Bryant reloads with fifth straight title in sight

When your program has won four Class 7A state championships in a row and won 42 straight  games against in-state foes as Bryant has, continued excellence is just expected.

Hornets head football coach Buck James, who recently participated in the Hogville Coaches Golf Tournament at the Maumelle Country Club, would have it no other way and makes clear it is no accident.

“We have huge numbers of players out, our kids are strong and in the weight room, we have a good system in grades seven through nine to get them there and a lot of kids gets to play,” James said. “We play a lot of kids, we’ll play 70 on a Friday night. Kids want to play and we give them a chance to play if they do what they are supposed to do and practice. We get them on the field if they do. 

“We try to play our young kids on special teams and give them opportunity on the field. Just trying to do right by the kids is probably the most important thing and we work them hard, really hard and expect a lot from them and our community expects a lot.”

Bryant (12-1), whose only loss last season was to Texas power Longview (24-21), sealed its fourth consecutive title with a 42-38 win over Fayetteville on Dec. 4 in game that doubled as James’ 200th head coaching win.

Fayetteville had taken a 38-35 lead with 4:07 left in the game when quarterback Braden Fike ran for a two-yard touchdown and then tossed a two-point conversion pass to Arkansas signee Isaiah Sategna.

‘Our kids just do what it takes to win and do it for each other,” James said. “It carries over from year to year.”

The Hornets lost several starters off last season’s  squad, but James feels like he has the talent to continue the program’s success.

That includes junior defensive end T.J. Lindsey (6-4, 270), who added an Arkansas offer this summer and also has ones from Georgia, TCU, Memphis, Texas Tech, Colorado and Houston, and safety Malichi Graham, the MVP of last season’s championship game.

“It’s going to be different,” James said. “We return a lot on defense and we are excited about that, but we have a lot of unknowns of offense. We’ve had a good summer, we won the Shootout of the South, where I thought we defensively played really well and also did some really good stuff offensively.”

Chris Gannaway rushed for 1,288 yards last season for Bryant last season while Benton transfer Brandon Johnson nearly topped 1,000 yards as well. Mytorian Singleton caught 64 passes for 1,150 yards and 12 scores as a sophomore.

“We have some good running backs coming back, some good receivers and some youg quarterbacks that I think are going to end up being pretty good,” James said. “We have just got to gel together and mesh together with some things that allow us to get better. I like the way our team is working.”

The offense will be led a by a new starting quarterback with Gideon Motes, Jordan Walker , Tyler Pinney and Ridge Sutherland all competing for the job.

“They all bring something to the table,” James said. “ Gideon and Ridge are baseball players and they can really throw the football. Jordan is a big, strong kid, sort of looks like a (Arkansas quarterback) KJ Jefferson-type of kid,  can really run and is probably one of the top sophomore quarterbacks in the state. 

“Tyler is a guy that can run and get us out of some bad plays…I could see us playing a couple of quarterbacks throughout the season. With kids transferring these days, you have to have a couple of three quarterbacks ready to play at all times because you never know what is going to happen from week to week.”

James was pleased with his team’s work during spring practice.

“I thought we had a good spring,” James said. “We went all 10 days and we had never done that before, but we needed it. We still didn’t have some of our guys in there because of baseball and track.

“Our kids want to win, they want to do well and we just have got to put some things together. It’s all relevant. It is how good everybody else is, too. If we go out there and play well, then we’ve got a chance again.”

Bryant will open its season as it has traditionally by playing rival Benton in the Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Saturday, August 27.

The Hornets, who fashioned back-to-back 13-0 seasons in 2019 and 2020, will then face Texas power Denton Ryan before getting into conference play with September foes Fort Smith Northside, Little Rock Parkview and Jonesboro.  

“We have a tough every day conference schedule, but then we have added Denton Ryan and they are probably one of the top teams in the country,” James said. “We will be battle-tested by the time we get there.

“We are also playing Parkview this year and they are very athletic. I don’t see a week off because everybody we play is going to have great athletes, going to be very talented, but iron sharpens iron. We just have to keep getting better. 

“It is not a good conference to get into a slump. Our guys have to understands what it takes to win every Friday night to win.”