By Rob Patrick
Sometimes, before a season's even over, the coaches, players and fans start thinking out the next season. Usually, that's in a situation where things aren't going to well.
But that hasn't been the case for the football program of the Bryant Hornets in recent years. All the looking ahead waits for the end of the regular-season, a game or two in the playoffs then the conclusion of the team's awards banquet.
It's about that time.
Head coach Paul Calley and his staff including new offensive coordinator Dale Jones are now assessing the talent and planning for spring football which will commence on May 11.
The team will return three quarterback with some experience, Jimi Easterling, Blake Davidson and Caleb Milam, a by-product of an injury-plagued campaign at the position. The baptism by fire that trio withstood last season is this fall's gain.
Of course, the offense will feature record-setting running back Chris Rycraw, several wide receivers including the leading pass catcher Brandon Parish and an offensive line that will be short on returning starters but retain several players that got into prime-time action last season.
With Rycraw, though, the ground game will continue to be the team's bread-and-butter in a mix with some of the spread that the team has succeeded so well with in previous years.[more]
"We feel like that's what we have to do," Calley said of the running game. "And everybody's kind of caught up in the spread. It's not as effective as it used to be unless you've got a strong-armed quarterback back there who can read (coverages). You've still got to be able to pass protect. There's a lot of factors that go into it that we're not great at. We're capable of doing it but that's not our strong suit. Our strong suit's going to be running the football."
Defensively, the Hornets lose some key playmakers.
"Defensively, we had to make some subtle changes last year just because the people we played forced us to change our front and the way we do things, so we'll be using more five-down-linemen," Calley related. "But we've got to find those people. In the secondary, I think we can be sound. We'll be pretty solid. We've just got to find some depth at every position. We're not deep anywhere.
"We're still going to be young," he emphasized. "There's not a lot of experience coming back but we do have some valuable experience."
The coach hopes to get immediate contributions from a few players that have moved to Bryant this semester, plus there will be the influx of a sophomore class that won a share of their conference championship last season, going 9-1.
"A lot of these young guys, the ninth graders coming up that'll be 10th graders, a few of them may figure in," Calley said. "I don't see a lot of them but we don't have very many seniors. We have 20 seniors, which is not good in Class 7A. So, the junior class is going to have to fill a lot of those holes and, hopefully, we'll find some sophomores who are capable.
"Conference-wise, it should be down a little bit which will allow us to compete a little bit better until we get those young guys a little maturity," he added.
With Jones' promotion to the senior high staff, Elliott Jacobs, former quarterback at Arkansas State University out of El Dorado High School, will join the freshman staff as offensive coordinator. Jacobs, who was the head coach of the Bethel Middle School eighth grade team, will be handing over the reins of that assignment to his assistant Donovan Sims. A new assistant at Bethel will be added.
The change was precipitated by the loss of Brooks Coatney who was hired as the new head coach at Ozark High School.
"Brooks was ready to be a head coach," Calley noted. "He wanted to run his own program and he'll do a great job. Ozark is a football town. They're giving him everything he needs to rebuild that football program. He's got a great offensive mind. He's trying to find a defensive coordinator and there's good people on staff there. He's going into a very good situation. They're working right now to get turf on their field, starting plans for an indoor facility. They're going to give him everything he needs.
"Of course, he meant a lot to us," he added.