By DUDLEY E. DAWSON
It’ not often that you get the opportunity to take over the state’s best football program, one that has won 5 straight state titles and beaten 53 straight in-state foes, but that’s life right now for new Bryant head coach Quad Sanders.
Sanders, the Hornets’ defensive coordinator the previous five seasons, has actually taken the head coaching job at Jonesboro, but landed back at Bryant when head coach Buck James left for Conway.
He was named the Broyles Award winner as the state’s top high school assistant after the Hornets went 12-0 last season, capped by beating Bentonville 36-7 the Class 7A championship game.
“It’s different for sure, but I’m excited to take over more than anything,” Sanders said. “It’s great to be able to stay here and be with the guys that I watched grow up and the guys I coached with.
“It’s always a challenge and it has been a challenge for the last five years. You don’t want it to be the first game you lose in a long time or the first season you don’t win the whole thing. That’s the challenge…just keep it rolling so it is an ongoing challenge.”
This season’s challenge will begin on Saturday night at 7 p.m. as rivals Bryant and Benton meet in the annual Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“Benton’s coaches have great minds, especially offensively so you have to be prepared for a great game plan and they always have some great playmakers,” Sanders said. “Of course, this season they have the Arkansas commit, the running back who is a freight train that you can’t let get rolling because he is all downhill from there.
“They are going to find a way to put the ball into the end zone so you just have to find a way to make adjustments and get it fixed. Defensively they are going to mix up some things and try and slow us down and confuse us on the back end.”
Sanders, who played college football at the University of Central Arkansas, coached collegiately at McPherson (Kan.) College , Western Colorado University and Arkansas-Monticello before arriving in Bryant.
He chuckled when asked if the Hornets had a chance to be better than in 2022 after Bryant topped defending Class 6A state champ Pulaski Academy 48-28 in a scrimmage.
“Can I just laugh at that for a second?” Sanders said. “It is hard to tell whether you are better than last year so early in the season, especially when we haven’t really played a game yet.
“I know everybody looks at the PA game and says ‘well, they did pretty good,’ but as a coach I see plenty of things that we can do better and consistency is going to be one of those things that we can do better.
“We made some plays and started out on fire by scoring back-to-back times. Then we stalled a little bit, but got our groove back and came out hot again. We did have some penalties that killed drives so we have be consistent in not letting that happen.
“If we can be consistent in what we are doing and play at one speed the whole time, there is a slight chance we can be better than we were last year. The only way that story is going to be written is at the of the year. And we are a long way from the end of the year. That is always a chance and is always the goal as well.”