To no one's surprise, the Pea Ridge football Blackhawks have been picked to finish seventh in their initial season in the much bigger sized 5A classification.
Of course, there is no guarantee there will even be a football season with the covid-19 governmental response so difficult to predict. However, if and until they pull the plug on the season, I will go ahead and prepare for what will be an interesting season.
Last season was the 'Hawks' last in the 4A class. They had as good a roster as any in the 4A classification, but with their rise into 5A they will face teams on a week to week basis with deeper rosters and advantages with prior experience among the bigger schools.
My old coach used to schedule bigger schools whenever he could as he firmly believed that "you are only as good as who you play." Playing easy opposition may improve the won-loss record but it won't improve team play.
Former Ft. Smith Southside head coach Jeff Williams has taken over for departed head coach Stephen Neal and will have his work cut out for his as he skippers the 'Hawks into unfamiliar waters.
The team picked by Hootens Arkansas Football to win the 5A West is once again Harrison's Goblins. The senior-dominated team last season won their third straight league title, but they might fall off the perch with strong improvement from other teams. Eight of the Goblins from the Class of 2020 signed college football scholarships. Two thirds of their starters graduated but head coach Joel Wells, with a won-loss mark of 43-15 at Harrison, will put a solid team on the field which will remain the team to beat.
Harrison is noted for having some speedy players but not as big and physical as past editions. They bested Pea Ridge 42-7 last season in a non-conference game.
Vilonia is No. 2 in the West, as they began making noise this last season after years as a so-so team in the 5A West. The Eagles swept through the conference schedule after getting crushed by Maumelle in a non-conference game. They lost a close to league victor Harrison 17-15 and could have won a title with a little luck. They had the ball inside the 10 twice without scoring and missed a field goal. The Eagles had their best team ever last season and they are hopeful of doing better this year. They have 40 juniors on their roster.
Regular playoff contender ranked third in the league is the Greenbrier Panthers. They finished 3-4 in the conference to miss the playoffs for the first time in a while. They have big lineman but aren't blessed with a lot of speed. Greenbrier is known for its passing attack, and they have a full set of veteran receivers to go with a seasoned quarterback. Veteran coach Randy Tribble is 85-53 at the school.
No. 4 selection Morrilton has usually been among the Top Two teams historically but they finished 4-3 in the conference with three games they could have won but didn't against Alma, Harrison and Vilonia. They have some really big lineman but they have a problem with depth. Cody McNabb is the longtime head coach with a 69-47 record at the school.
No. 5 Alma, which has won league crowns in 2013, 2016 and 2017 is in the unusual position of not being slated as a playoff team. They return a veteran defensive unit but will have to replace a lot of its offensive starters this season. They have a new head coach in Rusty Bush. They made the playoffs last year before losing in the second round.
Farmington, the Blackhawks' longtime rival and former 4A rival, will resume league play with Pea Ridge as the No. 6 team in the West. They have the most returning starters from the 2019 campaign of all the 5A West teams. They finished 3-4 last season and missed the playoffs. They also broke a four-game losing streak to the 'Hawks last year in a 24-7 victory.
Coming in No. 7 is our own Blackhawks who are entering a new era with a new coach in a new league and new classification. Head coach Williams has a pair of linemen listed in Hootens as Unheralded Stars in Anthony Bleything and Samual Tillman. The two will anchor a good defense.
Blackhawk senior Zac Withrow will lead the offense after backing up the past two season. His primary target, three-year starter as a junior Trevor Blair. Running backs Carlos Martinez and Joe Adams will likely be carrying the football.
The team expected to finish in the cellar is the Clarksville Panthers who were 1-6 in conference play last year, besting only Huntsville who dropped down into 4A this year. They have trouble getting a very big roster and their top player is the coach's son Bryce Buckner who was all-conference as a fullback in his sophomore season last year. Khris Buckner is 9-31 as the head coach at Clarksville.
The Hooten's 5A Rankings
1. Little Rock Pulaski
2. Little Rock Christian
7. Hot Springs Lakeside
8. Camden Fairview
14. Valley View
17. Forrest City
18. Watson Chapel
20. Hot Springs
24. Pea Ridge
25. Greene County Tech
29. Little Rock Hall
Normally, the 5A classification has 32 teams but the Little Rock School District decided to close down former 5A member McClellan High School. McClellan and also closed high school JA Fair, which were combined to form Little Rock Southwest High School.
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. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be contacted through The Times at [email protected]