Wednesday, July 02, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Four featured All-Stars

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – Four local athletes took part in the annual Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star football game Friday at Estes Stadium, where the West team got a touchdown and safety in the second half to beat the East team 23-14.

All four local athletes played for the East team, and all four got plenty of playing time in what was their final high school football game. Heath and Keith Pledger of Cabot played on the offensive line, as did Beebe’s Race Payne, and Carlisle’s Bo Weddle played running back. All four will continue their football careers at the collegiate level starting in the fall.

Even though the game was competitive, it looked as if the West team might run away with it early. The West team marched down the field on their second offensive drive to score first and take a 7-0 lead, and the West scored again with 1:15 left in the first quarter to lead 14-0.

However, the East squad found the end zone twice in the second quarter and kept the West team off the board in that time to go into halftime with the score knotted up at 14-14.

The West, though, as it did in the first quarter, proved to be the better team in the second half. The West took the lead for good with a touchdown exactly four minutes into the third quarter to lead 21-14, and a safety on the East soon after gave the West its nine-point cushion and ended up setting the final score in the process.

Payne started the All-Star game at right tackle for the East team, a spot he’s comfortable in considering he was a three-year starter at the position on the Beebe Badgers’offensive line.

“It’s good to be around so much talent,” said Payne of the All-Star experience. “There’s nobody out here that thinks they’re the best or anything, we all work together. A lot of these guys I’ll be playing with next year.”

Payne will play football at the University of Arkansas-Monticello this fall, and even though his high school playing days are now over, he said it was an honor to be able to represent Beebe High School one last time.

“It’s not even just playing the game,” Payne said. “It’s the honor. I’m honored to be able to represent my school one last time before I go.”

Heath and Keith Pledger saw the bulk of their playing time in the second quarter, but played in each quarter whether it was on the offensive line or on special teams. Heath Pledger spent most of his playing time Friday at right guard.

“It’s been fun,” Heath Pledger said of the All-Star experience, which has become a week-long event with the team practices on the UCA campus at the beginning of the week and everything else in between leading up to the game on Friday night.

“I promise you, those first couple of nights it’s dirty. It’s a lot of trash-talking, but on Friday, we were forced to come together and finally did.”

Heath Pledger said of his final high school football game that he wanted to leave everything on the field before he and his brother Keith move on to play at Harding University this fall.

“After that Bentonville game (the 7A state championship game last December),” Heath Pledger said; “everything I had left after that game I wanted to put it into this one. Since it’s my last chance to play in high school, I definitely wanted to give everything I had left.”

Heath and Keith Pledger are both expected to play at guard for Harding this fall. Keith Pledger played tight end throughout his playing days at Cabot, but on Friday, he spent the majority of his playing time at left tackle.

“It’s been different,” said Keith Pledger of the All-Star experience. “You’re not out here playing with your brothers like you’re used to. You’ve got to kind of make new friends and work together. Playing tackle’s a big switch for me. I’ve never really played it before in my life.

“It’s been fun. It’s serious, but this game here is just for fun. Playing with these new guys who have to come together in a week – it’s putting the best with the best.”

The Pledgers did a lot of blocking for their future teammate at Harding on Friday. Like the Pledgers, Weddle saw the bulk of his playing time in the second quarter Friday, but like those two, as well as Payne, he got a lot of reps throughout the second half as well.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys just from being in camps with them and stuff,” said Weddle. “Heath and Keith, this is our first game together because all three of us are going to Harding next year and we’ll be teammates for five years there.

“We all had a great time this week. The coaches made sure we enjoy it. It hasn’t been just real serious the entire week, but we still work. This game’s been a lot of fun to take part in. There are a lot of good players from around the state here. It’s really a blessing to be able to compete with these guys.”