Chris Murray: Arkansas High School Football Preseason Breakdown – 7A, 6A


Arkansas High School Football Preseason Previews Class 7A and Class 6A

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Arkansas high school football is just days away, with games kicking off on Labor Day.

Kickoff classics and other early-starters are set for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with the remaining full slate of games scheduled for the traditional Friday night kickoff. The Arkansas Activities Association has a handy composite schedule available here.

Today, we’ll take a look at the top teams from the state’s two largest classifications.

Class 7A
1. Bentonville – The only thing standing in the way of the Tigers and a burgeoning dynasty the last two seasons is the Fayetteville Bulldogs, who rebounded from regular-season losses to spoil Bentonville’s title hopes in the 2011 and 2012 state championship games. Barry Lunney’s team should have plenty motivation after the ending to the last two seasons. Senior tight end Jack Kraus (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) has committed to Arkansas and is a great pass-catcher. Key games: Sept. 20 vs. Euless Trinity (Texas), Sept. 27 vs. Springdale Har-Ber, Nov. 8 at Fayetteville.

2. North Little Rock – If any team from the Central is going to break the West’s death grip on the Class 7A title this year, it will certainly be the Charging Wildcats. Altee Tenpenny is gone to Alabama, but prized Arkansas commit Juan Day (6-1, 210) shouldn’t be much of a step down. Key games: Sept. 20 at Pine Bluff, Sept. 27 vs. Cabot, Oct. 4 at West Memphis

3. Fort Smith Southside — The Rebels return eight starters on offense from a team that gave Bentonville fits in a 28-21 semifinal loss. Isaac Jackson (6-2, 185) is the Rebels’ top playmaker, switching last year to QB from receiver (though he’s being looked at by colleges as a receiver). Southside lost several standouts on defense, so it will look to new faces to step up in order to contend in the 7A/6A-Central. Key games: Oct. 18 at Conway, Oct. 25 vs. Greenwood, Nov. 1 at Russellville

4. Fayetteville – The two-time defending state champion has had Bentonville’s number the last two years at War Memorial Stadium. For the first time in five years, there will not be a quarterback named Allen. Quarterback Austin Allen, along with teammates Alex Brignoni and Brooks Ellis join Austin’s brother Brandon at UA. Senior receiver Jordan Dennis (6-2, 180) broke the 1,000-yard barrier in 2012, while catching 10 TDs. Key games: Sept. 2 vs. Warren (at Reynolds Razorback Stadium) Nov. 1 at Springdale Har-Ber, Nov. 8 vs. Fayetteville.

5. Conway — The Wampus Cats won a playoff game over Rogers last season, before falling to eventual state champ Fayetteville. They will look to take the next step in coach Clint Ashcraft’s fifth season at the school. An unusually large senior class could provide key leadership for one of the state’s “sleeping giants,” who will look to win its third conference title in four years. Key games: Sept. 27 vs. Russellville, Oct. 18 vs. Fort Smith Southside, Nov. 1 vs. Greenwood

Class 6A
1. Greenwood – Until they lose a game, how can anyone pick against the Bulldogs? Rick Jones’ team has won 38 straight games and three straight state titles in two classes. Moving up from Class 5A was just a speed bump last year, as Greenwood went 14-0 and never scored less than 34 points. Jabe Burgess (6-2, 200) returns as starter at quarterback after a standout junior season. A difficult road schedule awaits the Bulldogs. Key games: Sept. 27 at Fort Smith Northside, Oct. 25 at Fort Smith Southside, Nov. 1 at Conway.

2. Pine Bluff – Arguably the top team from the top-heavy 7A/6A-South, the Zebras fell seven points short in last year’s state title game with Greenwood, as Bobby Bolding’s rebuilding job neared its peak. Junior tight end Will Gragg (6-5, 250) might be the top prize from Arkansas’ 2015 class, and the Zebras average nearly 300 pounds across the offensive line. Couple that with a group of sophomores that dominated at the junior high level, and Pine Bluff should have a great shot to compete for a state title. Key games: Sept. 20 vs. North Little Rock, Oct. 11 at Lake Hamilton, Oct. 25 at El Dorado

3. El Dorado – The Wildcats quest for a fourth consecutive Class 6A state title came to a bitter end, with a 42-39 loss to Greenwood in the semifinals. That marked a four-year run in which El Dorado won 46 games. Scott Reed’s team has little returning on offense, but its defense is anchored by massive tackle Bijohn Jackson. The 6-2, 334-pound senior has committed to Arkansas, and is probably the most-sought after recruit from the state’s 2014 class. Jackson and a talented group of newcomers will look to take the Wildcats back to state championship glory. Key games: Sept. 6 at Camden Fairview, Oct. 18 at Lake Hamilton, Oct. 25 vs. Pine Bluff

4. Jonesboro – The Golden Hurricane had a nine-win season in 2012 that came to an abrupt end with a 24-0 defeat at the hands of Pine Bluff in the state semifinals, marking the second straight season that Randy Coleman’s team got to that level. Jonesboro has six starters back from what was an explosive offensive. Meanwhile, standout lineman Chuks Otta (6-2, 285) is the squad’s stopper on defense, and has drawn interest from colleges. Jonesboro is easily the class of the 6A portion of the 7A/6A-East. Key games: Sept. 27 at West Memphis, Oct. 11 at North Little Rock, Nov. 1 vs. Cabot

5. Lake Hamilton – Taking a bit of a flyer here on the Wolves, who managed just a 7-5 season in 2012, but veteran coach Jerry Clay always seems to get the most out of his talent. Lake Hamilton captured the championship in the 7-on-7 Shootout of the South back in June, outgunning a number of elite squads. Quarterback Nathan Sawrie and receiver Trevor Mittelstadt were a dangerous pass-and-catch combo in 7-on-7, and figure to do the same this fall. The Wolves get both Pine Bluff and El Dorado at home. Key games: Sept. 6 at North Little Rock, Oct. 11 vs. Pine Bluff, Oct. 18 vs. El Dorado

Look for breakdowns of the top teams in the remaining classifications in the coming days.

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