Junction City Dragon’s Coach Reflects on 200 Wins

Courtesy Junction City School District

David Carpenter has always been involved in athletics.

“With my Dad being a coach, [the legendary Ralph “Sporty” Carpenter] I was always helping or managing a team” David Carpenter said. “It didn’t matter what sport it was, I was there.”

After high school football at Arkadelphia and college football for his dad at Henderson State University, Carpenter went into coaching.

“I remember the day I told my dad that I wanted to be a coach” Carpenter said. “He shook his head and said, ‘Son, I thought I raised you better than that.'”

After being an assistant for several years, Carpenter landed his first head coaching job in 1986 at Corning High School.

“Every young coach just starting out will make mistakes, lots of them,” he said. “Believe me, I made my share.”

Corning was 4-6 under Carpenter that season. The next year Carpenter became head coach at Clarendon, where he stayed for three seasons.

His first team went 3-7. His best season at Clarendon was 1988 as the Lions went 8-4 and advanced to the state playoffs. In 1989, the Lions fell to 1-7. It was after that season that an opening came up that interested Carpenter. The Junction City Dragons were looking for a head coach.

The Dragon football program was in decline when Carpenter took over. His first season with the Dragons produced a 1-8 record.

“It was without a doubt a rough year” Carpenter said. “But the kids played hard, and we slowly began to improve.”

In 1991 Junction City was 3-6 and the next year the Dragons improved to 5-4. After a 4-4-1 record in 1993, the Dragon football program was beginning to turn the corner when Junction City Schools had a reduction in force due to the removal of Union Parish students. Carpenter was involved in the reduction. Junction City hired him back in 1996. The program had suffered through two losing seasons. There was rebuilding to be done, but this time more emphasis would be dedicated to conditioning and weightlifting.

“We had to get in better shape and get stronger if we were to be successful,” he said. “Our off-season program would be the key to becoming successful.”

His first season back, the Dragons had a 3-7 record. The next year Junction City went 4-6.

In 1998 everything came together. “We had two years of our off- season program under our belts and we had some very talented players in all three of our classes plus our junior high team was very good and we knew could build on all of that” Carpenter said. “All we had to do was start winning and it would show the kids what could be accomplished. They needed to see results. The 1998 team got it all started.”

The 1998 team went 10-1 overall, won the very tough 7AA East conference title with a perfect record and became only the second team in school history to reach the state playoffs.

1999 saw more of the same. Junction City finished 11-1, undefeated in conference play and advanced to the state quarter-finals. In four years Carpenter had taken the Dragon program and turned it into a state title contender.

A new decade saw Junction City claim a share of the 7AA East conference title and advance to the second round of the state playoffs. In 2001, the Dragon program advanced to another level. This team would reach the state semi-finals before being defeated by eventual state champion Shiloh Christian. It was the first of six straight semi-final appearances by Carpenter and the Dragons.

The Dragons won their first state title in 2003 and finished with a perfect 15-0 record. They scored a state record 753 points. More success followed. In 2006, the Dragons were state runner-up. In 2007, a young Junction City team advanced to the state quarter-finals before losing to eventual state champion Mount Ida. 2008 was another perfect season as the Dragons went 13-0 and won Junction City’s second state title. The 2009 Dragons were 13-1 and repeated as state champions as they avenged their only loss of the season by defeating conference rival Bearden in the state finals. It was the third state title for the Dragon football program and it put the finishing touch on one of the greatest decades in Arkansas high school football history.

David Carpenter’s Dragons won 113 games, 3 state titles, 6 conference titles, 10 straight trips to the state playoffs, advanced to the semi-finals 8 times and won a state record 32 playoff games. Junction City set or established more than 50 school and state records between 2000 and 2009.

2010 to present has seen the Dragon football program continue its winning ways. So far this decade Junction City has an overall record of 30-7. They are also back-to-back 8AA conference champions and will make the school’s fifth appearance in the state finals.

Since his return in 1996, Carpenter has produced an overall record of 170-40. His program is considered by many to be one of the ten best in the state. Since 1999, Carpenter’s program has sent 21 players to the state All-Star game and three times he has been selected to coach in the game (1999, 2003, 2009). Numerous players have gone on to play college football and one has made it to the NFL (Kevin Payne).

To see where the Junction City football program was and to where it is now is simply remarkable. Carpenter gives credit to the players and coaches who work hard every day, whether it is during the season or in the off-season.

“My motto has always been: There is no substitute for hard work” he said. “This program is successful because of the players who believe in it and have the right attitude to succeed, as well as the coaches who put in a ton of hours preparing for games and off- season conditioning. That is what has made this program what it is.”

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