Tuesday, September 02, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils ready for a new era

Leader sports editor

It will be far from Barry Hickingbotham’s first step onto the turf at Jan Crow Stadium, but that step on Friday will be his first at the helm of the program he came through as a student in Jacksonville schools. That’s when the Red Devils host Maumelle to open the 2014 football season, and it will officially kick off the Hickingbotham era at JHS.

Hickingbotham has been focused almost as much on character and team chemistry issues since taking his team to a retreat camp at Williams Baptist College in July, as he has on strategy. And he’s just as concerned with how the team does in those areas, as he is with execution.

“That’s what we’re anxious to see,” said Hickingbotham. “We want to see where we are in the process of building a football team. Maumelle is extremely fast and big up front. They attack from a lot of different angles on defense. So we’re going to take some right crosses. We’re going to get hit. We’re going to get knocked down. We want to see how we handle those things.”

The Hornet defense, which returns six starters, is anchored by 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end Malik Singleton. Despite his size, Singleton is very agile and extremely strong.

The Hornets probably won’t have its quarterback from last season but senior J.B. Minix moves over from receiver and brings his own 4.5 speed to the position. Cameron Porras is a bigger player who will also bring a strong arm to the spot when needed.

Maumelle will line up in the same spread formation that it used to defeat Jacksonville 27-20 last year, but it didn’t operate as smoothly in the scrimmage last week. Lonoke held the Hornets without an offensive touchdown, but the Maumelle defense was stifling.

“That defense they got is going to be a tremendous challenge for us,” Hickingbotham said. “They line up in four front and then they also get down into kind of a 3-5, and they attack from all over. It’s going to be a challenge for our offensive line to try and pick them up. It’ll also be a tremendous challenge for our quarterbacks to recognize where the pressure is coming from.”

Jacksonville will play two quarterbacks on Friday. Senior Caleb Price and junior Brandon Hickingbotham will split time. The head Devil says both are playing well most of the time, but he wants to see more consistency.

“Neither one has pulled away as the clear-cut guy yet,” Hickingbotham said. “Maybe through competition they’ll both play extremely well and push each other to get better and better. We just haven’t found the one that’s consistent enough to lead the team.”

The Jacksonville coaching staff is using the three nonconference games for learning, teaching and scouting for several positions, not just quarterback. The goal being that by the time conference play arrives in week four, the starters will be set.

“The only way to get experience for an inexperienced team is to play the game,” Hickingbotham said. “That’s been our approach to this whole deal.”