Friday, August 22, 2008

SPORTS>>Whatley, Malham prepare for clash

Leader sportswriter

They were promoting a brawl, but everyone was on his best behavior on Friday morning at First Arkansas Bank for the “Backyard Brawl” press conference.

The event heralded the season-opening clash between Cabot and Jacksonville on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at Jan Crow Stadium in Jacksonville.

“This is always a big game for me because I started my coaching career at Jacksonville under Bill Reed for three years before I got the head coaching job at Cabot,” said Cabot head coach Mike Malham, entering his 28th season at the Panther helm.

“This is always a big game in my mind. When we were in the same conference, I can remember through the 90s and even up to 2000, it was always Cabot and Jacksonville playing for the conference championship, and the winner usually took the crown.”

Whatley followed Malham at the podium, and agreed that the game has real significance for the two teams and the two schools.

“We have two communities that are very involved in their school districts,” Whatley said. “They support their young people in every phase, academically and athletically. Fortunately, we get to open up against the number one preseason football team.

We’re excited. We’re going to be a young football team, and there’s one thing about it, we’ll find out real quick where we stand when we get out there.”

The winner of this year’s game will receive a traveling trophy they will hold on to until next season, similar to the Boot Trophy shared by the University of Arkansas and LSU. The trophy, designed by Paul Conway of Crown Trophy in Cabot, features a bronze football that tapers down onto a wooden base, where plaques denoting each year’s winner are placed.

Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson, Cabot AD Johnny White, Red Devils Jeff Tillman, Micah Davis and Nick Priest, as well as Cabot Panthers Zach Coy and Nick Pledger were all on hand for the event.

Bank CEO Larry Wilson opened the conference by touching on the tradition of the rivalry that goes back over 50 years, and shared how he and his classmates used to drive to Cabot in a caravan to see the game when he was a student of Jacksonville High School.

Whatley remembered being a senior on the Red Devils team when Malham reported for his first year of assistant coaching.

“It’s still intimidating to walk out on the field with that man, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Wilson closed the press conference with a laugh, sharing part of a conversation with Whatley and Malham before the meeting in which Malham hinted that he might show up at tonight’s red-white game at Jan Crow in order to scout the Red Devils’ defense.

Whatley didn’t miss a beat:

“I don’t know why coach. You only have four plays that you’re going to run, I don’t know why you’re worried about what we’re doing. You’re just going to come out and run those four plays.”

Malham quipped, “Well, we’ve added two more for this year.”