New Conway coach Buck James eager to unveil 2023 Wampus Cats at Bentonville


It was easy to tell during an interview last week that new Conway head coach Buck James was champing at the bit to see his team open the 2023 season, but there was one catch.

The Wampus Cats did not have a game during what is dubbed week zero so James’ current 53-game head coaching winning streak at Bryant, one that includes five straight Class 7A state titles, stayed intact.

Conway will get things going this Friday at 7 p.m. when it travels to play at Bentonville (1-0), who dominated Oklahoma power Broken Arrow 41-0 in its opener last week.

“Really it was almost a bye week because then you are going to turn around and play 10 straight weeks before you have a break,” James said. “…We will have to be in game-ready shape because we are going to play a team that has already has a scrimmage and had a game.

“It is going to a different ball of wax for us then it is for a team that comes off zero week and has had a chance to compete.”

James stunned the Arkansas high school ranks when made the choice to leave Bryant on May 30 and take over at Conway.

The Wampus Cats went 10-3 in 2022 before head coach Keith Fimple left to become the athletic director at Springdale.

“I think this (Conway) is a good program or I wouldn’t have taken the job,” James said. “It’s an opportunity, if we can do it right, build it the way that I envision it, then it can be a nationwide program. I think it could be mentioned in the top programs.

“It is going to take a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice, some commitment from not only the players, but the community and the administration to be able to do that. Because it doesn’t just happen because you go out there and want it to and it’s a process and we have got to embrace the process that it takes.

“Our kids have to have a buy in to it, our parents have got to buy into it. We have got to do the things it takes to change what we are not good at and work toward the things we need to build on.”

Bryant downed Conway twice last season, 34-16 in the regular season and 42-21 in a state playoff semifinal.

The Wampus Cats return 5 starters on offense, a group headed by southpaw quarterback Donovan Omolo (6-2, 205), who connected on 224 of 373 passes for 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 10 scores a year ago.

Omolo’s top returning target is Cris O’ Neal (5-11, 185), who caught 40 passes for 767 yards and 10 TDs last season and added 30 pounds in the offseason.

Jackie Anderson is also back after hauling in 26 passes for 418 yards and three scores.

The defense is headed up by senior outside linebacker Ben Chandler (6-1, 200), who had a team-high 96 tackles, 6 for lost yardage and forced four fumbles.

“We had a good summer, won one tournament and got beat by the champion in the other at Bryant beat us in overtime in the Shootout of the South,” James said. “Then we beat Bryant on the semifinals and finals in the Sonic Air Raid.

“For us to be able to even do that shows promise for sure. Our biggest thing is that we have to get stronger. We have got to get mentally tougher. We have got to get to where we are coachable that if we do what we are supposed to do, we could do it in our sleep.

“That is not only on the field, but off of the field in our training and we have got to marry our craft from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint and actually from the execution standpoint.”