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PREP FOOTBALL: Eckley combines holdovers with new members of Har-Ber football staff

by Rick Fires | June 2, 2023 at 3:31 a.m.
Springdale Har-Ber football coach Brent Eckley guides the Wildcats through their first day of summer workouts at Wildcat Arena on Tuesday. Eckley replaces Chris Wood, who led the Wildcats for 17 years as coach before moving into a new position within the athletic department of Springdale Public Schools earlier this year. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe).

SPRINGDALE -- The first day of summer football workouts Springdale Har-Ber was mostly typical with players in helmets and shorts running pass plays or being taught blocking and defensive assignments.

The difference was the bald-headed man with the muscular build directing traffic near midfield at Wildcat Stadium. He's Brent Eckley, who became only the second head coach in Har-Ber football history when he was announced in January to replace Chris Wood, who began a new position within the athletic department Springdale Public Schools the start of the new year.

The past few months have been a whirlwind for Eckley, who spent the past 10 years as the coach Jackson, Mo., a town of about 16,000 located near Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri. In addition to putting a staff together, Eckley and his wife purchased a house in Northwest Arkansas, then sold their former home in southeast Missouri, a process which can be time-consuming and often frustrating.

Even on Tuesday, the first day of summer drills for Har-Ber, Eckley was stopped and engaged in conversations least four times by players, assistant coaches, or support staff before he could get to his office after leaving the field for a session that began 6 a.m. and ended 9 a.m.

Through it all, Eckley was able to maintain an upbeat and positive attitude that seemingly has rubbed off on the players.

"I thought the first day went pretty well," said Jaron Land, a 6-foot-6 rising senior who plays on the offensive line. "We got a lot done and, the coaches, they're awesome."

Eckley is a veteran coach with a resume (230-59 overall) this includes one state championship, one runner-up finish, 18 playoff appearances, 16 district championships and 15 conference championships. Jackson is a Class 5A school that went 14-0 in 2020 and was ranked No. 1 overall in Missouri this season. Eckley said he's excited about the challenge in trying to rebuild a mostly successful program Har-Ber program that slipped to 1-10 last season. The Wildcats went 12-1 and won the Class 7A state championship in only their fourth season of varsity football under Wood in 2009.

Eckley said Har-Ber has the building blocks in place that starts with any successful program.

"We've got great kids here and it's been my experience that the kids are generally a reflection of their parents," said Eckley, who's been married for 31 years and has five grown children. "We've got parents who are going to be very supportive and we're appreciative of that."

Eckley's first staff Har-Ber is a mixture of holdovers such as offensive coordinator Benji Mahan and receivers coach Chris Gragg, along with newcomers like defensive coordinator Ryan Heath, who Eckley brought with him from Jackson.

Improving the defense will be a major challenge Har-Ber, which allowed a league-worst 511 points last season.

"I'm really pleased with the staff," said Eckley, who graduated from William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where he played football for the Statesmen. "We brought in four and, with the coaches who've already been around, I think it's a really good mix. Coming in, it was never something like 'We've got to get rid of this guy, get rid of this guy'. There were just some natural changes and some guys had the opportunity to climb the [coaching] ladder and took advantage of it. So, I'm pleased with the balance and the coaches we have, who are really, really good guys."

The majority of Har-Ber fans will get their first look the new staff in action when Eckley makes his head coaching debut with the Wildcats home against defending Class 5A state champion Little Rock Parkview on Aug. 25.

Print Headline: Har-Ber moving forward with Eckley


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