PREP FOOTBALL: Top teams use spring drills as first step toward building for fall football season

Drake Lindsey (5) steps back to pass during the 2022 season against Bentonville. Lindsey will be one of the top returning quarterbacks in the state this season for the Bulldogs. (Special to NWA Democrat-Gazette/Brent Soule)

Deciding a combined 20 state championships in softball, baseball and soccer didn't end high school athletics for the 2022-2023 calendar year in Arkansas.

There's spring football, which ended just days ago for most schools in the area. Spring football is a valuable asset for coaches who want to get a look at their players heading into the summer and fall workouts.

"Our goal is to build continuity with the guys and see who wants to buy in and be a part of this program," Fayetteville coach Casey Dick said.

Returning starters at quarterback are a huge advantage at the high school level and Fayetteville has one of the best in Drake Lindsey, who threw for over 3,600 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior. Lindsey, 6-5, 225 will enter his senior season as a University of Minnesota commit.

"Drake has gotten bigger and stronger. He's really grown into his body," Dick said. "Not only that, he's shown big-time leadership qualities and he's been a mentor to the younger guys who are coming up."

Fayetteville has been one of the top passing teams under Dick and this fall should be no different with Lach McKinney and Jaison Delamar back at receiver. McKinney caught 57 passes for 793 yards and 10 touchdowns while Delamar caught 53 passes for 754 yards and 5 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.

Class 7A state runners-up Bentonville has a huge hole to fill with the loss of Josh Ficklin, an all-state running back who signed with Illinois State and went through spring drills with the Redbirds. The Tigers are looking at a handful of athletes at running back, including Jason Gilmore, Christian Battles, Jaden Spears and two sophomores with plenty of potential in Chris Ficklin, Josh's younger brother, and Kameran Mead-Thornton.

"Josh Ficklin is a special talent and he'll be hard to replace," Bentonville coach Jody Grant said. "It's all about development in the spring and we had a lot of young guys who got a lot of reps. I think we're close to putting this puzzle together."

Greenwood, which held its spring game Thursday night, begins its summer schedule by hosting a team camp on May 31 that includes teams from Bentonville, Fayetteville, Russellville, Alma, Springdale Har-Ber, and Pulaski Academy, which edged Greenwood for the state championship in Class 6A last season.

"It's full 11-on-11 and we're really excited to get a good look at our guys and the teams we have coming in," Greenwood coach Chris Young said.

Greenwood must replace a two-year starter in Hunter Houston but no one will feel sorry for the Bulldogs, who have Kane Archer ready to take over full time at quarterback after he threw for over 700 yards as a freshman. The Bulldogs are also excited about Cooper Goodwin, who started at quarterback for the Bulldogs' freshman team.

"We're excited about both of these guys, really," Young said. "Kane is a very talented quarterback and we have high expectations for him, but he's still a sophomore and there's a learning curve involved, so there's going to be some lumps and bruises along the way."

Finding replacements up front is a priority for Booneville, which thrived again on a powerful running game that resulted in a 12-3 record and state runner-up finish in Class 3A.

"We lost three all-conference lineman on both sides of the ball," Booneville coach Doc Crowley said. "Those guys are hard to replace. Defensively, we could have as many as four or five sophomores start."

The linemen who eventually win starting jobs will have the benefit of blocking for Dax Goff, a power running back who rushed for almost 2,300 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior. Booneville is also excited about the return of Rylen Ray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last year after he rushed for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Class 3A state champion Charleston will experience life without Brandon Scott, a three-time all-state quarterback and two-time all-state basketball player who has graduated. Rising senior Eli Huck and incoming sophomore Carter Little will battle it out for the starting quarterback position for Charleston, which held spring practice on the last day of school on Thursday.

"Eli, he was our backup last year, and he's more of a runner who can play anywhere on the field," Charleston coach Ricky May said. "He's a heck of an athlete. Carter is more of a passer and both of our quarterbacks make pretty good decisions with the football."

Charleston will rely heavily this fall on rising senior Reese Merechka, who'll move to the backfield after catching 61 passes for 864 yards and 12 touchdowns as a receiver last season. Defensively, Charleston returns leading tackler Hunter Little, who also starts at offensive tackle for the Tiger.

A new starter will have to emerge at Shiloh Christian after all-state quarterback Eli Wisdom graduated and signed with Army at West Point, N.Y. The Saints also lost Wisdom's likely successor when Garrett Odom moved to Las Vegas, Nev., after his father, former Arkansas assistant coach Barry Odom, was named head coach at Nevada-Las Vegas.

The two departures leaves Evan Baker, Talan Williams and freshman Cole Creighton competing for snaps at the quarterback position.

"Our focus for the spring was to keep everybody healthy and develop some depth and I think we did that," Shiloh Christian coach Jeff Conaway said.

Shiloh Christian fans can get a look at their young prospects when the Saints hold their annual Southwest Elite 7-on-7 tournament July 13. Conaway said about 20 teams are expected to participate in the one-day event.