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story.lead_photo.caption Bentonville head football coach Jody Grant talks to his players during a practice Aug. 9 at Bentonville High School. - Photo by Charlie Kaijo

BENTONVILLE -- A talented group of sophomores is trying to make a strong case that they deserve to see some time with the varsity team this fall, and it has caught coach Jody Grant's attention.

Grant said Luke Miller has earned a look in the Tigers' receiving corps, while Cole Joyce and Keegan Stinespring have done well enough at linebacker that it has allowed senior Henry Shreve to split his time between linebacker and the defensive line, where Bentonville already has a talented group.

Prep Football Schedule

Tuesday, Aug. 14

Bentonville West at FS Northside (benefit game), 6 p.m.; Shiloh Christian at Springdale High (benefit game), 6 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 16

Bentonville, Springdale Har-Ber at Tulsa (Okla.) Union (benefit game), 7 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 23

Pulaski Robinson at Springdale High, 7 p.m.; Mansfield at Hackett, 7 p.m.; Melbourne at Charleston, 7 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 24

Bentonville West at Owasso, Okla., 7:30 p.m.; Fayetteville at (St. Louis) St. John Vianney, 7 p.m.; Rogers Heritage at FS Northside, 7 p.m.; Pulaski Academy at Springdale Har-Ber, 7 p.m.; Johnson County Westside at Cedarville, 7 p.m.; Clarksville at Booneville, 7 p.m.; Cascia Hall at Gravette, 7 p.m.; Pea Ridge at Harrison, 7 p.m.; Magazine at Bigelow, 7 p.m.; Gentry at Dardanelle, 7 p.m.; Texarkana at Shiloh Christian, 7 p.m.;

Saturday, Aug. 25

Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington vs. North Little Rock at Bentonville, 4 p.m.; Midwest City, Okla. at Bentonville High, 7 p.m.

"I feel really good about the play of some of our sophomores," Grant said. "Luke has added more to our playmakers at receiver, and Cole and Keegan run so well to the ball. It's not only depth to our team, but it also gives us some flexibility."

Friday's practice closed out the second week of preseason workouts, and now Bentonville has two weeks remaining before its Aug. 25 season opener against Midwest City, Okla.

"I've seen some good growth and some development in each practice," Grant said. "There are going to be some ups and downs as we install some new things in order to get ready for the seasons, but things are coming so much faster now.

"We have to realize that we will start our game week practices next week. The players, though, are doing what we are asking right now, and I'm anxious to see them perform against somebody else."

Bentonville will travel Thursday to Tulsa and participate in the Union Gridiron Classic.


Wolverines complete "preseason drills"

West coach Bryan Pratt said after Friday morning's practice that his team is about to go into the next phase of preparation for the Wolverines' season opener Aug. 24 against Owasso, Okla.

"We think about it being before school and after school," Pratt said. "This was preseason camp, and we're heading into the season now. We're getting ready to go play somebody else and play in a benefit game, then we play Owasso the following week.

"It's happening fast for us. I was just telling our kids that we've been doing a lot of early morning stuff, and this was the last morning they will have to work for us before school starts. They're excited about that, but some of them are shaking their heads because they didn't think it would end so quickly."

One of the biggest question marks West had once preseason drills started was its offensive line. The Wolverines lost their only returning starter, Brandon Beesley, for the season when he suffered an injury during the spring game.

Pratt believes some of those questions have been answered.

"I think we've shown we're a little deeper than we thought we would be," Pratt said. "We have some players we can put in there and not miss a beat. It's allowing us to move some kids around and do some things differently. It's always a plus when you get some depth."

West will head to Fort Smith Northside for its preseason scrimmage Tuesday.


Quarterback battle ongoing

Coach Rick Jones still isn't sure who his starting quarterback will be for the season opener in three weeks, but he's looking at two players with different skill sets.

Senior Peyton Holt has speed and athleticism, while junior Jace Presley (6-3, 185) has a strong arm.

Holt was the starting quarterback as a freshman, so he has some experience at the position. But the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder earned all-state honors at receiver last season for the defending Class 6A state champions, finishing with 101 catches for 1,354 yards and 17 TDs last season. On the other hand, Presley quarterbacked the junior varsity as a sophomore.

"We're playing both of them right now," Jones said. "It's sort of a work in progress. They're really different guys. Peyton has some elusiveness or escapability. But Jace delivers the ball really well. The decision is gonna be based on who can help us win the most games.

"Something we've thought about is what if Jace is throwing to Peyton because Peyton's not gonna throw to Jace."

The decision got a little more interesting this week when senior Josh Barlow suffered a knee injury in practice. The 6-3, 200-pounder finished with 30 receptions for 331 yards and three touchdowns last year. The extent of his injury is still to be determined, Jones said. But that could mean Holt would be the lone returning starter at receiver.

"We could start four new wide receivers," Jones said. "They're young guys with one senior. We think there's some talent there, but they're just young and untested."


Mounties have more experience

Coach Mike Loyd is excited about a talented class of juniors, some of whom were forced to play on Friday night before they were ready.

The Mounties, who finished 5-6, played as many as 16 sophomores in their playoff loss at Conway to close last season. But now those players are a year older, faster, stronger and more accustomed to the rigors of the 7A-West Conference.

"That's not fair playing all those sophomores, but it is what it is," Loyd said. "You live with it and go on."

"We're a different team speed-wise, physicality, attitude, strength-wise. I believe whole-heartedly we're gonna be a lot more competitive. Does that equate to more wins? No, you've got to catch up to these guys, the big three. Do I think we've got a chance? Yes, I do."

One reason is he won't be forced to play sophomores this season even though someone like Carter Cox (6-3, 287), could provide depth on the offensive line, Loyd said.

Seniors Caleb Stanbery and Carson Patrick, who did not play a year ago, are also in position to make an impact. Stanbery (6-1, 240) could start on the offensive line, while Patrick is vying for a starting spot at linebacker. Senior Jacob Brown (6-1, 230) was also slowed by injuries last year, but could play on the defensive line, Loyd said.

-- Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB


Tigers finding replacements

Finding replacements hasn't been much of a problem at Prairie Grove, which has won or shared five of the past six championships in the 4A-1 Conference.

First-year starters will be at quarterback, wide receiver, and running back for Prairie Grove after the statistical leaders from last year graduated. Ethan Scates takes over at quarterback for J.D. Elder, who took over last year for Zeke Laird and guided the Tigers to an 11-2 record. Scates played mostly at outside linebacker last season.

"He's a go-getter," Prairie Grove coach Danny Abshier said of Scates, who was the backup last year at quarterback. "I like his quickness, his quickness and his attitude. He's enthusiastic and he really wants to do well."

Prairie Grove expects new receivers will emerge to replace tight end DeMarkus Cooper and twins Colin and Stone Bryant, who were deep threats a year ago.

"When Isaac Disney was the man catching balls for us, those twin brothers weren't doing anything," Abshier said. "I don't remember them catching a pass that year then last year, they caught several passes. So, we've got a next guy in line type deal with players like Symoyah Hobbs and Jacob Watson, who are really coming on."

Garrett Heltemes will likely be the primary ball carrier following the loss of Anthony Johnson, who is a freshman running back at Hendrix College.

"We're really expecting some big things out of Garrett," Abshier said. "He's tough and he's tall and lean and he's a go-forward kind of guy."

-- Rick Fires • @NWARick


Competition stiff for Cardinals

The competition for starting positions is ongoing at Farmington, which opens the season Aug. 31 at Prairie Grove.

Seniors Reid Turner and Dimariae Donovan are the top returners at running back but others will likely contribute in the backfield.

"We feel like we've got really good depth at running back," Farmington coach Mike Adams said. "We've got five guys we can put out there on Friday nights and they'll do a good job for us. That's a real positive because we can keep fresh legs out there all the time."

Farmington also has some stiff competition at quarterback, where seniors Seth Swain and Eric Hill are back. The two are being pushed by Tate Sutton, a sophomore.

"There's some good competition going on right now and we're trying to give them equal reps," Adams said. "As we go through these next two weeks, we'll make a decision. But right now, it's pretty equal competition."

Farmington's biggest concern is on defense, especially against the run. The Cardinals averaged 28.5 points and allowed 34.3 points to finish 4-6 on the season.

"We've got to get better on defense and that's where our focus has been," Adams said. "We're trying to be a more physical team and do a better job of tackling."

-- Rick Fires • @NWARick


Pointers progressing toward opener

Van Buren coach Casey Dick said his team is making progress, but there were still plenty of things to work on as the Pointers move closer to their season-opener on Aug. 28 against Crawford County rival Alma.

"We're pretty pleased with their effort and steps forward where were are now from where we started," he said. "We still have some ground we need to makeup and some things we need to get better at, but I'm proud of their effort and proud of them being coachable and getting a better understanding of our scheme."

Dick praised the play of junior linebackers Devin Swearingen (5-11, 190) and GiovanyAlas (5-9, 195).

"They've done a great job of making everybody better with their intensity and the way they have been practicing," he said. "I was really pleased with the way they have handled themselves in practice and the way they've set the tone."

Dick said he will continue to utilize Christian Morrow and Gary Phillips at quarterback with both expected to play depending on the situation.

Van Buren will host Prairie Grove on Aug. 21 in a benefit game, before traveling to Alma on Tuesday, Aug. 28 to open the season.


Numbers trending up for Bulldogs

James Ortiz hasn't had much time to catch his breath after taking over the football program just a few weeks ago. But the former Pea Ridge assistant is getting to know his players and his new community as the Bulldogs get ready to embark on a historic season.

Decatur is one of a handful of teams in the state that made the decision to launch eight-man programs this season. Ortiz does not have any eight-man coaching experience, but the coach said, "football is football, whether it's eight-man or 11-man."

Ortiz expects more than 20 players on the roster once school starts, which will put the Bulldogs in a rare position of having enough players to have full contact scrimmages. In 11-man, Decatur never had that luxury.

"It seems to me, and I'm not trying to poor-mouth anyone, but it seems to me that the kids just got disenchanted with football," Ortiz said. "They couldn't compete and they just did not want to play. So I think now they see, going to eight-man, they will be able to compete with schools that are our size and our situation.

"And I think more schools in Arkansas are going to do this."

Ortiz said he has had around 14 players at practices so far, but always the same 14, which has been encouraging, he said.

Decatur will host Hermitage in the season-opener on Friday, Aug. 31. The Bulldogs' junior high team will take on Hermitage at 5:30, with the varsity game to follow at 7:30.

-- Chip Souza • @NWAChip

Sports on 08/12/2018



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