims, Jacob Bane, Vance Fizer and Frank Newsome all with big-play ability. UPSIDE: A defense and kicking game that could buy some time for a transforming offense. DOWNSIDE: How the Bear offense acquires leadership in the absence of Brown and compensate for some significant losses at receiver. ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Running back Brent Grimes, offensive linemen Lane Freiwald, Casey Thurber and Will Merritt, receiver James Lovett, defensive linemen Larry Hart, Taylor Scott and Uriah Perry, linebackers James Lancaster and Jessie Sims, defensive backs Anthony Gambles, Henry Minor, Pieri Feazell and Phillips Johnson, punter Jonathan Beard place-kicker Eddie Carmona. NEWCOMERS TO WATCH: Wide receiver Dominque Croom, offensive linemen Dominque Allen and Nate Richards, defensive backs RaDarius Winston and Marcus Dumas, linebacker Frank Newsome, tight end Brennan Rushing, quarterback Nathan Dick. VARIABLES: Quarterback, particularly an uncertain situation at No. 2 at the beginning of the season. How well the Bears will respond to playing two NCAA FBS teams (Hawaii and Western Kentucky) and to having a target on their backs after a 10-2 season and posting the best record in the conference at 6-1. TELLTALE GAMES: Oct. 10th and 17th with back-toback contests against Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin, two vastly improved teams who could be serious contenders. A GOOD SEASON WOULD BE: Contending again for first place in the Southland Conference late in the season. This team is focused on first place again.

UCA

The Basics Coach: Clint Conque (10th season, 68-36) Last year: 10-2 (6-1 SLC, 1st place) Starters returning: 18 (7 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams) Letterwinners returning: 47 Offense: Multiple Defense: Multiple Coaching staff: Brooks Holllingsworth (offensive line and offensive coordinator); Matt Williamson, defensive line and defensive coordinator); Perry Eliano, defensive backs; Hud Jackson (running backs and assistant head coach); Jerry Mack, wide receivers and passing game coordinator; Buster Faulkner, quarterbacks; Dan Augustine, linebackers and special teams; Jordan Malone, outside linebackers; Brandon Nowling, tight ends; Adam Federle, interior defense and recruiting coordinator).

The Schedule Sept. 4 (FRI) at Hawaii midnight (CDT) Sept. 19 at Western Kentucky 6 p.m. Sept. 26 Glenville St. (W. Va.), 6 p.m. Oct. 3 Missouri S&T 6 p.m. Oct. 10 at Nwestern State 7 p.m. Oct. 17 Stephen F. Austin (SLC TV) 6 p.m. Oct. 24 Nicholls State (homecoming), 6 p.m. Oct. 31 at SE Louisiana 2 p.m. Nov. 7 Texas State (SLC TV), 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Sam Houston St. 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at McNeese State 7 p.m. Nov. 28 North Dakota 1 p.m.

The Reality Because of its defense and kicking game, this team again has the look and feel of a conference contender.

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24 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

UCA

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UCA quarterbacks excited about versatility of offense

CMYK

By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

One has waited his turn a long time. The other spent the bulk of fall practice with waiting his turn because of a really irritating injury. The University of Central Arkansas Bears’ fate at quarterback this season rests on two players who grew up within 35 miles of each other in the east Texas, Dallas area. Robbie Park from Keller, Texas, the backup to muchheralded Nathan Brown for three seasons, begins this year as No. 1. “The role of the quarterback is to lead the offense, and that’s the way it is everywhere,” Park said. “UCA has had a history of great quarterbacks, and there are a lot of expectations here for a quarterback. It’s nice to know the coaches have confidence in me. I want to do as well as Nathan Brown, but I cannot be Nathan Brown.” Nathan Dick of Allen, Texas, is a transfer from the University of Arkansas.

The University of Central Arkansas quarterback situation has been up in the air somewhat. Seasoned veteran Robbie Park, far right, will open the season as the starter, while University of Arkansas transfer Nathan Dick, left, could see playing time. Newcomer Trae Cook could get in the mix but will likely see more time at receiver. LOG CABIN FILE PHOTO

Because of Park’s two-year

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mission after high school with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the fact that Keller and Allen are not in the same district in Texas, the two quarterbacks never met in high school. Dick had problems in preseason camp and could not throw during early drills because of a strained triceps. “I just threw a ball, and I could tell something was wrong,” he said. “I have never had that type of injury before. I had never even heard of it. It just happened. I don’t know why. I know for sure it wasn’t because I had not warmed up properly. “It was frustrating not being able to throw. Every day, you hoped it might be the day.” “We need Nathan to be healthy,” Park said. “He makes me better. I make him better. He makes our defense better.” “What I’ve concentrated on is footwork,” Dick said. “I get some reps as ballhandling and

footwork and my drops and all that. As far as rehab, it’s been a little bit of everything — heat, cold, ice, whirlpoool. But when I first began rehab and couldn’t throw in practice, I’d got in, and the defense caught on fast that it was gonna be a run. It wasn’t really fair.” Park is ready to accept his role as a leader for the offense. “I think I’m making my reads quicker and know my protection better on passing plays,” he said. “Players are going to naturally look up to the quarterback. Even if you are not feeling as well, you’ve got to come out to practice and set the example of hard work. I know this football team has the same expectations. It’s just with different personalities.” The UCA quarterbacks have also had to adjust to a new position coach, Buster Faulkner, a former standout quarterback and assistant coach at Valdosta State and

the University of Georgia. “Coach Faulkner has been a big help because he’s been in places and situations we’ve been and he’s been in our shoes before,” Park said. “He’s good with the X’s and O’s, but he’s also a person we can be comfortable in talking to, whether it’s an on-field issue or something off the field.” Both quarterbacks are excited about the versatility of the Bears offense. “We want a solid ground game,” Park said. “We want to run the football, and I think we have a good offensive line and running backs. That will open up the passing game. People talk about us losing Marquez Branson. Rico Moss is becoming quite a threat at tight end. We have a lot of different types of wide receivers.” “I like how explosive this offense can be,” Dick said. “We can play at three or four different tempos.”


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UCA

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 25

Bears’ Hart tries to keep a steady beat By DAVID MCCOLLUM LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

While his prowess is well known on the football field, University of Central Arkansas’ Larry Hart has become quite a futbol player. At least on video. For relaxation, Hart, the Bears’ All-America defensive end, likes to play video games and the FIFA soccer game has become one of his favorites along with “Call of Duty” and “NCAA Football.” “I’ve really gotten into playing soccer, love it,” Hart said. “My roommate is really into soccer, and he got me into it. It’s a lot of fun. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It’s just something fun that can take your mind off things.” Opposing teams will have their mind on Hart this season. Last season, his first at UCA since transferring from Holmes Community College in Mississippi, Hart had 21 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, which was fourth in the nation in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. His 21 tackles for loss was third best in UCA history. “He has the ability to transfer speed into power as well as anyone I’ve ever seen,” said UCA coach Clint Conque about the 6-foot-1, 248-pounder from Madison, Miss. “I’ve put on 20 pounds since last season, and I think I’m stronger and more

explosive,” Hart said. Right now, he’s concentrating more on becoming a leader on the team. “Being a leader is part of it,” he said. “I want to win and I want to be here for my team. I try to bring a positive attitude to practice.” What is his biggest concern? Hart raises the questions. “We have a lot of talent and have the pieces in place to have the kind of season we had last year,” he said about the 10-2 mark, best in the conference. “But do we have the same swagger? Are we tough mentally as far as offense, defense and special teams? Do these guys believe we can be good enough to do what we did last year?” He feels confident of the defense. “There are a lot of good guys around me with a lot of experience,” Hart said. “There’s a lot of competition. And we’re six to eight deep in the secondary. “And our offense is getting a lot better. We’ve had some really good young players come in. The offense has had its days in preseason camp.” After last season’s success, he doesn’t mind a target on the Bears’ backs. “Whatever we did to get to the top we’ve got to do to stay on top,” he said. “If we work hard and stay grounded, I think everything will fall into place.”

University of Central Arkansas defensive end Larry Hart, center, has disrupted plenty of offenses as the leader of the Bears defensive line. Hart will anchor what should be a strong group in 2009. PHOTO COURTESY OF UCA SPORTS INFORMATION

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26 — Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 • Football Preview

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SEC, Gators try to keep title in-house By JOHN ZENOR AP Sports Writer

The road to the national title game has run through the Southeastern Conference recently. So while perfection would be nice for Tim Tebow and Florida, it’s not necessarily necessary. And the Gators know it. “Our goal is to win the SEC championship,” Tebow said. “That’s our ultimate goal. We feel like if we’re the champions of the best conference in college football, then we should have the opportunity to play for it all.” Tebow and the Gators have won national championships two of the last three seasons after losing a game and are the team to beat again in 2009. Two years ago, SEC rival LSU won the BCS title with not one but two defeats. Even with Tebow back for his senior season — along with the entire starting defense — winding up at the top of the treacherous SEC won’t likely be any easier this go around. While the Gators are the pro-

Projected SEC Finish East 1. Florida

2. Georgia 3. South Carolina 4. Vanderbilt 5. Tennessee 6. Kentucky

1. LSU

West

2. Alabama 3. Mississippi 4. Arkansas 5. Auburn 6. Mississippi State hibitive favorites to win the national championship, Alabama, LSU and Mississippi — the last team to beat Florida — and Georgia will all start the season highly ranked. Alabama coach Nick Saban won a share of the national title with LSU in 2003 with a 13-1 record. He said it takes “great competitive character” to win the league. Tebow certainly has

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that as anyone knows who has seen sideline shots on TV of him firing up his teammates. Then there’s consistency. There’s seldom a good time for a bad game. “You cannot be up and down or you’re not gonna sustain it in our league,” Saban said. The Gators have Tebow with the usual array of dangerous weapons on offense. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, also back for his senior year, leads the defense. The obstacles include an Alabama team with receiver Julio Jones and a defense that has Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain and six more starters back after ranking third nationally in yards allowed. The Gators weren’t all that bothered by that group in a 31-20 SEC championship game win. Then there’s LSU, which has running back Charles Scott, receiver Brandon LaFell and tackle Ciron Black to help ease quarterback Jordan Jefferson’s transition into the starting job. He led the Tigers to a 38-3 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Georgia Tech. The Rebels, meanwhile, have the league’s only other proven star at quarterback. Jevan Snead’s 26 touchdown passes in his first season as a starter trailed only Tebow’s 30 in the SEC. Defensive end Greg Hardy has 18.5 sacks in just 19 games the past two seasons. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt led Arkansas to the 2006 SEC title game and knows it takes good fortune, not just talent. “You’re in the toughest conference in America, I believe that with all my heart,” Houston Nutt said. “It’s very hard to get there. Things have to go right.” A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish: EAST FLORIDA — Key players: QB Tim Tebow, LB Brandon Spikes, TE Aaron Hernandez, DE Carlos Dunlap. Returning starters: 7 offense, 11 defense. Notes: RBs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey both averaged 7.8 ypc and gained more than 600 yards last season. ... Top two receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy are gone from highest scoring team in SEC history. ... Brandon James’ four punt returns for TDs is third all-time in SEC. ... Line coach Steve Addazio replaces Dan Mullen

as offensive coordinator. GEORGIA — Key players: QB Joe Cox, WR A.J. Green, DT Jeff Owens, LB Rennie Curran. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense. Notes: Cox, whose lone college start came in 2006, was 310 as a starter in high school.... Green was first freshman to lead SEC in receiving since Auburn’s Ronney Daniel in 1999. ... Owens returns from a seasonending knee injury sustained in the first quarter of the opening game. SOUTH CAROLINA — Key players: QB Stephen Garcia, LB Eric Norwood, WR Moe Brown, S Darian Stewart. Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense. Notes: Garcia, who is expected to take over the starting job fulltime, is also Gamecocks’ top returning rusher. ... Top two receivers are gone. VANDERBILT — Key players: QBs Mackenzi Adams and Larry Smith, LB Patrick Benoist, CB Myron Lewis. Returning starters: 8 offense, 9 defense. Notes: 18 returning starters on offense and defense matches Florida for most in SEC. ... QB battle is key for last year’s league worst passing attack. ... Play at LSU, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. ... Commodores coming off first winning season since 1982 and first bowl win in 53 years. TENNESSEE — Key players: S Eric Berry, LB Rico McCoy, WR Gerald Jones, RB Montario Hardesty. Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense. Notes: QBs Nick Stephens and Jonathan Crompton once again vie for top job. ... Hardesty could face challenge from top recruits Bryce Brown and David Oku. Freshman WR Nu’Keese Richardson also is expected to make an immediate impact. KENTUCKY — Key players: QB Mike Hartline, CB Trevard Lindley, LB Micah Jackson. Returning starters: 5 offense, 5 defense. Notes: Gone are three of top four tacklers. ... Three starters return on offensive line that allowed fourth fewest sacks in country. ... Former starting QB Randall Cobb now at receiver. WEST LSU — Key players: WR Brandon LaFell, RB Charles Scott, DE Rahim Alem, QB Jordan Jefferson. Returning start-

ers: 7 offense, 7 defense. Notes: Jefferson has plenty of receiver help, from LaFell to nation’s top receiver recruit Rueben Randle. ... Ex-Tennessee defensive chief John Chavis takes over unit that twice gave up 50-plus points. ALABAMA — Key players: WR Julio Jones, QB Greg McElroy, NG Terrence Cody, LB Rolando McClain, CB/RS Javier Arenas. Returning starters: 4 offense, 9 defense. Notes: Tide is 17-31 in the four seasons after reaching double-digit wins since 1996. .... McElroy spent three years as Chase Daniels’ backup in high school and set Texas state record for TD passes in lone season as starter. ... Alabama must replace three All-Americans, two on offensive line. ... RB Mark Ingram led team with 12 TD runs last season as Glen Coffee’s backup. MISSISSIPPI — Key players: QB Jevan Snead, DE Greg Hardy, OL John Jerry, RB/WR Dexter McCluster. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense. Notes: Ole Miss aas easiest nonconference schedule of all league contenders. ... Rebels return players responsible for 96 percent of rushing yards, led by McCluster and Cordera Eason. ARKANSAS — Key players: QB Ryan Mallett, RB Michael Smith, RB, DE Adrian Davis. Returning starters: 8 offense, 10 defense. AUBURN — Key players: LT Lee Ziemba, DE Antonio Coleman, RB Ben Tate, WR Terrell Zachery. Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense. Notes: New coach Gene Chizik has little depth or star power on the roster. ... QBs Kodi Burns and Chris Todd are only ones with experience in three- or four-man battle for starting job. ... Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has led one of nation’s top two offenses in yards per game last two seasons at Tulsa. MISSISSIPPI STATE — Key players: RB Anthony Dixon, LB Jamar Chaney, LB K.J. Wright. Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense. Notes: Dan Mullen takes over program after winning two national titles as a Florida assistant. He brings a spread offense along with that track record to team that ranked 115th nationally in scoring last season.


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ARKANSAS

Football Preview • Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009— 27

Hogs optimistic entering Year 2 under Petrino By NOAH TRISTER AP Sports Writer

FAYETTEVILLE — Bobby Petrino and Arkansas took their lumps a season ago, when the Razorbacks stumbled to a losing record in their first season under the coach. Then, on their final drive of the final game, the Hogs offered a warning to the rest of the Southeastern Conference. “LSU probably wasn’t as powerful as they’ve been in the past, but they were a good team last year and we beat them,” defensive lineman Malcolm Sheppard said. “It just motivated us for this season.” Arkansas finished the 2008 season with a last-minute, 31-30 win against LSU, and that game changed the Razorbacks’ outlook heading into the offseason. Now, with eight starters returning on offense and nine on defense, Arkansas is hoping to improve on last season’s 5-7 record. Perhaps nobody is more eager than Petrino, who was vilified after abruptly leaving the Atlanta Falcons to come to Fayetteville in December 2007. The outcry over his nomadic ways has died down a bit, and Petrino appears comfortable entering his second season at Arkansas. “The first year you’re going out there sometimes and there’s still question and doubt on what you’re doing, what the coach is asking you to do,” Petrino said. “The second year, you see a lot of improvement.” SEC fans know all about that. Urban Meyer won a national championship in his second season at Florida, and Nick Saban took Alabama to the Sugar Bowl in his second season there. Will Arkansas be the next team on the rise? It’s possible, but the Razorbacks will have to overcome a brutal schedule that includes road games against Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and LSU. “In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” tight end D.J. Williams said. “The schedule’s tough, but we’re not going to look at it

ARKANSAS The Questions

A few random questions as the Razorbacks begin the season. 1. Will Bobby Petrino’s program settle in during his second year as coach? 2. In his first season as quarterback, how will Ryan Mallett fare, particularly in terms of efficiency, against SEC defenses? 3. Where will quarterback Tyler Wilson fit in? 4. How will the Hog defense, a clear weakness last season, compete against the quick and strong SEC offenses? 5. Can the young Hog secondary, particularly the cornerbacks, meet the week-to-week SEC challenge of skill position players? 6. What kind of play will the Hogs have a linebacker, a vulnerable spot last season and an unsettled area in the spring? 7. Related to the above questions, will the Razorbacks be as vulnerable to the big play? 8. What kind of consistency will the Hogs get from up-and-down place-kicker Alex Tejada? 9. If Tejada cannot be consistent, what happens? 10. How will the Hogs hold up against that brutal and ominous string of games in successive weeks against SEC foes Georgia, at Alabama, Auburn, at Florida and at Ole Miss with Texas A&M in Dallas thrown in the middle? 11. Can the offensive line batter handle the blitzes, which will likely come in abundance against unproven quarterbacks? 12. Will the Texas A&M game in the new Cowboy Stadium have the same feel as during the old Southwest Conference days? (By David McCollum, Log Cabin Staff Writer)

Arkansas running back Michael Smith picks up yardage in the red-white

and be scared. We’re just going to look at it as a challenge.” Williams was a focal point of the offense last season along with running back Michael Smith. Both are back, and they’ll be joined by Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett, who is now eligible to play quarterback after sitting out a season. “He has the strongest arm in college football,” Williams said. “I’ve got to watch out for my fingers. He’s hurt a couple of them already.” Mallett has three years of eligibility remaining, and he’s been pushed this offseason by redshirt freshman Tyler Wilson. The quarterbacks will have a chance to establish chemistry with a young group of receivers, including Joe Adams, who caught 31 passes as a freshman. Defensively, Arkansas will need a big improvement

after allowing 31 points per game last season. Sheppard led the Razorbacks with 6.5 sacks a season ago, and linebacker Jerry Franklin also returns after leading the team in tackles. The secondary was a weak point at times in 2008, and freshman Darius Winston could receive immediate playing time there this year. Arkansas was picked fourth in the SEC West in a preseason media poll, and a run at the conference title might be a bit far fetched this year. Still, the Razorbacks should have every opportunity to build on that exciting finish to 2008. “We talk a lot about what our expectations are,” Petrino said. “We understand we know we are going to be a better football team. I think we can be better than a lot of people think. The bottom line is we have to go out there and prove it.”

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game in Fayetteville. Smith made more than 1,000 yards in 2008 before an injury. AP

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2009 Football Preview