The Cave City Cavemen will have a senior at quarterback for the first time in three years as Jeremy Runyan takes the snaps for the third straight season.
Dalton Carpenter was the last senior QB for the Cavemen. He led Cave City to the Class 3A State Playoffs in 2009.
Runyan threw for 800 yards and three touchdowns in a 1-9 junior season and is poised for a standout senior season.
“Jeremy has done a really good job. You can definitely tell he’s a senior and three-year starter. He knows all his reads and progressions and had a really good 7-on-7 season,” Cave City Coach Jon Bradley said. “He makes decisions on his own, which is nice to have on the field. He’s able to deal with blitzes. When you’re young, you’re not ready to do that.”
Cave City’s roster added two talented brothers when Daron and Jaron Stigger transferred from Class 5A state runner-up Batesville during the winter.
Daron Stigger is expected to line up behind Runyan. The 5-8, 185-pound senior has 4.4 speed and rushed for more than 1,500 yards with the Pioneers.
Jaron Stigger, a 6-1, 185-pound senior, is working at running back and receiver. He was a contributing receiver for Batesville the last two seasons.
The Stiggers are also talented defenders. Daron was a cornerback for the Pioneers but is expected to play at one of the outside linebacker spots for the Cavemen. Jaron will work in the secondary as a free safety, the same position in which he was a starter for Batesville.
“There are several things they bring to the table,” Bradley said. “First, they are great athletes; they come from Batesville’s winning tradition. They were members of conference championship teams and went to the 5A state championship game last year. They bring a winning mentality, and I think their leadership will help our other kids. They will help us stay positive and battle adversity, which we haven’t done in the past.”
The added talent and experience, as well as a move to the 3-4A Conference, have Bradley and crew optimistic, but work remains to be done. The Cavemen have had just two wins since their move up to Class 4A in 2010. Cave City was a member of the 2-4A the past two seasons. The Cavemen will compete with Highland, Valley View, Gosnell and Pocahontas for the conference title. Rounding out the conference are Trumann, Brookland and Jonesboro Westside.
“I think this conference does fit us better. We match up better, and it travels better. Our longest trip is Gosnell, and that’s not a bad trip,” Bradley said.
“Pocahontas graduated a lot of kids. They may be down, but [coach Dave Williams] does a really good job with what he has,” Bradley said. “Brookland is a first-year team. I know what my kids were like our first year, so I’m sure Brookland will be pumped up. When you’re going 100 percent, anything is possible.”
Former conference opponent and Highway 167 Showdown rival Batesville Southside will travel to Cave City to open the season. Melbourne, a first-year program, will host Cave City in Week 2.
“Southside is supposed to be a lot better, and Melbourne will be a big rivalry for us,” Bradley said.
As for the 3-4A, Cave City has struggled against Highland and Valley View in the past. Highland defeated Cave City 35-0 in the season opener last year and 28-0 in 2010. Valley View was the Week 2 opponent each season and recorded 55-13 and 42-12 wins. Bradley attributes the blowouts to turnovers. The Cavemen had 10 turnovers against Highland in the two games, and nine against Valley View.
Offensively, there are no seniors on the line, but there is still plenty of experience, Bradley said.
“Several of them have played. Greg Tharp didn’t start, but he played a lot, and Justin Pinkston played some at tackle,” Bradley said.
Zeb Ward and Gus Sharp are sophomore linemen, and Zack Martin will handle snapping the ball with Lane Clay providing backup.
“I don’t think our youth is so much a liability, but there will be growing pains,” the coach said. “We will have to do some things to keep them out of sticky situations.”
Senior Trenton Coles is a three-year starter at wide receiver and cornerback. “He had a really good spring and caught everything,” Bradley said.
Coles caught three touchdown passes in the spring game and spent plenty of time on the defensive side.
At the other cornerback spot is Justin Ramos, a two-year starter.
Joe Valdez and Lane Bray have secured spots at linebacker with Austin Cunningham and Josh Moore adding depth.
Bradley said his biggest concern is a lack of depth. With a little more than 40 players, depth could become an issue.
“An injury here or there will kill you, like we found out last year,” he said.
If the squad stays healthy, Bradley expects to be in line when tickets to the state playoffs are handed out.
“I feel like we will be fighting for a playoff spot,” he said. “I think we will be competing with Highland and Valley View. We have high expectations, but we’ll take it one game at a time. We don’t want to finish fourth or fifth — we want to be first, but we know there will be tough games to play. We will do our best and see what happens.”