By Rob Patrick
With the rain gear at the ready, the Bryant Hornets freshman team, along with the Bryant Blue eighth grade[more] squad, is ready to open the 2012 football season tonight against the Hot Springs Lakeside Junior Rams at Bryant Stadium.
With the remnants of a hurricane, now Tropical Storm Isaac, bearing down on the state, the Blue Hornets of Bethel Middle School will kick off at 5:30 p.m., followed around 7 by the freshman contest.
Freshman head coach Kenny Horn indicated he and his staff — John Orr, Kirk Bock and Travis Queck — have a plan with the weather in mind and he feels good about it.
“I think we’re better now than we were when we scrimmaged,” Horn stated, referring to his team’s pre-season game against Pine Bluff Robey on Aug. 21. “We’re a little more polished up. I know we’re going to tackle better. I think our communication’s a lot better and I think we’ll be able to execute more cleanly than we did when we scrimmaged.
“We’ve got to add our special team stuff to it,” he noted. “We’re a little bit nervous about that, with junior high kids, you always are. For the most part, we’re communicating better and we’re executing what we know better.”
The freshman coaches have a unique challenge, taking players that competed against each other at the two middle schools and molding them into one team and starting from scratch with those players each year. Last year, Bryant White of Bryant Middle School posted a 3-3-1 record but with a 22-0 win over Bryant Blue of Bethel Middle School. Bryant Blue finished 5-3.
“It is different to have a whole new squad every year,” Horn allowed. “It is a little bit difficult because you get them for such a short period of time, especially when you change your terminology and your offense, it slows everybody down.”
The Junior Hornets have adopted the new offense of new varsity offensive coordinator Lance Parker.
“We do the best we can getting them ready, not so much to help us but to also, in the long run, for the high school as well,” Horn stated. “Most of the time, we guess pretty right. Some of the times, we don’t. We’re always going to miss a kid or a kid’s going to grow and get better.”
Asked what he feels this version of the Junior Hornets will be best at, Horn said, “I feel like we’re going to be able to run the ball well. We’re deep at running back and we feel like they’re pretty solid.”
He mentioned Drew Alpe, Jalen Jones and Savonte Turner.
“Drew’s probably going to be our workhorse,” the coach said. “He’s a big, burly guy, very strong. Jalen’s a big kid, about 6-1, about 170 pounds, a little different than Drew. Savonte’s kind of a short guy. He’s got a little speed and some ability to make some cuts and some moves.
“We’ve got a couple of quarterbacks we feel are pretty solid,” he continued.
Jaret Jacobs will get the starting nod at signal caller. Jacobs competed with Gunnar Burks for the starting job and, while Burks will probably still play some quarterback, his athleticism, Horn said, allows them to use him in other areas of need.
“We want to be able to use (Burks) at a multitude of positions,” the coach mentioned. “We think, overall, that’s going to help us in the long run. We’re still going to use Gunnar at quarterback, maybe in certain sets or situations. If the weather’s bad, he may be the guy we use.”
Horn likes his receiver corps as well. “And adding Gunnar to it makes us a little bit deeper,” he said. “We’ll be able to move some people around, which will also help us out defensively in the secondary.”
Along with Burks, the receivers Horn mentioned include Evan Lee, Liam Miller, Quinton Royal, Nick Hardin, Pierce Finney and Jordan Gentry.
“All of those guys catch the ball well,” he noted. “There’s not a lot of speed but they’re going to be able to catch it.
“Those guys are pretty much going to be our secondary also. We’ll also use Kris Croom and Khaliq Slater in the secondary.
“We’re trying to move people around to alleviate the need for kids to play both ways the best we can,” Horn said. “We want to try to get as many kids on the field as possible.”
Turning to the offensive line, he continued, “It’s a question mark but I think I say that every year. It’s the nature of the beast. I think it’s probably that way for everybody. We’ve got some kids with some size and we think we may have the puzzle fixed.”
Horn mentioned Cameron Murray, Jacob Hall, Zach Jackson, Peyton Robertson, Demaja Price and Austin Fason.
“There may be a couple more in there too,” said Horn. “We think those six or seven guys are going to be the ones that can get it done. Those will be the same defensive line-wise also, with Walker Brown, Nick Gatlin and Austin Blacklaw added into the mix.
“We’re very linebacker deep this year,” he mentioned, turning to the heart of the defense. “I’m not sure we’ve ever been this deep at linebacker before.”
Devin Howard will start in the middle. Fason, Robertson, Devon Alpe and Jones.
“Devin Howard’s a good ballplayer,” Horn said. “Devon Alpe has come a long way in the last couple of weeks.
“We’re not real deep but we’ve got some guys that we think are going to be okay. We’ve just got to find a rotation for them. We’re really waiting on some of those reserve guys to step up a little bit too. And the further along in the year we get, the more those guys will step up and help us out quite a bit.”
Asked about a punter, Horn quipped, “Well, we don’t like to punt but I think it’s going to be Burks. We’re going to line up in an offensive formation and if we can snap it and run it, we’ll snap it and run it. If not, he’ll put it from there.”
Horn said Price has stepped forward as the team’s place-kicker.