Pulaski Academy’s quest for a fifth straight state championship in 5A this fall could be facing a major roadblock in southern Arkansas.
Arkansas High’s second-year head coach Barry Norton gets visibly excited when talking about the Razorbacks’ 2018 season.
“I think we’re ready to go this year,” said Norton, whose team finished 6-6 in his first year to coach in Arkansas. “Our kids have seen the transformation. We have a chance to have an excellent football team, with a bunch of great kids. It’s a fun group to coach.”
There’s a lot of reasons for Norton’s optimism, a talented senior class being the biggest reason. A step down from 6A to 5A is another.
“When we got here last year we had a small senior class,” he said. “The thing we had to do with this ball club was to instill some confidence. We played well early against Pleasant Grove and Texas High. We knew it would take some time to get the offense going, but we played great defense.”
Arkansas High returns 18 starters
The Razorbacks return 10 offensive starters, and eight on the defensive side. Many will be starters for the third season.
Even at the end of 2017 Arkansas High’s offense was not clicking, but the Razorbacks’ coaching staff is confident that will be different when they kickoff at Shiloh Christian on Aug. 24.
AHS has the potential to be one of the state’s explosive teams. Quarterback Sean Foreback (6-1, 210) is an exceptional passer, and he’ll be throwing mostly to three guys that Norton labels “the best group of receivers I’ve coached.”
That group includes senior Drake Browning (5-10, 175), arguably one of the best quarterbacks in Texarkana who won’t be starting at that position. Instead, he’ll be one of Foreback’s main targets. Browning will likely carry the ball on occasion, and possibly pass. Browning will be in the secondary on defense, and handle the punting chores, while returning kicks.
Irijah Price (5-11, 193) and DeJordan Mask (6-0, 180) are the other two targets. Norton contends all three will be playing college football.
Jordan Hall (5-9, 205) will tote the pigskin, with a veteran line in front of him. The Hogs have size and depth in the line. Bradyn Nowlin (6-0, 225) is penciled in at tight end after playing center in 2017. Peyton Anthony (6-0, 230) played 12 games at guard, and Rico Thomas (6-1, 250) is a beast at tackle. Jaylon Nard (6-0, 245), Gaylon Williams (6-0, 280), Trey Ross (6-0, 265), Christian Johnson (6-4, 240) and Sean Cotton (6-2, 250) will all see action in the offensive line.
Arkansas High defense should be better
“Defensively, I’m excited, or more,” Norton said. “I’ve always been a defensive guy first. We came in and emphasized defense first. A lot of ball games are lost, rather than won. I think we’re going to be really good on defense. Obviously, depth is something we have to be concerned with.”
The Razorbacks’ secondary will feature the previously mentioned receivers. Javun Beed (5-9, 160) will play cornerback. Tyrie Black (5-9, 190) is back to play safety. Mask had seven interceptions a year ago, and the addition of Browning should concern most of Arkansas High’s opponents.
Linebacker Trey Cleveland (6-1, 205) was the Razorbacks’ leading tackler last season. A.C. Williams (5-9, 190) is another returnee, and Norton believes rover Tim Collier has all-state potential.
AHS has two outstanding defensive end in Demetrius Charles (6-1, 230) and Isiah Gray (5-10, 205). Dreylon Morine (6-3, 250) will be inside, and Michael Johnson (5-10, 240) has played both inside and at end.
The kicking game appears to be in good hands with Browning and Patrick Cook.
“Right now we’re still a 6-6 football team, we’ll see what happens,” Norton said.