Friday, August 06, 2010

SPORTS>>Lions have more roar, personnel

Leader sportswriter

Searcy will have a few more helping hands in its quest to return to football glory this season.

There were 70 players reporting for the first week of practice. Of those, 23 were seniors.

The total numbers are up 17 from the start of last season. Even with improved numbers, second-year coach Tim Harper wanted to see more.

“Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t have a few more,” Harper said. “But we had several move off. Some even went as far as Pennsylvania, but we’re excited about the ones we do have.”

One player generating plenty of excitement is junior quarterback Dezmund Stegall, who started at the spot for Harper last year as a sophomore. Stegall finished seventh in the statewide Top-Gun quarterback competition last month, and was in position to win it all before a shaky final event dropped him from second to seventh.

Stegall, 6-2, 205 pounds, is a three-sport athlete who also plays basketball and baseball and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds.

“He’s got a super strong arm,” Harper said. “He’s looked good all summer. He took all of our snaps for us over the summer in 7-on-7.”

Senior linebacker Mike Brown is generating equal buzz on the defense. Brown, 6-0, 220 pounds, has earned a number of preseason accolades from various media outlets.

He is leading the way on a defensive unit that turned out two college players from last year’s team, Patrick Bingham (Harding University) and linebacker Larry Kilpatrick (Arkansas Tech).

Harper has enjoyed the improved numbers, but the work ethic of the players has impressed him most.

“Honestly, I feel like we haven’t missed a beat from where we were last season and in the spring,” Harper said. “We’ve had a lot of commitment from the players, especially the ones we are counting on the most.”

All 23 seniors had perfect attendance at summer workouts except for one who missed a single practice and was excused, and attendance was perfect for the whole team during the first four days of August.

“They are being really coachable right now,” Harper said. “I hope we have the success that usually follows this much hard work and dedication. Usually if a group gives this much effort and dedication to something, good things follow, and I hope that turns out to be the case for us.”

In the spring of 2009, Harper took over a Lions team that had suffered five straight seasons of two victories or less. In his first year, the Lions won four games and qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2003 as they equaled the total number of victories the previous four seasons under Bart McFarland.

“That was definitely one of our goals last year was to point the program in a different direction,” Harper said. “It wasn’t necessarily a coaching problem as it was a community problem. We worked on everything from the players’ work ethic to the parents’ commitment.

“All of those things had to change and not be just a one-year deal, to where success was not something we have every once in a while but rather something we expect.”

The Lions overcame a scary situation Wednesday when senior linebacker Charlie Birmingham went down with cramps following practice and had to be taken to the White County Medical Center emergency room. He was back at practice Thursday but watched from the shade.

Harper said Birmingham would be withheld from practice until Monday as a precaution.

“We’ve been very fortunate to not have more than that,” Harper said. “We’ve been the hottest town in the state.”