Dynasty Deep Dive: Inside the rise of Arkansas football power Bryant

BRYANT, Ark. — Arkansas teams kick off high school football playoffs this week, but fans won’t see one defending state champion.

Top-ranked and undefeated Bryant is on bye after securing their fourth consecutive outright 7A Central conference title.

The team is no stranger to being ahead of the game. Head coach Buck James’ Hornets have won 50 straight games against Arkansas opponents dating back to 2018, taking four state championships in the process. But like you would in a 400-yard dash, Bryant isn’t looking back.

“You don’t think about 50 in a row until you’ve won your 50th,” James said. “You don’t think about four straight state championships until you have the chance to play for your fifth one. Those are things you do when you’re a champion.”

In our extended feature Coach James describes how he, his staff, and his players built the hornet hive that has dominated the state’s highest classification for half a decade. Despite having a target on their back each week, Bryant has continued their historic run.

“You’re going to get everybody’s best shot regardless of what their season is,” James said. “They’re going to dump water on the coach’s head if they beat the Bryant Hornets.”

Already considered maybe the state’s most dominant football program of all time, Bryant isn’t satisfied. Now chasing a five-peat that would further cement the team’s legacy in the history books, the Hornets know that they aren’t invincible.

“Some day someone’s going to beat us,” James said. “If someone beats us and they deserved to beat us, I’ll be the first one to walk out there to shake their hand because that’s what it’s about. It’s about competition.”

Extended Cut – Bryant head coach Buck James talks dominating Arkansas Class 7A football

In an extended feature, head coach Buck James discusses how his Bryant Hornets team has dominated Class 7A football for five years and how they keep finding success while being the target of opponents.

The Hornets’ state championship wins came over fellow 7A Central power North Little Rock thrice and Fayetteville once. Bryant’s streak is thought to be among schools like Central, Pine Bluff, and Pulaski Academy as the most impressive stretches by an Arkansas program. But the team is aware that they can be knocked off the mountaintop as fast as they’ve scaled to it.

“You fall off that mountain quick,” James said. “You look at powerhouses in the 70s, 80s, 90s and they’re not powerhouses now because something happened. You’ve got to learn. You’ve got to evolve. You’ve got to understand what it takes.”

Buck James, who appeared in three state championships leading Camden Fairview, succeeded Paul Calley in 2016 as Hornets head coach. Between the two regimes, a once-struggling Bryant program has been transformed into a buzzsaw. And the best may be yet to come.

“It wasn’t a cakewalk,” James said “We didn’t cater to the kids, we didn’t cater to the superstars, every guy is treated the same whether it’s the best player on the team or the worst player on the team… It’s a process from the beginning to the end.”

“Hopefully people will look back and say those guys did it the right way.”