Vilonia head coach Jim Stanley is in his 25th year of coaching, so he can look over a team and pinpoint strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly.
He sees a lot of strengths in this year’s Vilonia Eagles.
“We’re doing really good, had a good offseason, a good summer,” he said. “I’m really proud of them.”
The quarterback who started three games last year, Jared Willis, a junior, is back.
“He had a great summer, great spring,” Stanley said.
Last year’s 6-5 season is a case of what might have been, too.
“We did really well until [Willis] got injured in the 10th game, until we went to the state tournament, and we struggled without him, [losing the first game in the playoffs],” Stanley said.
Stanley won’t venture a guess on how the team will fare in the conference this year because he said it depends on too many variables.
“It’s hard to say; the year’s so long,” he said.
There is no particular game he’s eyeing on the schedule, either.
“They’re all going to be tough for us; we just take it game to game. One game at a time — that’s what I say.”
However, he’s expecting a lot from the roster of 55 players that includes 15 seniors.
On offense, Stanley said, the team’s strengths “would have to be my quarterback and running backs, Houston Cotton and Drew Estes.”
Three-year starter Jon Alexander, a senior offensive guard and defensive tackle, will be key, Stanley said.
“He’s going to be a big part of our defense,” Stanley said. “He’s pretty-good sized — he’s strong. He’s not very tall, but he’s big musclewise.”
Tyler Knowles is a returning starter on defense “that we’re really high on,” Stanley said. “We’re expecting a lot out of him.”
Other players to watch include linebacker Tyler Gray and corner and wide receiver Kent Madden.
Stanley gave a shout out to his seniors, Joseph Owens, a running back who has started a couple of games for the Eagles; Branson Vanlandingham, defensive and offensive end; Chase Marshall — “He played a lot last year and will be a wide receiver,” Stanley said; Nathan Max, offensive guard and defensive end; Gage Johnson, center; Beau Miller, offensive guard and defensive tackle; and John McClellan, offensive guard.
Potential all-state players include Willis, Alexander, Knowles and Estes, Stanley said.
The weakness of this year’s team is “my offensive line, just the inexperience,” the veteran coach said.
“They’re just young, but they’re doing really good. We’re really pleased with our line play; they’re doing well. We were talking that yesterday,” he said, referring to his coaching staff. “Quite a few are returning from last year. They’re picking it up fast.”
The key to a successful year, Stanley said, in addition to the talent, “is always going to be injuries. We’ve got to stay healthy because we don’t have much depth. It’s like that every year; we’ve just got to stay healthy.”
In addition to Stanley, the Eagles are coached by Bill Buckner, Andrew Cates, David Jordan, Patrick Morse, John Steward and Michael Stout.
Stanley said no matter what the outcome, Vilonia football fans are “very supportive.”
“When we have a game, we’ll have at least 4,000 people here,” he said.
The Eagles’ first outing is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Vilonia, a benefit game against Sheridan.