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Fearless Friday Class 4A Preview
July 15, 2007

Class 4A Preview

While Texarkana is the surest thing to win a state title on paper, Warren winning the Class 4A state title probably makes the most sense.

The one biggest obstacle for the Lumberjacks is that they're playing among a group of 4A teams that is, as it has been the past few years, stacked. And the 'Jacks play in one of the two best leagues.

Pound for pound, Class 4A is the best group of teams in the state. It drops off into a couple of tiers and the worst teams in Class 4A can be pretty weak, but when you look down through the rankings, you'll find a lot of schools with outstanding programs.

Take into consideration the teams that are not opening in the Class 4A Top 10:

* Stuttgart, which lost a coach who revitalized what had long been a sleeping giant.

* Pocahontas, a team that had a perfect regular season before Newport took the Redskins out in the second round.

* Farmington, which fought CAC tooth-and-nail before losing to the Mustangs in overtime.

And there are others: Dumas, Trumann, Prairie Grove, Rivercrest, Fordyce and Clarksville to name a few. Of those, only Rivercrest and Clarksville failed to make it past the first round in either of the last two seasons. And Rivercrest has missed the last two postseasons. But like so many other teams in this class -- many that have gone unlisted -- the Colts and Panthers have the potential to make a postseason splash.

Circle Sept. 21 on the calendar because that's the night Dollarway travels to Warren. The winner should get the top seed on the playoff bracket, but how about the possibility of a second-round game with Nashville? It could happen if the Scrappers fall to third in their league.

The 4A-8's second best team would need to win twice to get to the third round and then would have the 7A champion to contend with in the quarterfinals. Thus, that Sept. 21 game could be "huger" than most.

There's no easy way out for the 4A-8 combatants. A Warren title will be hard-earned and well-deserved.

Which brings to mind: Anybody see the replay on that 2-point conversion from last year's 4A state-championship game?

Nashville drops to 7th to start the season. It's only the second time since 1993 that RPS has started the Scrappers so low. Clearly, a third consecutive state-title berth is not out of reach, however. Nashville started out 9th in 2005 and caught fire.

Ozark, Ashdown and Gosnell all have something in common and it happens to be what sets them apart from all the rest: They all have eight starters back on offense and their running games are returning pretty much intact.

In fact, Class 4A's preseason rankings include 8 of 10 teams with seven or more starters returning to move the football. Nashville and Booneville both have five starters coming back to programs that are known for their offensive capabilities.

Defensively? No one is too bad off there, either. Newport, Nashville and Ozark all have fewer than seven back on defense. Nashville showing up on both lists is the primary reason for its expected slide from the top.

1. Warren (13-1) Hungry 'Jacks have more motivation than anyone AND the talent to actually run away with the 4A state title.

2. Dollarway (6-4) Cardinals own both halves of what it takes to secure high ranking: Tradition and experience.

3. CAC (9-4) The path to the 4A-7 championship moves to "The Mountain" -- if CAC can conquer "The Hill."

4. Newport (6-7) Greyhounds haven't had this much preseason attention since 1997, but haven't finished this high since 1995.

5. Pulaski Oak Grove (5-6) Don't like this pick? Teams with 20+ starters from a playoff appearance are expected to be this good.

6. Booneville (5-6) For a team that won 12 games or more in six of the last eight season, 2006 finish was unacceptable.

7. Nashville (14-0) Without A.J. Whitmore, Scrappers are no longer super, but they're still pretty dang good.

8. Ozark (7-4) Hillbillies' rebound from four wins in 2005 is not fully complete. Watch for a possible playoff run.

9. Ashdown (8-5) Not much question about 4A-7 Conference sending the four best playoff teams in this class.

10. Gosnell (6-4) Picking Pirates so high may floor some, but it’s all about good returning numbers.

4A-1 – There is no love in the six miles that separates Farmington and Prairie Grove. A former Cardinal, Danny Abshier, has enjoyed a lot of success as the head coach of the Prairie Grove Tigers. This year’s Tigers will be faster and there aren’t a lot of new faces that will have to step up at Prairie Grove.

"We must replace two defensive ends, one corner and one outside linebacker,” Abshier told FearlessFriday.com. “We have depth in the backfield, several returning starters, and we'll be a faster team this year."

Former Fayetteville assistant Bill Harrelson begins his second year at Gravette with a team that finished just one victory shy of the playoffs in 2006. The Lions will have their eye on Farmington and Prairie Grove as the teams to beat.

“The strength of our team is our quickness and speed, especially on defense,” Harrelson said. “We will have to play hard to make up for a lack of size. Farmington is head and shoulders above everybody else with Prairie Grove next. After that I think everybody else has a shot."

4A-2 – Newport, Stuttgart and Lonoke have all enjoyed great successes in their football programs. Newport is a solid choice to win the league with Stuttgart starting over with a new coach and Lonoke coming off a so-so 4-6 campaign.

Marianna may be the surprise of the league with 13 starters returning from an 8-3 club. Billy Saia, with 30 years under his belt as a head coach, is guarded in his optimism.

“I feel we will be young in many key spots, and the loss of all our playmakers will make it difficult to be in the thick of things,” Saia said. “We must have early success in order to stay in the race. Stuttgart, Newport, Lonoke and Heber Springs will all be tough."

4A-3 – Gosnell is the only Top 10 to start the season, but there are five other teams in this league that can find their way into the Top 10 and overtake the Pirates. Among them is Trumann, coming off a fine 8-4 campaign that included a first-round playoff victory over perennial power Booneville.

Former Trumann standout Greg White will take the reins of the Wildcats after spending 11 years as an assistant. He will be joined by a veteran staff that includes defensive coordinator Lynn Greenwell and seven returning starters on both sides of the football.

“We are in a very tough conference from top to bottom with lots of tradition,” White said. “We can compete if we continue to work hard and have no injuries. Our players are very disciplined and extremely tough.”

Kelly Chandler is in his second year at Rivercrest and he sums up the league race, which includes stalwarts Pocahontas, Highland and Osceola, like this: “(Our) players should more comfortable with the coaching staff and offensive schemes. The hunger to get back to playoffs will be a good motivation. We are in a well-balanced conference. There is not a lot of difference between the top five or six teams.”

4A-4 – There is usually a purple hue on the 4A-4 crown with Booneville and Ozark – a pair of regulars in the Top 10 – usually battling it out. Clarksville and Dardanelle, though, are both seeing red and could close the distance on the league’s perennial frontrunners.

Clarksville coach Michael Banning is one of the classiest young coaches in the state. A 1984 graduate of Ozark, Banning knows the league inside and out. He’s got a good idea of what it will take to win it and he believes his Clarksville Panthers might just have it.

Referring to his defense, Banning said Clarksville “might be the best front in the league,” a key in component in a conference that has been more run-oriented than most.

“The conference will be very competitive,” Banning said. “Ozark brings everyone back from a district championship team. Booneville, Clinton and Dardanelle will be better. I see the Clarksville Panthers competing for a district championship."

4A-7 – Billy Dawson is 28-1 at Nashville and that has put the target squarely on the Scrappers in 2007. The Scrappers’ opponents are loaded and ready for bear, too.

Four teams from the 4A-7 Conference will start the year in the Top 10. The league has produced the last three state champions with CAC winning the title in 2004 and then returning to play for another championship in 2005. Until the mantle is taken away from the league – and the Scrappers – the 4A-7 will remain the top-ranked conference in the state from top to bottom.

“We have had a remarkable run,” said Dawson of a 28-game winning streak. “But we don't seem satisfied. Our kids continue to work extremely hard. We play in a great conference with tradition-rich schools. CAC, Ashdown and Nashville will all be in the middle of the race."

Keep an eye on Pulaski Oak Grove and DeQueen as well.

4A-8 – While the league may not have the depth of the 4A-7, it’s hard to argue against the possibility of an all-4A-8 final in December.

Although Warren is the favorite, the Lumberjacks have an even more experienced Dollarway club closing in their rear-view mirror. The Cardinals’ Wishbone attack is fueled by quarterback Justin Harris and running back Michael Willingham.

Coach George Shelton knows Warren is the team to beat and notes improvement of every other club in the conference.

“Not much has changed (in the 4A-8 Conference). Warren will lead the race,” Shelton said. “We look to knock them off in '07. The remainder of the conference is dangerous. Every team in the conference is improved over last season."

Dumas and Fordyce, Shelton’s alma mater, will be joined by McGehee, Star City and Hamburg in the chase for a coveted playoff berth.
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