PEA RIDGE -- Jordan Witcher had already impressed his new teammates before he ever laced up his shoulder pads or buckled his chin strap.
Last spring after enrolling at Pea Ridge, Witcher joined several members of the Blackhawks' football team on an afternoon fishing trip. For kids growing up in a rural community, fishing is a normal part of life. Witcher grew up in Little Rock, so before the group wet a hook, it was understandable they might think Witcher's fishing skills were lacking.
AT A GLANCE
SCHOOL Pea Ridge
POSITION Wide receiver/free safety
NOTABLE Moved to Pea Ridge last spring when his family relocated to Northwest Arkansas from Bryant. … Attended Little Rock Central as a sophomore. … Has been clocked at 4.52 in the 40-yard dash. … Has a recorded vertical leap of 33 inches, and a bench press of 275 pounds. … Also plays baseball.
Pea Ridge vs. Hamburg
Estes Stadium, Conway
KICKOFF 5:30 p.m.
RECORDS Season opener for both teams.
ON THE AIR The game will be live-streamed on Blackhawks RTV (subscription needed).
BETWEEN THE LINES This is a rematch of last season’s quarterfinals playoff game that Pea Ridge won 36-24 en route to the Class 4A state finals. … The Blackhawks will play twice this week. On Friday they will travel to Booneville. … Pea Ridge QB Jakota Sainsbury passed for 2,080 yards last season and 18 TDs. … Blackhawks RB Drew Winn is drawing college interest after rushing for 1,386 yards and 23 TDs. Winn averaged 10 yards per carry in 2016. … Blackhawks senior WR/DB Hayden Holtgrewe had 73 catches for 1,156 yards last season and is also a key on special teams. … Hamburg returns three starters on each side of the ball, led by defensive tackle Gage Price. … The Lions won nine games last season for the third time in four seasons.
PLAYERS TO WATCH Pea Ridge, QB Jakota Sainsbury (Sr., 5-11, 180), RB Drew Winn (Sr., 5-11, 185), WR Hayden Holtgrewe (Sr., 6-1, 160), WR Jordan Witcher (Sr., 6-1, 175), LB Robbie Pickthall (Sr., 6-0, 195). Hamburg, QB Jonathan Kelley (Jr., 6-2, 2-5), OL Jared Laughlin (Jr., 6-5, 305), LB Devonte Tucker (Sr., 5-10, 170).
HOOTEN’S RANKINGS Pea Ridge is No. 2 in Class 4A; Hamburg is No. 10.
HOOTEN’S LINE Pea Ridge by 8.
OUR TAKE Pea Ridge 35, Hamburg 14
— CHIUP SOUZA • @NWACHIP
ON THE WEB
For more on this story, see the video at nwadg.com.
"He knew what he was doing," Pea Ridge senior quarterback Jakota Sainsbury said. "He was already good to go."
Witcher (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) was familiar with a lot of the players on the Pea Ridge football team long before he started school there. His family had connections to the community and he often spent his summers in the area. So when his family made the decision to relocate from Bryant to Northwest Arkansas last spring, they looked at several schools before deciding that Pea Ridge was the best fit.
The transition from Class 7A Bryant to Class 4A Pea Ridge has been a smooth one, Witcher said.
"Coach (Stephen) Neal helped me through it," Witcher said. "He helped me to learn some new names, but I already had some family members up here so it wasn't tough."
Witcher was able to go though spring practices with his new team, which also helped him gain a familiarity with his teammates.
Pea Ridge, which opens the season at 5:30 p.m. today against Hamburg at the University of Central Arkansas' Estes Stadium, gained yet another offensive weapon to add to an already loaded arsenal. Witcher gives the Blackhawks a legitimate deep threat in the passing game with his 4.52 speed and 33-inch vertical leap.
Blackhawks senior receiver Hayden Holtgrewe caught 73 passes for 1,156 yards last season despite being double-covered. With Witcher now on the other side, that should mean more 1-on-1 opportunities for both receivers, said first-year offensive coordinator Cody Alexander.
"This makes us more dynamic," Alexander said. "Last year teams knew that 90 percent of the time when we needed to throw that it was going to Hayden. This year they will not be able to do that because Jordan is as good as Hayden is. We've got two really good receivers.
"And Jordan is a great leader for our team. He came in and he's already one of the leaders. He's our rah-rah guy, he picks us up when we're down. It's a treat to have him with us."
Pea Ridge is Witcher's third high school in as many years. As a sophomore he played at Little Rock Central, then moved over to Bryant for his junior season.
Sainsbury said he heard Witcher's family was making the move to Northwest Arkansas last spring, so he went online to check Witcher's Hudl highlights, then started messaging him on social media to come to Pea Ridge. His recruiting efforts proved to be successful.
"They kind of already knew me and Jakota messaged me on Twitter and asked me about moving up here," Witcher said. "So when I got up here, they just welcomed me in."
In his first full action with the Blackhawks last Tuesday, Witcher caught four passes in a controlled scrimmage against Siloam Springs, including a touchdown on a pass over the middle from Sainsbury.
A host of colleges have extended scholarship offers to Witcher, including Harding University, Henderson State, Arkansas-Monticello and Southwest Baptist University. Witcher also plays baseball and said that could be an option as well.
With a number of key players back from last season's 13-2 state runner-up team, the Blackhawks open the season ranked No. 2 in Class 4A. Witcher could be the final piece needed to bring Pea Ridge it's first state football championship.
"Our goal, everybody wants to win a state championship," Witcher said. "Coach Neal has stressed that if we do good things on and off the field, then that's where it will lead us."
Sports on 08/28/2017
Print Headline: Witcher adds to Pea Ridge arsenal