Friday, August 01, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> First glimpse of upcoming football year

Leader sports editor

It’s almost here. The high school football preseason officially begins Monday morning. It’s a bit of a misnomer nowadays to call the four weeks preceding the first game “preseason”. Practice never stops nowadays, so players aren’t really coming back in August from a sport they’ve neglected all summer long. But still, with the official start of preseason, teams can practice longer and do practice more intensely, though they can’t practice as much as they used to.

Teams aren’t allowed any two-a-days the first week, and most schools begin teachers’ meetings the second week, which prohibits two-a-day practices.

Despite all that, practice begins Monday and fans are excited. Cabot is embarking upon defending their undefeated conference championship season and state runner-up finish. They’ll begin with trying to replace almost everyone on a nearly unstoppable offense, while returning what could be the best defense it’s had in many years.

If the offense can even approach the success of last year’s squad, the Panthers could be primed for another deep run.

Jacksonville sort of got their preseason started this week, leaving Wednesday for a three-day team-bonding outing at Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge. That trip is the first sign that first-year coach Barry Hickingbotham is serious about effecting drastic changes to the JHS football program.

While that’s a big, long-term challenge, his more immediate challenge in winning with a team that lost a lot of talent, even though that talent didn’t manifest in a very good season. Five 2013 Red Devils will be on college football rosters this fall.

Sylvan Hills is poised for a great year, at least offensively. The Bears have dazzled in summer camps and 7-on-7 tournaments, but so did Jacksonville last year. Still, the Bears scored a lot of points and racked up a lot of yards last season, and all indications are they will be better on offense this year. Their biggest question mark is the nine starters to replace on defense.

Beebe, too, which joins Jacksonville, Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski in the 5A-Central, is looking forward to what it believes could be a great season. The Badgers are loaded with skill players, have nine starters back on offense and six on defense. They are also bigger all over the field than they usually are. The only major concern for Beebe is depth on the lines. Injuries to linemen could be fatal to Badger success.

Lonoke is, well, what Lonoke always is – the ineradicable “who knows.” It seems like the years everyone expects greatness are disappointing, only for the Jackrabbits to be very good in years without much hype. One thing is certain, the week-two rivalry game with Beebe is always fun because it’s always just as unpredictable.

Carlisle is also starting over with a new coach. After seven-straight years with one coach, this year’s Bison seniors will have the third head coach of their careers. They also lose almost 100 percent of its yardage production from last year, with both running backs Bo Weddle and DeRon Ricks signing to play college football.

Carlisle will still be disciplined and execute well and will almost assuredly make the playoffs, but another conference championships or co-championships could be in danger.

Reports from North Pulaski are varied. Coach Teodis Ingram believes he has some talent and is optimistic about his first senior class to have come up entirely in his system. The Falcons, though, went 0-10 last year with a relatively talented, but largely unmotivated group.

Ingram believes this year’s senior class is a better group of workers, but it hasn’t played out well so far in summer competitions. But summer competitions can be just as bad of an indicator of bad teams as it is of good ones because there’s no contact. As old Michigan coach Bo Schembechler used to be fond of saying, “Ain’t nothing out here means nothing except blocking and tackling.”