The new RB fills the shoes of the Bruins
Pulaski Academy is looking to win its fourth straight state football championship and 11th overall this season.
The Bruins will have to do it with tough Class 6A competition for the first time.
They will also have to do so without 2021 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette All-Arkansas Preps Player of the Year Joe Himon, who is now running back at Northwestern.
Bruins coach Anthony Lucas said he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“You think about Joe Himon all the time,” Lucas said. “He’s won every award you can think of here in the state. [of Arkansas].”
Himon was the center point of an AP offense that led the state in scoring last season, averaging 53.4 points per game. During his three seasons with the Bruins, he won three state championships, was 38-3, was responsible for 7,602 all-around yards, and scored 97 touchdowns.
Himon became one of the most decorated players in the state. For his senior season, Himon was selected for multiple Player of the Year honors, the 2021 Landers Award, and Gatorade Player of the Year for the state.
When Himon went down injured in Week 7 last season, Lucas got a taste of what life would be like without him. In his place, second student Kenny Jordan got the call. he took his 16 touches, 8 rushing and 8 receiving, and went for 173 yards and 1 touchdown as Pulaski Academy beat Maumelle 42-14.
Now a junior, Jordan is preparing to take full advantage of the starting role. Lucas said it might take a while, but he has complete faith in Jordan.
“It’s not Joe Himon, but it’s our guy in the back,” Lucas said. “As we move through the season, probably by Game 2, I think he’ll be close to where we need him.”
The nature of the Bruins offense translates to a lot of lopsided scoring and opportunities for players lower in the depth chart to get playing time. Jordan was the perfect complement to Himon, and when he came out of games , whether through injury or a blistering score, Jordan made sure to take full advantage of it.
He had 10 touchdowns and 1,137 all-purpose yards last season – good for third on the team. He added 463 yards as the Bruins’ leading punt returner.
Jordan said he knows he has big shoes to fill, but thinks his sophomore involvement will make the transition easier.
“They were huge,” Jordan said. “Just being able to come out and play with our starters, and for them to trust me and give me the ball, that was huge. I feel like that really set me up for this year, and I’m ready to go out there and show that I can do it.”
SMALL ROCK HALL
Little Rock Hall has won seven state football championships tied for eighth among all schools in the state.
The problem? The Warriors haven’t won a state title since 1982. To make matters worse, they haven’t had a winning record this century.
The days of Hall of Fame coach CW Keopple are over, but current Hall of Fame coach Jim Withrow said he hopes to slowly but surely return to the success of the past.
Withrow, hired in 2020 after 13 years at the helm of Sylvan Hills, was not fully aware of the seriousness of Hall’s recent history before taking the job. But three years later, with a list full of subclasses, he’s not going to dwell on that past.
“I don’t worry about stuff like that. I worry about today,” Withrow said. “That’s what we talked about with these guys is, ‘You haven’t lost those games. You worry about today and move on. A lot of people went to Hall, a lot of people chose Hall and I think they’re starting to see it.”
Hall played 8-a-side football last season after transitioning to a STEAM (science, technology, engineering and math) magnetic school, going 6-3 for his first winning record since 1993.
The Warriors are returning the majority of their 12-man roster from last season, including quarterback Jakorei Carter-Foreman, receivers Camron Lytle and Myles House, and two impressive offensive linemen in Elijah Roberts and Adrian Waters.
With the roster size nearly quadrupling, Withrow is looking to a crop of underclasses to fill positions on offense and defense.
Having played in Class 5A in 2020 before the switch, Hall will play in Conference 4A-4 this season with Bauxite, Benton Harmony Grove, Central Arkansas Christian, Clinton, Dover, Lamar, Mayflower and Pottsville.
Withrow said he knows returning to 11-a-side football won’t be easy against 4A sides with bigger rosters, but he hopes the success of 2021 will propel his program into future success.
“I think this program over time can become a playoff team every year,” Withrow said. “I mean, that’s what our staff came here to do. We have a really good coaching staff, and you know, we weren’t part of [the years of losing seasons] and so there is a standard of practice and a standard of play that we are [expecting]and that’s how we train.”
LITTLE ROCK OF THE NORTH
“Big Three” ready
North Little Rock fell 27-13 to eventual Class 7A champion Bryant in last season’s state semifinals. This is the fourth straight year that the Charging Wildcats season has ended at the hands of the Hornets.
Three senior defensive linemen hope to end that streak and give the Charging Wildcats their first state championship since 2017.
Deontae Young, Robert Burgess and University of Arkansas hire Quincy Rhodes are the frontline for an NLR defense that allowed the second-fewest points (17.5 ppg) in Class 7A last season.
The trio dubbed themselves “The Big Three”. With an average height of 6-41/2 and 252 pounds, it shows.
The NLR is aiming for a state championship and looks to its defensive line to help lead the way.
“The defensive line should be our strength this year,” assistant head coach Clint Reed said. “These guys [bring] very good energy. [They’re] relentless at quarterback. They are playing extremely strong which will make us better at all levels as long as we can face him offensively.”
Rhodes also said he thinks the Charging Wildcats have the best defensive front in the state, and his teammates certainly shared that sentiment.
“Basically, it’s like nothing can go through it,” Burgess said. “It’s like a three-headed monster. The Big Three is so scary.”
Nothing is promised in 7A, especially when Bryant is still complete. But NLR is hoping a returning cast that also includes sophomore quarterback Malachi Gober and running back Torrance Moore will end the streak of playoff disappointments.
“It’s been a lot of fun playing football here in North Little Rock, and that’s the norm,” Reed said. “The standard is to get to this game. Obviously we want to win it. But our standard, and what we want from these kids, is to be in this game. [game] and give us that chance to make a deep run in the playoffs and let’s see what happens. You can’t win if you’re not there.”