After an unsuccessful 2019 season, Danville’s new head coach, Drew Smyly, is looking for ways to make small improvements to the team.
Last year, the Little Johns went 4-6 in the regular season and 2-5 in 3A-4 Conference play. Smyly said that while he can’t really comment on what happened last year, he did say that from what he saw on film, he thought there were a lot of games that were close, but the team just couldn’t pull off a win in the end.
“Glen Rose was real close, something like a few points, and we just couldn’t pull it out,” he said. “Arkansas Baptist was in overtime; [the team] just couldn’t pull it out. That was two extra wins that could have put them in the playoffs.”
He said the Little Johns also had a couple of bad games near the end of the season, when he thought they matched up athletically but just couldn’t get the win.
Danville has several starters returning this year, including junior Lawson Wilkins at quarterback. In 2019, Wilkins (5-10, 175) threw for 1,075 yards and averaged about 10.2 yards per completion.
Smyly said junior Solomon Gilkey (6-1, 165) will be moving into the slot position and will be getting the ball a lot more this season. Last season, Gilkey caught 39 passes, which translated into 525 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Senior Gabe Stanley (6-0, 175) will be back running the ball, the coach said. Last season, Stanley ran for 205 yards and 1 touchdown. Stanley displayed his versatility last year by also catching 32 passes for 2 touchdowns and 303 yards.
Other returning starters on offense include senior Jarett Wilkins
(5-10, 265) at center, senior Michael Gil (5-11, 230) at guard and sophomore Henry Navarrete (5-7, 137).
Smyly said the Little Johns will run the Flexbone offense, which gives them the triple option.
They will run a 4-3 defense, he said, and returning starters include Gilkey, Navarrete and Stanley.
New starters this year include senior Ethan Shoemake at tackle. Smyly said Shoemake is going to be pretty good, despite not playing since he was a freshman. Ethan Ellis also hasn’t played since ninth grade, but he will be stepping in to play tight end and start on defense as a linebacker, the coach said. Sophomore Jacob Phomsithi (6-2, 280) will also be starting.
Smyly said work ethic will be the team’s biggest strength. He said the team knows that winning is a tradition and is expected. As for weaknesses, Smyly said, the team lacks depth. The team has a good core group of athletes, but many players will be playing on both offense and defense, which will wear them out.
For games to watch, Smyly said, the team’s first three conference games against Perryville, Atkins and Two Rivers will be rough, as they have been predicted to be the top-three teams in the conference.