After 33 years of coaching, Dave King said he has learned there are two main factors to having a winning team — morale and leadership.
“As the old folks say, there are lots of ways to skin a cat, but I think you have to have outstanding senior leadership,” King said.
And the Pioneers are loaded with it with 21 seniors returning to the team, many of whom helped carry the team to the state finals in their sophomore year.
“I think we have great senior leadership this year, and I feel like we have the opportunity to have a really impressive offensive line,” King said.
The coach said some of his “really outstanding players” include seniors Joey Rodriguez; Eli Childress; Jordan Russell, whom King said could be all-state; and Brett Bell, whom King said “could be one of the best defensive linemen in the state.”
The team will have some challenges ahead, however, with all new starters in its skill positions on offense.
“It’s going to take some time to gel — same thing defensively. We’ve got a lot of new faces, but we’ve got a lot of kids that have played different roles. We try to play a couple of people in different positions and give them substantial playing time,” King said. “We’ve played 28 games in the last two years. So for our seniors, even if they haven’t started, that’s almost the equivalent of another football season. Those extra eight games were invaluable experience.”
Kenton Crawford brings speed and skill to the team with experience at both running back and quarterback, and Osvaldo Espericueta brings stellar skill to the team as a kicker. He kicked a 48-yard field goal in the state championship game and has several other 40-yard-plus field goals under his belt.
“We feel like he could be a real weapon,” King said.
The junior classmen are not to be overlooked. Jorge Romero had a good preseason at defensive tackle, and King is looking at Michael Robinson to start at tailback. Wide receiver Justin Gallant (6-4, 180) drew the coach’s attention as well.
“He’s a big target with really amazing speed. We’re looking for good things from him this year,” King said.
The Pioneers encourage a kinship among team members to help them add morale — the other key factor necessary for success, King said. Seniors on the team “adopt” a sophomore, often a player in their same position, and provide the younger players with encouragement and the wisdom of the seniors’ experience.
“We have a lot of graduates that come to practice to watch the younger guys they mentored, and that says a lot about the character of these young men,” King said. “I think we’re going to be successful if we get the kind of leadership I’m expecting.”
As a 5A East Conference team, Batesville will have a challenge with the first few nonconference games, facing opponents such as Searcy, Springdale and Jonesboro, all 7A/6A schools.
“We’ve got a very challenging nondistrict schedule,” King said. “I think it helps us to play that caliber of team early on. It shows us what we need to work on, and shows the kids what level you have to play at to make a run at playoffs and the championship.”