BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
All too often, a sports pundit will use hyperbole to pontificate that the road to a sports championship runs through this team or that.
But that has been case a plethora of times for Warren head coach Bo Hembree – in fact in a whopping 17 of the last 24 high school football seasons.
It was the case again last season as Malvern rallied from a 21-0 halftime deficit to down Warren 27-21 in overtime in the semifinals and would go on to take the title with a 64-39 victory over Harding Academy.
“I think 17 out of 24 years that we have won it, played for it or the team that beat us in the playoffs has won it or played for it,” Hembree said. “That’s a pretty crazy stat.”
Hembree has won five state championships during his head coaching tenure at Warren and there’s a realistic possibility that a sixth one is on the horizon this season.
The Lumberjackets (7-0, 5-0) are off another fast start and hope to continue that when they travel to face Monticello (5-2, 4-1) Friday night at 7 p.m.
Warren, averaging 45 points per game this season, rallied with the game’s final 20 points last Friday to grab a 39-23 home win at previously unbeaten DeWitt.
The Lumberjacks were motivated in the offseason by the loss to Malvern according to Hembree.
“Malvern was a really good football team and we had some breaks in the first half and were able to get up 21-0,” Hembree said. We really had a shot man. We had the ball and we could have put it away and weren’t able to.
“There is no doubt they have it in the back of their mind.”
Hembree is blessed with another loaded roster, including junior wideout Antonio Jordan, who has offers from Arkansas, Florida State, Tennessee, South Carolina and others.
Jordan had 43 catches for 1,043 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.
“He’s big, he’s physical, he’s 6-4, 220-pounds, and he runs really well,” Hembree said. “He can play both sides of football when needed…He is our leader.”
But he is just one of four talented wideouts the Lumberjacks have this season along with fellow juniors Neondre Thomas (6-1, 180), Tremon Miller (6-1, 180) and Kam Davis (6-0, 165).
“We have a group of receivers, all of which are juniors,” Hembree said. “I have no clue which one is going to step up each Friday night. It seems like each a different one each week. It makes it a lot of fun….As a group they are really, really good and they are putting up good numbers.
“At the start of the year everybody kind of design their defenses to stop him (Jordan), but our other guys really stepped up.”
This group has drawn comparisons to the former Warren quartet of Jarius Wright, Chris Gragg, Greg Childs and Basmine Jones.
The first three were all college stars for Arkansas and played in the NFL while Jones also signed with the Razorbacks before heading to Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and later Arkansas State.
“I even talked to Jarius about it, where these guys are now compared to the ones in the past,” Hembree said. “As a group of four, this might be the best I have ever coached. And I said might – not is, but might.
“We had Chris and Greg, who were big, and Jarius and Basmine, who were smaller, faster types, for two years. This group is a lot like them, but also different. We have got three really, really fast guys and then you AJ (Jordan), who is really big.
“Honestly it is just different this time that it was 17 years ago. The offense has evolved so much and it is a lot different than it was back then.”
That group of receivers are a blessing for freshman quarterback Jackson Deaton, who also has a talented tailback in Trey Jackson in the backfield.
Deaton, who has over 2,000 yards passing this season and 23 touchdowns this season, passed for over 200 yards and Jackson rushed for over 200 in last week’s win.
“Our quarterback is a freshman and has a chance to be really, really good,” Hembree said. “He is having a really good year right now. He does a really, really good job of spreading it around, especially for a ninth grader.
Warren is a member of what Hembree thinks is the most competitive classification of Arkansas high school football.
“…In my opinion, Class 4A is the toughest classification,” Hembree said. “I think other people will tell you that. You can sit there and look at 7A and 6A and 5A and you pretty much know who are going to be the last four teams, predict it and be 75 percent right.
“But in 4A, you just can’t do that. You are going to have your normal people, but it is a little different after losing (Joe T.) Robinson and Shiloh last year.
“But now you’re got Elkins, Rivercrest, Arkadelphia, Malvern, Nashville, you have Warren, you have Stuttgart – seven or eight teams that have got some tradition and are used to being there.
“But you’ll also have a team that comes out of nowhere for that one year that has that senior class that has put it all together for that one year.
“In 2016, it was Pea Ridge who came out of nowhere and made it to the finals. In 2014, it was Mena. That’s just the teams I know that we have played in the past.”
Hembree is hoping his team will be plating for the state title again.
“In November or December, our goal is to be there and have a shot to win it,” Hembree said.
“We have got a ways to go. We have got those four really good wideouts, but we have to get really good up front. It doesn’t matter how good they are if you can’t get the time to get them the ball.
“That’s the biggest concern right now – can we hold up up front against a really good football team.”
Photo courtesy of Warren School District