This season, Conway Christian moves into a new conference in the 4A-2 with one of its biggest senior classes yet. Head coach Justin Kramer said that of the 22 kids on the roster, 13 are seniors.
The new conference includes Mountainburg, Magazine and Hector, who have all had recent success, Kramer said. He said Conway Christian played Mountainburg in the playoffs a couple of years ago, Magazine has been consistently good, and “Hector has had a good thing going for a while.”
“Those three are the pace setters for the conference, along with us, hopefully,” Kramer said. “I feel like those are the top-tier teams; then it kind of shakes out from there, but Mountainburg is probably the best of the opponents.”
The Eagles finished 3-7 overall a year ago and 2-5 in the 5A-2 Conference. They have three starters returning on offense, including senior wide receiver Jeramya Brock, senior linebacker Perry Horton and senior offensive lineman Shallum Gill.
“Jeramya was our second-leading receiver a year ago, behind Carson Bradley, so he had a good year,” Kramer said. “He has spent a lot of time this summer working on his route running and did a lot of cone drills by himself. He took the initiative to push himself to get better.
“We really have high hopes for him and high expectations. He has done a lot of the work to get himself ready.”
Kramer said Horton is a “pretty athletic kid with decent speed and good strength.” The coach said Horton moves really well and is asked to do a lot of pulling, which he handles really well. Horton will also start on defense at linebacker.
“Shallum [Gill] is a really smart kid with a high football IQ,” Kramer said. “He works really hard and does a really good job with his footwork. Everything is right where it needs to be.”
Senior Tyler Cossey will start at quarterback this fall. He did start at quarterback in a few games last year, and Kramer said Cossey is light years ahead of where he was then.
“He has a much better idea of what he is looking for, and his decision-making has improved,” Kramer said. “He is making quicker and better decisions, and he understands what we are trying to do.
“He has done a really good job. He can run. We run him quite a bit, but his strength is pocket passing. He can do both.”
Senior Robert Taylor will start at running back this year — a position he hasn’t played since he was in the ninth grade, the coach said. Last year, Taylor was a backup at the tight-end spot, and he is a three-year starter at defensive end.
“He is a physical guy and not afraid of contact,” Kramer said. “I think he will be a consistent yard gainer. He won’t hit a lot of home runs, but he is good for those 3- to 7-yard gains. That’s all we really need from him, to be honest.”
Seniors Drew Shillings and Jace Kramer, the coach’s son, will start at wide receiver. The coach said they both have really good hands and can block on the edge to help the run game. Senior Josh Tibbs is a “sure-handed receiver,” the coach said. Jace Kramer also played at the linebacker spot a year ago before he broke his collarbone.
“The whole idea of shutting down Jeramya [Brock] is not going to hinder us a whole lot,” Coach Kramer said. “We have guys who can make plays across the board. I think we have a lot of playmakers, and in some cases, that’s better in that situation.”
Senior Jimmy Clampton didn’t play last year, but Kramer said Clampton should help out at the inside-receiver spot and is going to be a good addition.
Kramer said that defensively, the biggest strength for Conway Christian is its seven guys up front. The Eagles mainly run out of a 3-4 defense, and “the guys have a good idea what the reads are and what to look for,” he said.
“It is going to be one of those situations where we are just going to get better,” Kramer said. “If we are working hard every day and doing the things we are supposed to be doing, the other things will fall into place.
“We want to win the conference, and we want to continue to build on what we feel like has been a great program the past several years and do it the right way.”