There won’t be a record-setting quarterback under center, nor will there be a long-tenured coach on the sidelines, when Bald Knob opens the season Sept. 6 at Pocahontas.
Expectations, on the other hand, remain the same.
The Bulldogs are looking to make a return trip to the playoffs after missing out last season for the first time in five years. While the team will have a few new faces leading the way, the names will be highly recognizable.
Randy Johnston takes over as coach after Paul Johnston left to become the athletic director at Marion. Randy Johnston is a graduate of Bald Knob and had previously served as the team’s defensive coordinator since 2006. During his time as an assistant, the coach helped the Bulldogs register 41 victories, including a conference championship in 2009. Prior to his arrival, Bald Knob had won just 21 games since the 2001 season.
“Paul was a staple in the community and just a really good man,” Randy Johnston told the media earlier in the summer. “We’re not looking to change a lot of the things that he installed. We’re just looking to build upon those things that he started.”
Also, the Bulldogs will have to get used to life without Cordell Crisp at quarterback. The former standout graduated in the spring as one of the top passers in state history. Crisp threw for nearly 11,000 yards and 116 touchdowns during his career, culminating with a 369-yard, six-touchdown performance in a 41-14 victory over 2-3A rival Perryville in the team’s final game of 2012.
This year, Bald Knob, which returns five starters on offense, will count on strong-armed quarterback Grant Glaze (5-11, 155) to steady the Bulldogs. The junior, whose brother Nick led the team to its league title in 2009, played primarily on defense as a sophomore. Randy Johnston’s son, Seth, will provide an able backup as a sophomore.
Another player that Randy Johnston is confident will give the Bulldogs a boost is running back Malachi Watson (6-0, 210). The senior performed admirably last season in the team’s Spread formation and helped the Bulldogs average 32 points per game. Senior Deion Johns (6-0, 195) and junior Tristan Falwell (6-0, 205) provide both size and quickness behind Watson, while Tremaine Lee (6-0, 170) could emerge as a key contributor after a productive year in junior high last season.
“We’re a Spread team,” Randy Johnston said, “but we’re going to look to do some finesse things with the run game out of the Spread to help our kids in space and get our running backs some numbers in the box.”
The Bulldogs will have a number of capable hands at receiver, carried by junior John Smith (6-0, 160). Sophomores Jacob Gillmore (5-7, 150) and Barrett Mason (5-7, 150) are also expected to flourish, as is senior Josh Hancox (5-9, 155).
The offensive line appears to be in good shape with seniors Sergio Hernandez (5-11, 170) and Brady Zomant (6-0, 280) providing veteran leadership. Junior Jack Smith (5-11, 185) returns to his tackle position, and senior Cory Carter (6-4, 285) should be back at the other tackle slot after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury prior to the team’s week 8 game against Rose Bud.
The Bald Knob defense will field six returning regulars from 2012, particularly Zomant and Johns along the line. The Bulldogs lost two games by four points apiece and another by eight points, despite their offense, putting up 31 points in each contest.
Hernandez will look to build on what departed standout Joe Stelly accomplished as the team’s top tackler. Watson is expected to hold down another linebacker spot, as is junior Hunter Davidson (5-9, 200).
Falwell and Hancox can play at either linebacker or in the secondary, where their athletic ability will allow them to cover a great deal of ground.