Friday, August 27, 2010

SPORTS>>Bears’ season begins Monday

Leader sports editor

All young teams have to grow up in a hurry once football season starts.

Sylvan Hills has to grow up a little more quickly than most.

The Bears open the year against Vilonia at 5 p.m. on Monday at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. The game is part of the four-game slate played over two days that comprises the Arkansas High School Kickoff Classic.

Sylvan Hills and Vilonia get the honor, by a half-hour, of opening the season. Lonoke plays Star City at 5:30 p.m. in Pine Bluff as part of the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic.

“It shows well on what we’ve done here for us to be asked to kick the season off,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow said. “Just for them to ask us, I think it shows we’ve been good over the years; we’ve had here. We’re normally a playoff-caliber team.”

The Bears reached the 5A state playoffs last season despite dropping their first five games. They finished furiously, winning four of their final five and beating Beebe in the season finale to qualify for the postseason.

But the Bears have had to find a new quarterback and rebuild their linebacker corps.

“It’s like any first game, you’re not sure,” Withrow said. “What’s tough on us is we’re dealing with a lot of guys who aren’t very experienced. In a normal year you would have liked a few extra days to practice.”

If it were a playoff game, Withrow said, he might be working his players out over the weekend. As it is, he was planning to have the Bears in pads scrimmaging the last three days of the work week, with generous film study of Vilonia thrown in, and then to give his players the weekend off.

The team will have a walk-through at War Memorial on Monday. A chance to practice at the stadium on Thursday was lost because there was still preparation work under way on the new playing surface, which will debut along with a remodeled, modernized pressbox Monday.

“I’m pointing towards getting ready for the conference,” Withrow said. “It’s a first game but I think that War Memorial walk-through, I don’t know if it will hurt us or help us but I think by then we’ll have a pretty good idea where we’re going.”

Withrow pointed out that, unlike a playoff situation, he has known for several months who it is the Bears would be playing and has plenty of time to get ready.

“We’ve been kind of planning on it for about a month,” he said. “We’ve gone with some film on them from last year that we could dig up and just called around and tried to hear some things from some people and did some scouting.”

Since high schools games are traditionally played on Friday nights, Monday’s games — Pulaski Academy plays Central Arkansas Christian at 7:30 p.m. — fall at an especially odd time in the week. However, the schedule is also a sign of the changing times, with the changes driven partially by the electronic media.

The season-opening classics are tailor-made television and radio showcases, and last year Arkansas high school games were broadcast regularly for the first time on commercial television, normally on Thursday nights.

Nonetheless, Withrow said he is looking forward to getting back to the traditional, Friday game-week schedule and welcomes the extra time after Monday’s game to shift back to that.

The Bears will have this Friday off while most of the state’s high school teams begin the season.

“I’m going to look at the positive of it,” Withrow said. “We’re going to get to play a game and then we’re going to get to turn around and break it down and then build on it and then put together a game plan for the next one, which will be Little Rock Christian.”

As for Vilonia, Withrow is most concerned about the Eagles’ Double-Slot offense with its veer options and sweeps. Vilonia also lines up in the Shotgun and runs the Spread, and is led by an experienced quarterback in Drew Knowles and has an Arkansas recruit in fullback James Sax.

“The defense looks strong as well,” Withrow said and gave the credit to Vilonia coach Jim Stanley. “Coach Stanley has been coaching a long time and his teams are always physically strong and physically tough.”

Sylvan Hills, meanwhile, will debut a new quarterback in Michael Maddox and four new starters at linebacker. Withrow said the players have prepared as hard as they can, and what remains to be seen is how they respond to real competition in a high-profile environment.

“If it doesn’t go our way it won’t be because of preparation or practice,” Withrow said.