Saturday, July 17, 2010

SPORTS>>Hickingbotham to direct offense for Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

To move forward, Jacksonville is taking a few steps back to its past.

The Red Devils announced last week Rick Russell, 51, a 14-year veteran of the coaching staff, was leaving North Pulaski after one year to return to Jacksonville as head coach. In short order, Russell announced Barry Hickingbotham, a 1987 Jacksonville graduate, was moving up from middle school coaching to become high school offensive coordinator.

Hickingbotham was introduced at a team meeting Thursday.

“I’m just excited for the chance to turn something new here,” said Hickingbotham, 42, who coached the middle school for seven years.

He was on a Red Devils team that finished in a three-way tie for second in the conference and was the only team to beat eventual state champion Little Rock Central.

“I think our record was like 7-3 and the points system kept us out of the playoffs,” Hickingbotham said. “And Little Rock Central goes 13-1 and they have 10 guys with Division I scholarships that year and we beat them.”

Hickingbotham’s introduction coincided with an appearance by Jacksonville alumnus Clinton McDonald, a member of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, as the high school program reaches back to some of the glory days of the past while trying to establish a winning attitude for the future.

“I’ve got a lot of passion for this football team, for this town, for this community to be successful,” Hickingbotham said. “My goal is to put a product out there that people will come to see.”

Jacksonville isn’t that far removed from some degree of football success. The Devils fell to 2-8 last season under Mark Whatley — who left after five years to become offensive coordinator at Springdale — after winning six games and reaching the playoffs in 2008.

The Devils won seven games and a 6A-East Conference championship in 2006.

Russell, Jacksonville’s one-time defensive coordinator, will call the defensive plays this year and brought in Hickingbotham to take the offensive coordinator’s job held by Whatley. Many of the seniors are players Hickingbotham coached as youngsters.

“This senior, 11th and 10th-grade group, when I had them over there we were 25-3 so my expectations are going to be high,” Hickingbotham said.

Out of necessity last year Jacksonville turned in a number of big plays, many on fourth and long, but the explosiveness came partly because the Red Devils frequently played from behind.

Hickingbotham said he would keep elements of the Spread used by Jacksonville last year, but was looking for more of a ball-control offense that, if the defense is on its game, will help the Red Devils control the clock and the tempo.

“We want to be a physical football team,” Hickingbotham said. “We want to establish the run and work some throwing in. We’re not going to be very finesse. We’re going try and be as physical as we can be. We’re going to lace them up and see what happens.”

Jacksonville, playing in the 6A/7A-East this year, opens the season against non-conference rival Cabot in the “Backyard Brawl” on Aug. 31, a Tuesday, at War Memorial Stadium. The first home game is against Mountain Home on Sept. 23, a Thursday, and will be televised statewide.