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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Rogers Heritage football coach Steve Hookfin watches during a drill during the War Eagles' final day of spring practice earlier this week. Hookfin was hired a little over a month ago to replace Tony Travis, who took a job in administration at Prairie Grove.


New coach optimistic after spring practice

Coach Steve Hookfin is still working to round out his staff as spring workouts finished up this week, but he likes what he's seen on the field to this point.

"We've moved some guys around," Hookfin said. "Right now we have to be very patient but at the same time have high expectations, if that makes sense.

"I like the way they're flying around. I've seen progress every day. It's exciting. I'm sure I'm different from what they're accustomed to, but I like the way they're grasping the concepts.

Isaiah Tibbs, Ethan Farris, and Dreagon Blackwell are players who have caught Hookfin's eye already.

Tibbs started at safety, but the rising senior is seeing time on offense during the spring. Blackwell also played some defense last season but is seeing time in the backfield. Farris didn't play last season, but has shown promise also on offense, Hookfin said.

"Tibbs is a good athlete. There's no hesitation with him," Hookfin said. "He's always in attack mode and you look that as a coach. Ethan Farris can be a difference-maker for us. He's got some things you can't coach, good balance, good speed, and good vision.

"We're looking at Blackwell some at quarterback, some at slot receiver and running back. We want to see what those guys can do in space and see if they can stretch the defense."

Hookfin said the War Eagles won't participate in any summer 7-on-7 events, opting to work internally to improve.

Hookfin said it's not only been a learning process for players but coaches, too. Nick Brill, who was formerly the head coach at Johnson County Westside, and Jack Keith, who came from Lonoke, are both new hires. Brill will help coordinate the offense, while Keith will help coordinate the defense, Hookfin said.

Hookfin is hopeful of filling two more open coaching positions soon.


Mounties excited for upcoming season

Coach Mike Loyd said his team is more explosive than it's been in the past and that showed in the team's recent Blue-White scrimmage to close spring practice.

Quarterback Hunter Loyd hooked up with Mason Ross for multiple big plays and Nathan Hahn broke off a few big runs against the first-team defense. But the Mountie defense also intercepted Loyd once and dropped another.

Mike Loyd liked what he saw in the scrimmage, despite the fact the rainy spring wreaked havoc with the practice schedule outdoors.

"I was impressed with the D-line," Loyd said. "We gotta find some people at linebacker. Our secondary was good. Mason Ross did some good things. I thought we flew around.

"This is the best squad potentially I've had since I've been here. We'll see how that goes. But I think we're more athletic on defense and more explosive. We've got three or four kids up front who started three years and that's a good place to start. I think we have a chance to have a really good football team."

The Mounties will participate in two 7-on-7 tournaments at Alma on June 15 and at Branson, Mo. in July.

-- Paul Boyd • @NWAPaulB


Wildcats wrap up spring, eye summer camps

Coach Chris Wood said he was pleased with the Wildcats' work ethic this spring over the three weeks of workouts.

"I thought we progressed nicely," Wood said. " We improved our physicality and our tempt and we were more efficient with our time. We had some good competition and were able to identify some guys we think will add to our depth."

The Wildcats will travel to Broken Arrow, Okla., next week for a three-day team camp. The junior varsity and sophomore teams will host a team camp the first week of June. Har-Ber has several 7-on-7 competitions planned including Memphis and SMU that will lead into the dead period, Wood said.

Wood singled out several players who stood out during spring practices, including offensive line candidates Peyton Henderson, a rising junior, Janson Sanders and Carson Sanders.

Liem Taylor also caught Wood's eye at both wide receiver and safety.

"Henderson had a great spring," Wood said. "He's just a big, strong kid and he'll be an anchor for us on the O-line. Liem Taylor can do a lot of things to help us, just a good football player."

-- Chip Souza • @NWAChip


Red'Dogs show improvement

The Bulldogs used the spring to try and find replacements for most of their offensive production from last season.

Springdale wrapped up its three-week spring season with a Red-White game last Thursday in Jarrell Williams Bulldog Stadium.

"I was pleased. I thought the game went well," Springdale coach Zak Clark said. "I think we made some improvement. We feel like we know more now than we did a month ago, so that's a positive, but there's no question this summer is will obviously be big for us."

Clark singled out a number of players who stood out this spring, especially on defense.

"Rique Montufar really emerged for us defensively," Clark said. "We moved him from safety to sort of a linebacker-strong safety hybrid and he had a great spring game."

Travon Westbrook was another linebacker who excelled in the spring along with Andre Sparks, who was moved from free safety to outside linebacker. Sparks will also see time at the rush end position this fall, Clark said.

The Bulldogs got a boost on offense with wideout Ladarius Wonsley and Brandon Henry, a member of the Bulldogs' basketball team who has not played since junior high.

"We're happy to have him," Clark said. "He was the best receiver in the junior high conference two seasons ago, and Ladarius really emerged as kind of our go-to guy in the spring."

Springdale will attend a team camp at Pittsburg State the first week of June, and will compete in two 7-on-7 tournaments later in the summer. Clark said he has not hired an offensive coordinator yet, but should have that vacancy filled in the next couple of weeks.

-- Chip Souza • @NWAChip


Cardinals provide big plays

Big plays in the passing game provided the highlights for Farmington to conclude spring practices.

"We had five touchdowns of 70 yards or more," Farmington coach Mike Adams said. "Most of those came off three-step drops by the quarterbacks. We've got at least six players in our wide receiving corps who we think will be able to help us. I felt good about what we did this spring. We worked a lot with the younger kids on the fundamentals, reading blocks, getting off blocks, and getting in the right positions on defense."

Farmington will compete in a passing league at Alma and participate in a 7-on-7 tournament at Alma on June 15.

Meanwhile, the countdown continues for Farmington to move into its new football stadium that is expected to be completed by July. The sports complex near the high school on the south end of town will include a 60-yard indoor workout area, a 4,000 square-foot weight room, new video board, and an outdoor track for spring meets.

The Cardinals will open their new stadium against Prairie Grove on Friday, Sept. 6.

-- Rick Fires • @NWARick


Bulldogs please new coach

The first chapter for Fayetteville football under Casey Dick is in the books, highlighted by Friday's spring game.

"I thought our defensive line, really our front seven, did a fantastic job," said Dick, who was hired in April to replace Billy Dawson, who resigned to enter private business. "Overall, I was pleased with our work ethic. Our players came in with an awesome mindset and they continued to get better."

Quinn McClain and Hank Gibbs both took snaps at quarterback and wide receiver Beau Stuckey played some in the secondary during spring practices.

"The quarterback position is one of the toughest to play because they've got to understand everything within our offense," Dick said. "It's tough, especially learning a new system, but our quarterback play improved every day."

Fayetteville will play in 7-on-7 tournaments at Alma in June and Shiloh Christian in July.

Dick will make his coaching debut for Fayetteville at home against St. John's Vianney of Kirkwood, Mo., on Friday, Aug. 30.

-- Rick Fires • @NWARick


Airedales catch on quickly to new scheme

The transition of first-year offensive coordinator Greg Kendrick to the Alma program has been an easy one. After all, Kendrick already has been on staff with Alma coach Doug Loughridge before.

Loughridge said he has enjoyed working with Kendrick again as they did together in Charleston for six years and two state titles. The players are really enjoying the new offensive wrinkles as well this spring.

"They love what they are doing on offense," Loughridge said. "It was a very easy transition between us. He just slid right in here like he has been here for years. We haven't missed a beat from the last time we worked together. He is a big asset for this program."

Kendrick is replacing Chris Gunter, who left to take over as the head coach of his hometown of Beebe.

Kendrick was the offensive coordinator under Loughridge at Charleston before taking over as head coach when Loughridge departed for Alma. Kendrick was able to win back-to-back state championships in 2013 and 2014 in Charleston.

Alma returns plenty of key offensive pieces to run the offense with quarterback Landon Blair and wide receiver Grayson Bailey leading the way. Blair passed for over 1,000 yards with 15 touchdown tosses, while Bailey had over 700 receiving yards and eight touchdowns a season ago.

"It's always good to be returning your leading receiver and quarterback," Loughridge said. "I've never heard of a coach say anything negative about returning a starting quarterback. Just having a guy who has been in the fire before is very valuable."

-- Harold McIlvain • Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette


Bulldogs focus on O-line development

The Greenwood Bulldogs have looked much different in spring practices on the offensive line from a season ago. That will happen when you only return two starters up front.

Kevin Douglas and Nathan Nethers both bring back experience starting to help lead the line entering their senior years. The Bulldogs, the two-time defending 6A state champions, have been busy this spring trying to build around them now.

"We are shuffling guys around trying to find the right combination," Greenwood coach Rick Jones said. "We aren't sure right now who they will be. We have two guys coming back. So we need to find out how to get the best guys with them. We are in that process right now."

The Bulldogs' high-flying offense was able to average 42 points per game last year. The offensive line will look to support a talented returning offensive core.

Jace Presley will look to take over as a first-year starting quarterback but will have plenty of weapons around him.

Hunter Wilkinson returns after finishing with 750 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 136 carries. Treyton Dawson and Lazaro Angel will lead the wide receiving core. Dawson had 855 yards and seven touchdowns with 58 catches. Angel finished with 509 yards on 44 catches with two touchdowns.

-- Harold McIlvain • Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette


Pointers add new coordinators

It hasn't been a traditional spring practice period so far for Van Buren under first-year coach Crosby Tuck. That will be changing now after some recent hires.

The Pointers were practicing without coordinators with Tuck looking to find the right candidates after recently being elevated to head coach. He did just that and then some.

Tuck filled out his staff in the last week by hiring Moe Henry to be the defensive coordinator and Jon Brooks to be the offensive coordinator for Van Buren. Henry was the co-defensive coordinator at Shiloh Christian, while Brooks was the offensive coordinator at Hamburg.

Tuck also hired Brian Schlinker, who was the head coach at Lavaca, to be the head school at Northridge middle school for the program.

"I'm excited to be able to work with these coaches," Tuck said. "I believe they are great additions to our program."

Tuck was able to work alongside Henry when they both were at Shiloh Christian, the alma mater for the Pointers head coach. Tuck said he was excited to make the hire and for the opportunity to coach alongside Henry again.

"One of the reasons I wanted to get him down here is the way he is able to work with players," Tuck said. "He is able to max out the potential of players I feel. He gets ability out of kids that seems past their potential. I'm excited for him and our other hires as well."

Tuck was the Van Buren offensive coordinator last year before taking over at head coach for the departing Casey Dick, who is now at Fayetteville. That has helped continuity for the Pointers this spring after a bounce-back season.

-- Harold McIlvain • Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette


Defense provides answers in spring scrimmage

Many of the questions Bentonville had about its defense were answered during the spring workouts.

Levi Bennett, one of the Tigers' returning starters, intercepted a pass on the first play of Thursday's 90-minute scrimmage, and the defense recovered four fumbles en route to a 47-28 victory over the offense at Tiger Stadium. The defense was given three points for each turnover and two points for each it stopped the offense from getting a first down on a drive.

"Going into the spring, we were curious about our defensive line because we were replacing all but one player," Bentonville coach Jody Grant said. "Outside linebacker, both of those question marks were answered, and I feel very confident about our outside linebackers. Their play has been awesome, and our D-line play has been really, really good.

"We have a lot of stuff happening on the back end. We have a lot of guys cross-training at both corner and safety and doing some good things."

The offense has experienced the usual growing pains during the spring as Bentonville must replace four of its five starting linemen. Grant said he likes what he saw from his tight ends during the spring, and Preston Crawford compiled 70 yards on four straight carries Thursday, including a 58-yard run that set up his 1-yard touchdown run.

Meanwhile, the battle for the starting quarterback position continues. Ben Pankau, last year's starting safety, and Andrew Edwards, who threw for two of the four touchdowns, have split the workload during with the varsity, while Matthew Schluterman is also in the mix.

"We have some guys that are capable of being dynamic playmakers," Grant said. "We have to get them to understand what we are doing and make it happen.

"We have to establish where we are at offensively as far as what we are and what we are going to be. We won't change what we do, but we have to be able to do what we're good at doing."

-- Henry Apple • @NWAHenry


Goblins make moves on defense

Harrison has some holes on defense to fill before next season starts, and some players appear to be in new positions after the Goblins ended their spring workouts Thursday.

Cole Keylon, a safety last season, has been moved to linebacker, and Rilee Jones will assume Keylon's old spot after starting at one of the cornerback positions. Lane Johnson, the younger brother of Goblins quarterback Ben Jones, will fill the void left by Jones, while Trey Stith and Zach Schaffer are in a battle at the noseguard spot.

"Right now, we're just trying to add some depth," Harrison coach Joel Wells said. "We still have a way to go, but we have had a good spring. We'll get there."

Wells said he liked what he has seen from newcomers Ky Madden and Brody Gillham, who have seen a lot of reps in the spring. Harrison has a few good upcoming sophomores joining the team, and the spring has given them a head start on what to expect, according to Wells.

Jones, who is expected to be a three-year starter, and a few others had limited participation in the spring drills because of their involvement with Harrison's soccer team, which reached the Class 4A state championship match, and baseball team. That didn't bother Wells at all.

"We didn't get that many days with those players," Wells said. "But I can sacrifice some time with them being in other sports where they are winning and doing something positive."

-- Henry Apple • @NWAHenry


Playmakers appear for Wolverines

Bentonville West spent much of its spring drills in search of younger players who would emerge as additional playmakers on offense now that Jadon Jackson, Tyrese Smallwood, Dalton McDonald and Tucker Swoboda are graduated.

Stephen Dyson, the team's No. 2 receiver until he injured his leg during last fall's game against Bentonville, has yet to be medically cleared. In the meantime, Wolverines coach Bryan Pratt has given opportunities to some of those players on defense, as well as Jadon Muskrat, a transfer from Oklahoma.

Jonas Higson, mainly a starter at linebacker, saw time at running back, as did Nick Whitlach and Carlos Hall. Brandon Humes, a defensive back, caught a pair of touchdown passes at receiver during Friday's scrimmage.

"We were questioning our receiver spots, where some of our younger kids were needing to step up," Pratt said. "When we lost three receivers and our running back, we had to really look to see if we could find somebody to step up. I think we did.

"Brandon Humes had a great game and made a couple of great catches, and so did Aquelle Gay. They need to continue to get better, but they did answer some questions for us. The addition of Jadon Muskrat, he's a pretty good player."

Pratt said his team will concentrate during the offseason in establishing some depth in hopes of not having so many people playing on both sides of the football. West will begin 7-on-7 drills on June 4 and will follow that up with a trip to the team cap at Pittsburg State.

"We're not in the shape to have players go both ways," Pratt said. "But we will be. We don't play for a long time, so it's our job as coaches to get them ready to play."

-- Henry Apple • @NWAHenry

Fort Smith Southside

Williams pleased with Mavs' workouts

Southside coach Jeff Williams wanted to shake up the way the Mavericks have done spring practice. Williams declared spring workouts successful.

"This was the most productive spring we have in the last several years," Williams said. "We split players up, played a lot of No. 1 offense versus No. 1 defense. We found a lot of depth in a bunch of positions."

Southside wrapped up spring practice with a light scrimmage on Thursday.

"We installed our offensive and defensive schemes," Williams said. "A lot of base stuff on offense because we are so inexperienced with our skill positions. Right now, they are thinking on the field and we want to get them to the point that they are instinctive. That is where team camps, 7-on-7 and summer workouts will help with."

Williams added that the young skill players on offense will need a lot of repetition this summer.

"Nothing substitutes for experience. We had offensive skill players with 2-3 years of experience and now we are breaking in young guys," Williams said.

  • Walter Woodie • Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette

Fort Smith Northside

Learning curve in place for Grizzlies

Compared to last season, Northside has been doing a lot of teaching during spring practice due to all of the veteran players lost to graduation.

The biggest area has been the offensive line, where four starters have to be replaced.

"We have a lot of kids to replace, so there is a big learning curve. It's been a slow process," Grizzlies coach Mike Falleur said. "It's not an issue of attitude or effort, it's just learning the position. "The effort and attitude have been great."

Yet, Northside has been able to install much of its offense and defensive schemes.

"We put as much of the offense and defense as we can in the spring and work on it through the summer," Falleur said. "We have not put as much in this spring. That is why we are going to team camps and practice three days a week in the summer so we can get better."

The Grizzlies ended with a scrimmage Friday.

"We've practiced 10 days over three weeks and we wanted the scrimmage to be fun," Falleur said. "We split the teams up and played four 15-minute running clock quarters. We didn't want it to be long, but we wanted it fun and competitive."

Next week, Northside will go to Greenwood for a team camp.

"The last few days have been hot. The difference between now and August is that we are not used to heat. We had some practices where the temperature was in the 60s. Suddenly, it was in the upper 80s. We do not do as much conditioning in spring practice. We will do more conditioning over the summer."

  • Walter Woodie • Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette


Panthers set for busy summer

The Siloam Springs football team will depart for Pittsburg State (Kan.) to attend the Gorillas' team camp on June 2-3, the same camp they attended last year and benefited tremendously from, head coach Brandon Craig said.

"Last year we went into it, and nobody, besides myself, knew what to expect," Craig said. "We got there. We got hit in the teeth a little bit, got knocked back a little bit, but our kids responded. They kept fighting, they kept playing and by the end of the camp we were having some success. That's what you want to see as a head coach. You want to go away from everybody, get in a secluded environment, put your back against the wall and see who's going to play for you."

When the Panthers return from team camp, they'll have a full slate of summer workouts available, 7-on-7 events, team camps and other activities.

For 7-on-7 action, the Panthers are scheduled to compete at Bentonville West on June 11, at Claremore, Okla., on June 18, at Lincoln Christian (Okla.) on July 9 as well as a 7-on-7 tournament at Shiloh Christian on July 12-13.

A team camp is scheduled at Bentonville West on July 10. The Arkansas Activities Association dead period is scheduled for June 24-July 7.

"We have the two-week dead period, so we need to maximize the rest of the time," Craig said. "We have several 7-on-7 events scheduled. We have two pad camps scheduled. So we have a lot of opportunities to keep getting better, which is really good for us."

-- Graham Thomas • @NWAGraham

Sports on 05/26/2019



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