A small senior class and the defection of the projected starting quarterback resulted in a slow start in 2012 for Beebe. The Badgers began 0-6 before winning three of the final four regular-season games to nab the 5A-East’s final playoff spot and ended the season in the first round with a 70-20 loss at Camden Fairview.
“We were a young team. We started four sophomores on offense and defense,” Badgers coach John Shannon said. “We struggled the first six games, but our senior class stayed positive and kept leading, and we got better and better.”
The good news about last season’s 3-8 campaign is it has produced 15 returning starters for 2013.
“We are excited about this year. We feel like if we can stay healthy, we have a shot,” said Shannon, who endured a tough offseason with the death of his mother and father. “The biggest hurdle we have is believing in ourselves. If we can have success early, I feel like we can have a good team.”
Beebe lost its first three games last fall to area rivals Lonoke, Vilonia and Greenbrier by a combined 81-7. Shannon knows his squad must play much better this fall in those nonconference games as they prepare for the rugged 5A-East slate.
“That’s a unique situation. We play our three biggest rivals in the nonconference, so those are big games anyway,” Shannon said. “Our kids know their kids, and we have been playing them for years. We want to get off to a good start and believe we can play with anybody. We need to play well in those games to get some momentum early.”
One of the reasons for Shannon’s optimism is junior quarterback Aaron Nunez (5-8, 155). Not only was he a last-minute addition to the starting lineup in 2012, but it was also his first time playing quarterback in the Dead T run-oriented offense. Nunez had starred at running back in junior high, but struggled initially running the option. As he became comfortable, the Badgers’ offense showed signs of life, scoring 27 or more points in the three wins.
“As the year went along, we got a better grasp of running the option, and he worked hard in the spring and summer on passing,” Shannon said. “He is as good of a passer as we have had. He is a threat to run or pass. I’m excited about him running the option this year.”
Nunez has some talented backs to hand off to. Sophomore Tripp Smith (5-10, 185) emerged in the spring and could get the bulk of the carries. Junior Clayton Meurer (5-8, 145) didn’t play last season but should share time at fullback. Senior Dakota Mahoney (5-6, 130) saw time at halfback last season, and junior Jessie Crisco (6-0, 155) also lined up at halfback last fall.
A big, experienced offensive line paves the way. Senior left tackle Race Payne (6-2, 280), who bench-presses 300 pounds, returns for his third season. Junior Spencer Tapp (5-7, 290) started at tackle last season but shifts to guard. Junior Wade Jones (6-1, 290) started five games at guard last year.
Senior Joey Moore (6-1, 290) played tackle last year but injured his knee in the spring. Junior Kyle Wilburn (6-3, 283) fills that spot and is the “one worry I have on the line,” Shannon said.
Even with the loss of Moore, the offensive line could be dominant. The same goes for the defensive line.
Senior defensive tackle Daniel Gann (5-11, 245), a three-year starter, earned all-state honors last fall. He’ll have help at nose guard from classmate Dusty Skinner (5-11, 290), who missed last season with an injury. Shannon said Skinner is healthy but “trying to work back into shape.” Juniors Austin Huhn (5-10, 235) and Dusty Greer (6-0, 225) man the tight-end positions on offense and also fill the defensive-end spots. Senior Gus Wisdom (6-0, 160) will also contribute on the line.
The experienced line is backed up by a salty linebacking corps.
Senior Ethan Baldree (5-10, 180) earned experience at defensive end and shifts to inside linebacker. Senior Jessie Glover (5-10, 150) impresses Shannon with his anticipation. Crisco, who was injured midway through last season, moves from end to linebacker to add depth.
Junior Micah Dubose (5-4, 122) started every game as a sophomore at cornerback. Classmate Coleton Gibbs (5-10, 160) manned the other corner in 2012, but sophomore Connor Patrom (6-0, 155) pushed him all offseason, and the pair still battled in fall camp. Gibbs also participated in track and set conference junior-high records in the 400 meters and moved up to the varsity squad and contributed on the 4x100-meter relay squad, which took first in the conference meet.
Three-year starter Marcus Burns (5-10, 151) patrols at safety. Smith and Meurer rotate at the other safety.