Friday, May 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe big in size, numbers

Leader sports editor

The Beebe football team is enjoying its highest number of participants in spring football practice in coach John Shannon’s tenure as head Badger. There were 72 players reporting on day one and that number has held above 70 for most of spring session, when teams are given three weeks to get in two weeks worth of practice.

Beebe will continue spring drills through this week to complete its allotment of practices before the mandated dead period begins the second week of June.

“I feel like we’re a little ahead of the game from where we were last year because we’re getting a lot of kids some reps,” said Shannon.

The Badgers have 14 starters returning from last year, including eight on offense and six on defense. That’s meant a lot of extra snaps for players with less experience this spring. Coaches are taking the philosophy that having more players than ever isn’t an advantage ifit doesn’t produce quality depth.

“We’ve got so many returning from last year we’re trying to get a lot of reps for our younger players and build up some depth,” Shannon said. “I’m comfortable with the ones we have coming back and we have a few guys that weren’t regular starters that we already know are going to play a much bigger role for us this year. But we’ve also got some younger guys that are going to be pretty good football players. We’re trying to get them up to speed on what we’re doing so we can plug them where we do have gaps to fill and need some more depth.”

The Badgers aren’t just larger in numbers, but will also be larger in stature than most of the teams Shannon has coached. Beebe has a trio of three-year starters returning on the offensive line that go about 300, 280 and 275 pounds. Those three will be joined in the starting rotation by four players Shannon says are all between 245 and 300 pounds.

The offensive line is not the only place Beebe is bigger.

“We’ve got bigger kids than we’ve ever had at inside linebacker right now,” Shannon said. “Reece Anders, Andy Hurt, Quinton Shears and a transfer from Conway, Bo Smith, all four have looked really good at inside linebacker.”

Aaron Nunez returns as the starting quarterback after missing much of last season with an injury. Shannon says he’s the clear-cut starter, with Justin Burleson, a transfer from Mississippi, filling the role of backup.

“He throws the ball exceptionally well but he doesn’t fully grasp the offense yet,” Shannon said. Stephen Hammill is a sophomore who is also trying to learn the position for the first time. He threw a touchdown pass on his only attempt during a short scrimmage on Friday.

The extra snaps for new players doesn’t mean the starters haven’t had their opportunity, and they have been impressive. Fullback Tripp Smith, one of only three 2,000-yard backs in the state last season, has added 15 pounds to his frame, but doesn’t seem to have lost any speed.

“He’s obviously bigger than he was last year and I was a little worried about it,” Shannon said. “But he still ran a 4.55 on our automatic timer so I’m pretty excited about it now. He juked a couple of kids, broke a lot of tackles. He actually carried a kid several yards on one play. I’ve said from the start he has a chance to be pretty special around here and I still believe that.”

The Badgers will be busy over the summer. They will be at the Conway team camp on June 9-10, and at 7-on-7 meets at Cabot on June 11 and 18. Starting on July 9, they will go to Conway team camps every Wednesday of that month.