Beginning only its fourth year, coach Jim “Red” Parker is still working out the kinks of the football program at Benton Harmony Grove. The seasoned coach, who has experience at the college level with Clemson, Arkansas A&M (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello), Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and other schools, knows that building a solid foundation takes time.
“Starting a program, [it] is very difficult to be competitive for a while, and we’ve found that same difficulty,” Parker said.
In its first year, the team had two wins, followed by four in its second year. Last season, the Cardinals had a 4-6 record, finishing with a tie for fifth in the 5-3A conference.
“We were a better football team than we had been,” Parker said of the team’s performance.
Since the season ended, the team has attended summer camps with various local schools and worked on building muscle.
“We had a really, really good strength program the past year — an outstanding one, I think,” Parker said.
With a new program that has lots of areas for improvement, the coach said, the Cardinals have been working on everything they can.
“We try not to leave anything out,” Parker said.
This season, the coach hopes to improve on the Cardinals’ records and have a better team.
“We just want to try to get better. We want to try to improve our record, try to improve our conference standing, try to be more competitive in every game — just like anybody,” Parker said.
With no junior high program, many of the players don’t have much of a football background. Add to that the small size of the team, and the result is players who must not only learn the game, but both sides of it.
“Our numbers are that we can’t have defensive and offensive players, so many of our better players play on both sides of the ball,” Parker said, “but that’s true in most small schools.”
The team will rely heavily on its juniors and seniors, including senior starters Nick Johnson, Evan Williams, Zane Anderson, Cole Otts, Cody Crane, Jordan Caple, Cody Roush, Ben Barber, Trevor Williams and Tristyn Williamson; and junior starters Harry McClendon, Colby Byrd, Neal Moore and Lane Deneen.
Senior Landon Lewis, starting quarterback, will play his first year of high school football this season but has already shown he has good feet, Parker said. Zane, a former quarterback, will play at tight end/wide receiver this year. Tristyn is rejoining the team after missing the previous season. Nick will also be another key player. “Nick Johnson has been the most dependable running back for a good while,” Parker said.
The Cardinals’ defense will be a “50 look.” They will use multiple formations on offense, and Parker has high hopes for their punts and placekicks. “I think our kicking game will be pretty good,” he said.
Parker ranks his team somewhere in the middle of the conference, and the school doesn’t have any clear rival just yet. “I don’t know that we’ve been in football long enough to have a rival. A game is not a rivalry until it’s a game where either team can win it, so we just haven’t been strong enough in our early stages to get to that point,” Parker said, “but we are improving.”
Right now, team morale is one of the Cardinals’ strengths, Parker said. With hopes for improvement over previous years, Parker is also striving to keep injuries at a minimum. “Injuries are such a huge factor. If we lose one guy, then we’ve lost two starters because most of your better players go two ways. Injuries are a key factor,” he said.
Despite the team’s lack of depth, Parker is looking forward to the season. “Everyone looks forward to the opening game. It’s when you see if all the work you’ve put in has been fruitful for you,” Parker said. “We’re anxious to get going like everyone else.”