10 Questions That Linger as Fall Camp Approaches
July 17, 2012
10 Questions That Linger as Fall Camp Approaches
By Nate Olson
Who is the best recruit in the state?
Pulaski Academy senior tight end Hunter Henry. If you watched Henry in last year's 4A State Title game, you know why I'm going with him. He has great size (6-5, 240 pounds), agility and speed (4.7) to go with nice hands. Henry hauled in more than 1,000 yards receiving and 16 TDs last fall and had more than 343 yards receiving and five TDs during the Bruins' title run. He compares to the best tight ends in the country and has countless scholarship offers, including Alabama and Arkansas. He plans to make a decision Thursday, July 19.
North Little Rock senior running back Altee Tenpenny is committed to Alabama and has numerous offers, but sitting out the entire 2011 season with an ankle injury keeps him behind Henry. If Tenpenny stays healthy he ranks as one of the better running backs and athletes nationally. Fayetteville senior quarterback Austin Allen, who is committed to Arkansas, and fellow Bulldogs teammate and linebacker, Brooks Ellis, also an Arkansas commit, aren't far behind.
Which team has the toughest challenge repeating as state champs?
Strong. The Bulldogs lost their best player in school history and their coach who led a 2A state title run in 2011. Kenneth Dixon became one of the state's best players after capping off his career rushing for 6,367 career yards and 83 touchdowns. The Louisiana Tech signee dominated during Strong's playoff run. He leaves a gaping hole at quarterback, although senior Lamar Williams could emerge as a dangerous rushing threat in the backfield. Coach Shane Davis headed to Waldron, leaving Johnny Jackson the task of repeating while trying to survive in the rugged 8-2A Conference again the state's strongest league. The Bulldogs (9 returning starters) are a playoff team, but not one who will make a deep run.
Can Nashville coach Billy Dawson turn the Scrappers around in one season?
Yes. All Dawson did from 2005 to 2009 was win. He finished his tenure with a 65-4 record and three state titles. Dawson, who spent most of his youth in Nashville, switched from coaching to the ministry. After watching his successor, Tim Perry, struggle, Dawson returns with his knack for winning understanding of the expectations of a fan base who has seen the Scrappers advance to the quarterfinals 20 times since 1990.
Nashville only has 11 starters returning and is 16-10 over the past two seasons, but Dawson will have them in contention for a 4A state title. It's hard to argue with his track record.
Which first-year coach (besides Dawson) has the best chance at success in 2012?
England coach Terry Farmer. There were 28 coaching changes made in the off-season. The best get may have come in England.
Farmer racked up 20 wins and back-to-back quarterfinal playoff berths at tiny Palestine-Wheatley in 2003-04.
Farmer knows how to win big at a small school with limited resources. England has been a sleeping giant with quality athletes. Farmer gives a team with 16 returning starters a chance to win the most games the program has enjoyed in more than 10 years.
Which team will be the biggest surprise contender?
Little Rock Central. The state's winningest program fell on tough times when the Tigers didn't win a game in 2008 or '09. Central only won two games in coach Scooter Register's debut in 2009. Central made great strides last year winning five games and only losing 21-16 at Springdale Har-Ber in the first round of the 7A playoffs.
Those close to the program say the Tigers defense, led by coordinator Adam Acklin, swarmed in spring practice. That could be a key to more wins in 2012. Linebacker coach KD Williams, a former Henderson State standout and NFL linebacker, helped tutor the defense in the spring and instilled them with confidence that could make the Tigers' D as feared as the units that fueled back-to-back state titles in 2003-04.
Offensively, senior receiver AJ Tucker has attracted attention from colleges across the country. The more times he touches the ball, the better chance the Tigers have of challenging for the 7A/6A East title.
How will the move to 6A affect defending 5A Champ Greenwood?
Very little. After reclassification the Bulldogs found themselves elevated to 6A and dumped in the 7A/6A Central where they are among the smaller schools. That matters little to Bulldogs coach Rick Jones. Jones (93-16 at Greenwood) has won five state titles since 2005 and finished 14-0 last season. Greenwood hasn't won less than 9 games since 2005 and doesn't plan to start now.
Even though they match up with formidable opponents Fort Smith Southside and Conway in league play, the Bulldogs should escape unscathed, and then head to the 6A bracket where they match up better numbers wise. It's doubtful anyone can dethrone three-time 6A champion El Dorado, but Greenwood, even with only eight returning starters, can ride its tradition deep into the playoffs in its debut season of 6A.
Will the 7A State Title Game feature two West teams?
Yes. Five different 7A-West teams have appeared in the finals since 2006. Until a team from the Central or East makes it to War Memorial Stadium in December it's hard to pick against the West.
Defending champion Fayetteville is the frontrunner. Bentonville, who won 25 straight games heading into last year's state title loss to the Bulldogs, could join them. The Tigers only return three offensive starters and lose starting quarterback Dallas Hardison, who lost once in two varsity seasons. The inexperience makes them a bit vulnerable, but they are capable of reloading with one of the better coaches in the state in Barry Lunney Sr. Springdale Har-Ber, who has been strong since it began its program in 2006, also must overcome inexperience. Har-Ber won the state title in 2009 but two returning starters on offense could keep them from Little Rock.
North Little Rock could break through for the East. The Charging Wildcats return 18 starters from a team that lost 31-7 at Bentonville in the semifinals last season. The best news is star running back Altee Tenpenny, an Alabama commit, returns to the field after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury. The Central could be helped by the move of Fort Smith Southside to the league. The Rebels were a mainstay in the rugged West and have made three finals appearances since 2006, including one state title.
Can Pulaski Academy beat an out-of-state power on a national stage?
Yes. Over the past four years Pulaski Academy has attracted national attention. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, NFL Films and others have examined the Bruins unorthodox philosophies and winning ways.
In part, the media attention landed the Bruins in a made-for-TV road game at Chaminade Prep, a private power in the Los Angeles area. The Eagles are 22-5 in the past two seasons under fourth-year coach Ed Croson.
This is the first big out-of-state test for an Arkansas team since Shiloh Christian lost 80-26 to Euless (Texas) Trinity in the 2010 opener. That loss has been a motivator for PA coach Kevin Kelley, but it appears a blowout isn't likely in this game. Trinity used its vast numbers and depth to overwhelm a Shiloh team that was dominant in state as it cruised to the state title beating PA in the title game.
The Bruins will also face a disparity in depth, but should match up well with its starters with several college prospects dotting the lineup.
The biggest challenge for PA will be breaking in a new quarterback. Superstar Fredi Knighten is at Arkansas State leaving inexperienced junior Colin Castleberry and senior Lawson Vasser, who didn't play football in 2011, to guide the squad in its biggest nonconference game in school history. If Castleberry or Vasser has jitters, it could spell disaster for the Bruins. However, PA has a crop of talented skill players, which could help ease the transition.
Chaminade has a month to prepare for the Bruins onside kicks and no-punting philosophy. That still may not be enough. That's what the Bruins coaching staff is hoping for.
Who has the toughest schedule?
Bentonville The Tigers play an ambitious non-conference schedule that includes three out-of-state powers. They play host to Rockhurst (Mo.) Week 1, and then play at Broken Arrow (Okla). Week 2 before playing South Panola (Miss.) at home to end the non-conference slate. Broken Arrow, a Tulsa suburb, finished 49th in the Rivals.com Top 100 last year and lost in the Oklahoma 4A state finals.
Rockhurst, located in the Kansas City Area. Finished 10-2 in 2011 losing in the second round of the 6A playoffs 28-7 to eventual runner-up Blue Springs South
SP is one of the more dominant programs in Mississippi, winning 89 straight games between 2003 and 2008. The school won five straight titles before losing the inaugural 6A title game to Meridian in 2009. SP finished 9-4 last fall and lost to Madison Central 28-14 in the second round of the playoffs.
If the Tigers can survive the first three games, they get to start the rugged 7A/6A West slate at Springdale Har-Ber. The West could be a bit easier without contender Southside and the addition of smaller schools Siloam Springs and Van Buren to the league. Bentonville has to wait for the league finale for a state title game rematch with defending 7A Champion Fayetteville.
Which regular season game should be the best?
Week 2 Junction City at Rison Rison drops to 2A and makes its 8-2A debut against Junction City in an early season league battle. This game should be for the conference title (although Bearden may have something to say about that) and could be a preview of the 2A State Title Game. The Dragons return 14 starters from a squad that fell to defending champion Strong in the semifinals a year ago. Junction City is gunning for its first state title since 2009 when it won back-to-back crowns. Rison won 22 games and two conference titles the past two seasons in 3A. The Wildcats only return six starters from last year's squad but is tough and experienced in the trenches. The Wildcats have won eight state titles, but haven't won one since 2004.