By Rob Patrick
Just as it is with the high school program, the standards for the Bryant Hornets freshman team have become pretty lofty.
In this decade there has only been one season in which the Junior Hornets won fewer than seven games and they’ve become a perennial contender for the championship of the South Division of the Central Arkansas Junior High Conference.
That becomes even more impressive when you realize that it’s a new group of players every year. Kudos go to the coaches, of course, as well as the players, but plenty of pressure too.[more]
It’s the different between asking, “Will they compete?” and “Will they win it all?”
Junior Hornets head coach Kenny Horn and his staff of Kirk Bock, Elliot Jacobs and Bart Reynolds aren’t thinking in those terms as the 2009 edition of the team gets set to open its season against the Searcy Lion Cubs at Bryant Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 3. They’ll take compete first and let the rest take care of itself.
Indications are that it may be a team of “gamers” based on their pre-season scrimmage against Cabot North on Tuesday, Aug. 25. Horn had expressed concern based on the way the team had practiced and he knows that, eventually, how a team practices will determine how they play.
And it’s still a concern.
“A lot of them have gotten stronger, a lot of them have matured quite a bit since we got them in off-season,” he acknowledged. “We do wonder about the way they prepare themselves. We just don’t look very good in practice a lot of times. Hopefully, they’ll show up and play again but they’re hard to read.”
The play in the trenches will be a key for the Hornets. Horn said both on offense and on defense, the lines need to develop, need to improve.
“We’re not real sure how we’re going to be there,” he stated regarding the offensive side, adding about the defense, “We can’t find enough people to fill spots. We’re still moving people around to see who can do what up front.
“In the secondary and at linebacker, we feel like we’re pretty solid,” he added. “On offense, we know we can throw the football. Against Cabot last week, we estimated our quarterback threw one 55 yards from the right hash back to the left side of the end zone. We also have a very good running back.”
Hayden Lessenberry is the quarterback the coach referred to. “He’s a pretty big kid, real thick,” Horn said. “He’s got a pretty good arm. He’s real smart. We know he can run the football too. We think he’s tough enough we’re going to try to run him some.
“We feel like we can run it because we’ve got two very good backups in (Zach) Cambron and (Austin) Powell,” he noted. “Having the quarterback that’s a threat to run, it’s hard to account for that guy when you’re counting on defense so we feel like we can use that to our advantage. Zach and Austin can run it too. In any other year, any of those three guys could be the starter. We’re fortunate to have three guys but, at the same time, it’s kind of unfortunate that you can’t get enough reps. There just aren’t enough snaps in a season for three quarterbacks.
“Zach’s a huge kid. We’re going to use him outside of quarterback some, probably in some tight-end sets to try to use his size. He’s overall a pretty good athlete and he’s a tough kid.”
At running back, Jalen Bell will be the starter with Patrick Murray as his primary back-up.
“He has good vision,” Horn said of Bell. “I don’t know if it’s as good as (Jacob) Powell’s last year but it’s similar. He’s a low-center-of-gravity guy. He’s small but he’s harder to bring down than you think he’d be. He’s pretty fast and he can catch the ball out of the backfield.”
The coach mentioned that the offense will primarily be spread out but that some tight-end sets will be incorporated with Daniel Richards and Ian Shuttleworth drawing the duty at tight end.
“Those two guys will also be our power-back guys if we go to a power set,” he noted. “Both catch the ball well and they’re both pretty heady.”
“Marcus Wilson’s going to be one of the wide-out guys,” Horn continued. “He’s a short guy but he’s very fast. Devon Sears will be the other outside receiver. He’s 6-0, 6-1, not real fast but he’s got good hands. Hayden Daniel is going to be our slot guy. We feel like he’s got some go too. He’s pretty fast.”
Turning to the line, Horn said, “Our main concern on the offensive line is depth. I think right now, we feel like we’ve only got about six guys that we feel comfortable with, maybe seven. That means if somebody gets hurt, one of those guys has to know all the spots.”
Horn listed Cordell Boykins at left tackle, Brandon Caple at left guard, Blain Jackson at center, Tim Kelly at right guard and Ross Grant at right tackle. Tyler Hayden and, perhaps, Cortez Williams are the two top back-ups.
“Cortez moved in right in the middle of two-a-days, so he’s still a question mark,” Horn related.
“Cordell Boykins is probably our most athletic guy up there,” he added. “He’s probably the fastest. He and Blain are the tallest. Ross Grant is probably the smartest. We’re not bad size-wise. We’ve been bigger in the past but we’ve also been a lot smaller.
Regarding the development of that group, Horn said, “I don’t think it’s technique and I don’t think it’s effort. I think their effort’s there. Most of the time, it’s who to block. Right now, that’s our downfall. We still have a lot of missed blocks and missed assignments.
“But, you know, at Bryant you put in so many plays,” he mentioned. “We’ve got a ton of formations, a ton of screens. It’s not like running the dead-T or the pro-I every day. We’re pulling them and moving them. Other coaches try to do a lot of stuff to us that they wouldn’t do to a lot of other teams stunt-wise, moving players here or there and showing different stuff. It’s hard for junior high guys. It’s tough. The learning curve’s pretty steep.”
Up front on defense, Horn said, “is kind of a hodgepodge, I guess. Right now, our only sure guy up front is Tim Kelly at one end. We’ve experimented with a handful of guys at the interior and the other end but we haven’t come up with a sure-fire mixture yet.”
He mentioned Hunter Schelle, Logan Milks, Brock Huckabey, Hayden Stewart, Williams and Hayden among those competing for playing time.
“Hopefully by conference time, we’ll have it figured out,” Horn said. “That gives us three games to see who’s going to do what.
“We need to see more aggressiveness,” he explained. “And more fundamental technique. We’re looking to find the guys that are going to go all out. We’ll probably rotate them every few plays for now until somebody steps up.”
At linebacker, Jared Koon, Shuttleworth and Richards will start.
“That’s probably the best crew we’ve had as a whole since we had Dylan Chism, Austin Humbard and Dijon Benton,” Horn asserted. “Nobody will ever be Humbard, don't get me wrong, but the three guys we have this year are better than we’ve had the last few years, I think.”
Caple, Garret Hatfield and Lane Ricardo will provide depth and Horn related, “We’ve definitely played with lesser linebackers than those three. They’re sound.”
In the secondary, Stoney Stevens, Dakota Johnson and Murray are working at corner. Hunter Berry is the free safety, Aronn Bell the strong safety.
“I think we all feel like Aronn Bell’s probably is one of the most athletic kids we’ve had here in a long time,” Horn said. “He could be a very good football player. He’s the leader of that group and the other three guys are good ballplayers too. Dakota and Stoney are the tallest corners we’ve ever had here and Aronn and Hunter are two of the fastest guys on the team.”
Shuttleworth will do the punting for the Hornets and Josh Lowery will handle placements with Schelle doing the snapping.