Morrilton’s steady improvement under Cody McNabb continued last year, and the Devil Dogs hope to make another leap in 2013.
From 2007-2010, Morrilton won just seven games. In McNabb’s second season in 2011, the Devil Dogs won six. In 2012, they finished 8-3, runner-up in the tough 5A-West to Greenbrier, and reached the state quarterfinals.
“We got big conference wins at Alma and Vilonia and a home playoff win versus Jacksonville (42-14),” McNabb said.
The Devil Dogs lost at Wynne in the quarterfinals, 39-20, but McNabb appears to have changed the Conway County culture. Morrilton hadn’t won eight games since a 2006 conference championship season.
And six starters return on each side of the ball for 2013.
Offensively, the Devil Dogs will start with Toney Hawkins (6-1, 180), a returning senior all-state quarterback. McNabb called him “a very explosive skill player who should be one of the best players in the conference.” Other offensive starters settled by press time included: senior running back Sharaz Rhodes (5-9, 200), who “does everything well”; senior fullback Bobby Foster (5-11, 270), a three-year starter and a “big, strong, physical kid who moves well”; senior receivers Rayshod Criswell (5-8, 150), who “runs well, has good hands and can score from anywhere” and Reese Heidenreich (5-7, 150), who has “a great work ethic and good hands and is a good leader”; senior tackle Kelvin Mitchell (6-2, 245), a three-year starter who will be Morrilton’s best offensive lineman, the coach said, and senior first-year starter Reggie Toney (5-5, 225) at guard.
“We have some explosive skill kids who can score anytime they touch it,” McNabb said. “We have the ability to be balanced and take what a defense gives us. We have an inexperienced offensive line that should get better each game.”
Defensively, the Devil Dogs will count on several returning starters.
“Our D line is strong and athletic, but they all have big roles on offense, and we lack depth,” McNabb said. “We return two linebackers who can be impact players but not much experience other than that. Our secondary returns some experience, but we have depth issues there as well.”
Senior outside linebacker Colton Cooksey (6-2, 205) returns after an all-conference run last year. McNabb called him “an impact player.” Senior Brayden Beall (6-3, 210) returns at inside linebacker. “He fits in the run game and closes passing lanes,” the coach said. Other projected starters on defense include senior Kieran Cole (5-10, 210), “explosive and runs well for a defensive lineman and is hard to block” at end; Foster, “big and strong and moves well” at noseguard; Mitchell, good in the run game and who also transitions well to pass rush, at the other end; junior Cyrus McKaskle (5-10, 180), “small but runs well and plays hard” at the other OLB; Heidenreich, a three-year starter with good technique and who runs well, at one corner and Criswell, a good cover man who attacks the ball, at the other; senior Shawn Brockman (5-10, 150), who started last year at corner and boasts good instincts, at strong safety; and senior Jymond English (5-9, 155), a returning starter with good range and who tackles well, at free safety.
McNabb said his team’s strengths would be a strong senior class that includes several big-play guys. But the Devil Dogs must overcome a lack of depth and an inexperienced offensive line.
He said he thought the conference race would be a close one.
“Five or six teams will be about the same and fighting for a playoff spot,” he said. “If we stay healthy, we can be one of those teams.”
He picked Shiloh Christian and Greenbrier as the early favorites.
“Shiloh has a lot of returners, and (Randy) Tribble has Greenbrier going,” he said.