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It's July, today is the Fourth and with it, the many and varied celebrations that will be ongoing as we celebrate our nation's birth.

This week is the first week after the Arkansas Activities Association imposed dead week(s). The dead weeks gave all high school athletes of every sport time off from their various endeavors to vacation, relax, go to camps or whatever else.

While lots of sports will be having their initial meetings, workouts, etc., the football programs will be ratcheting things up quickly as they prepare for the 2018 fall campaign. Appropriately, the Hooten's Arkansas High School Football guide just came out with their predictions of how things might go with this year, as well as the first polls of 2018.

I have noticed that Hooten's generally predicts results to kind of mirror what happened in 2017. Most of the time that is kind of true but a significant part of that time, they are way, way, WAY off.

Our Pea Ridge Blackhawks are ranked in the top four in the state headed into the season. With the Blackhawks being the only team in the state 4A classification that were in the state semi-finals in each of the last three years, it would be a reasonable bet to predict a fourth trip.

The best thing about the 'Hawks going into the 2018 gridiron wars will be their defense. Nine defensive starters are back in the fold, making them the most experienced defenders in the 4A-1. Shiloh returns the next most with six with Prairie Grove bringing back five and Gravette two.

On offense, the 'Hawks bring back four starters, compared with Gravette's and Shiloh's six and Prairie Grove's five. Headlining the defense is pre-season all-state selection Tristen Brewer, a linebacker who recorded 157 stops in 2017, recording 16 tackles in three games. Brewer also saw action as a hard nosed running back the past two years.

Big noseguard Mike Mahoney was named to the Hooten's watch list as a potential star this fall. The defensive lineman racked up 86 tackles last year and had to be double teamed repeatedly by opposition linemen to keep him out of their backfield.

Three other 'Hawk defenders were listed as athletes to watch this season for their prowess demonstrated in 2017. Linebacker Gannon Conrad will team with Brewer to make the 'Hawks a force against opponents' running games.

Defensive backs Justin Koon and Carson Rhine were heavy contributors in 2017 and are the other Blackhawks given pre-season notice. Defensive playmakers, both athletes will be making it tough for opposing quarterbacks to get a lot of success through the air.

For the umpteenth time, Prairie Grove has been picked to win the conference championship with Pea Ridge picked second, Shiloh third, and Gravette fourth. The Hawks and TIgers were co-champs last year with Pea Ridge taking the top seed through their defeat of Prairie Grove during the regular season.

For the first time since 2011, the Blackhawks will be not be boasting a tailback with pre-season all-state potential, according to the various sportswriters and observers.

Pea Ridge has had a succession of sensational tailbacks, a big part of their very impressive won-loss record since 2011. Their 2017 team featured an all-senior backfield with impressive stats and numbers

Dayton Winn emerged as one of the best backs in the state in 2011, going on to All-American status in college and is currently playing professionally. His successor here in the the Ridge was all-state running back Shane Ivy who was then succeeded by all-stater Zaine Holley. Holley was then followed by Drew Winn as the 4A-1's best and all-state back. Winn will be playing at Pittsburg State this fall.

So this fall, there will be a whole new starting backfield with Tate Busey slated for duty under center. Junior running backs Samuel Beard and Lance Nunley along with Louis Reyes are candidates for toting the pigskin. Senior Toby Dunning had good success when given limited opportunities to run the ball last season.

Though Prairie Grove is the pre-season favorite to win the 4A-1, the Tigers have only a pair of defensive lineman named to the watch list, with no one named to the pre-season all-state list. Shiloh has one offensive lineman named to the pre-season all-state list with one defensive back, one linebacker, and one defensive lineman getting mentions in the watch list.

It would appear that the 4A-1 will be known more for its defense in 2018. At least, for right now.

The Blackhawk field house will be in heavy use from now on with off-season workouts going on until the official team practices begin in a month. The summer months are an opportunity for young athletes to better prepare themselves for the rigors ahead. How successful that preparation is will be played out this fall.

My column next week will break down the the teams in the 4A-1, with some predictions of my own.

Now to the state and conference polls.

2018 Hootens 4A

State football poll

1. Warren

2. Robinson

3. Arkadelphia*

4. Pea Ridge

5. Stuttgart

6. Southside Batesville

7. Gosnell

8. Ozark

9. Nashville

10. Rivercrest

2018 4A-1 coaches

Football poll

1. Prairie Grove

2. Pea Ridge

3. Shiloh

4. Gravette

5. Lincoln

6. Gentry

7. Berryville

8. Green Forest

•••

Editor's note: John McGee, an award-winning columnist, sports writer and art teacher at Pea Ridge elementary schools, writes a regular sports column for The Times. He can be contacted through The Times at prtnews@nwadg.com.

Sports on 07/04/2018

Print Headline: The wait is over, the weights have come

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