Hornets, fans celebrate 2008 season

Bryant High School linebacker Austin Humbard

Every football season brings its share of adversity for any high school team. Certainly, that’s been the case for the Bryant Hornets over the years.

To a great extent, what changed the program from perennial loser to perennial winner 10 years ago has been the ability of the coaching staff to get their troops to react to the inevitable adversity in a positive way. First of all, of course, the coaches themselves had to do that to provide an example.

No doubt, many had tried to get that done before, but none were able to quite manage it like the core group of coaches that still make up the staff at BHS with head coach Paul Calley, defensive coordinator Steve Griffith and d-line coach Brad Stroud being the longest standing members.

As the years have passed, the talent level has fluctuated as has the degree of difficulty the adversity presented. Yet, invariably, the Bryant teams regularly won more than many might’ve expected.

On Thursday, Jan. 15, at Geyer Springs Baptist Church, the 2008 Hornets team celebrated a season that may have been the most successful under the greatest adversity any Bryant football team has ever faced.[more]

There was no conference championship like teams in the past have earned but there was a State playoff victory over the Springdale Bulldogs and the knowledge that, for the second year in a row, it took the eventual State champion to knock them out.

It was the team’s third straight season with eight wins allowing the senior class to match the 2004 class for most in school history by one group.

The adversity began last spring when quarterback Ethan Powell was lost to a knee injury, and lasted all season with one injury after another to a team that was already inexperienced (just two starters back on defense and three on offense).

Powell had worked and bided his time as a back-up for two seasons and was poised to take over the starting spot for his senior campaign but the injury cost him that opportunity, a bitter blow. But, as an indication of his teammates’ regard for his leadership, Powell was still named one of the team’s permanent captains along with defensive back Dijon Benton, linebacker Austin Humbard and offensive tackle Jordan Jacobs.

It was announced the Humbard, Benton and running back Chris Rycraw, a junior, were voted All-State by the coaches of the 7A-Central Conference.

In his comments, Calley related that Humbard was a three-year starter and it was the second time he’d been named All-State. He’s Bryant’s all-time leading tackler with 338 and recorded the highest punting average for a season at 41.7 per kick. A finalist for the State Farm Award as the Defensive Player of the Year in the state, Humbard was also the state weightlifting champion.

Calley mentioned that Benton, too, was a three-year starter. Named all-conference as a junior, the safety had nine career interceptions and tied the school record for interceptions in a game with three in the Salt Bowl against Benton.

“Those two guys anchored the state’s number one scoring defense over the past three years,” stated the coach. The Hornets allowed an average of just 12.4 points per game over that time.

With the injury to Powell, and later to subsequent QBs Jimi Easterling and Blake Davidson, a great deal of the offensive work fell on Rycraw and he responded with school records for rushing attempts (284) and yards (1,514) in a season, including a record two games when he went over 200 yards. His 17 touchdowns set a new standard as did his four touchdowns in a game. Rycraw was a finalist for the Landers Award.

Of course, Rycraw’s success was spearheaded by a veteran offensive line including Jacobs, guard Scott Pilcher and center Drew King.

Calley called Jacobs “one of the most dominant offensive linemen I’ve ever coached.” That’s no small thing considering some of the linemen that Bryant has fielded over the years.

Pilcher, a three-year starter, Calley called a coach on the field who very rarely made a mistake.

King, he added, had “not one bad snap all year while being asked to block some of the toughest noseguards in the state.”

“Those guys led the way for the most rushing yards in 10 years (at Bryant),” Calley added.

Also earning all-conference honors were three more key members of the stingy defense, which allowed fewer yards rushing than any other Bryant defense and set a new school mark for sacks with 29, tackle Shawn Burchfield, linebacker Dylan Chism and strong safety Chris Brooks.

Burchfield was a big key to the squad’s coming together when he moved from linebacker to defensive tackle and prospered. He led the sack attack with nine, an individual school record. “Opposing coaches stressed the fact that you could not single block him,” Calley announced.

Chism was the team’s second-leading tackler. “He was near the top in every statistical category,” Calley said. “He was probably our most consistent and versatile player on defense.”

Brooks was the third-leading tackler including the top tackler on special teams. “He always seemed to be around the ball,” said Calley.

Team awards were also presented. The team voted the Mr. Hustle award to Mitchell Wise and Brooks.

In addition, Rycraw was voted the offensive MVP and Humbard the defensive MVP. Jacobs won the team’s offensive lineman award with Easterling earning the offensive back award. The wide receiver award went to Brandon Parish who was lauded for his blocking as well as his 18 receptions for 187 yards.

Defensively, Burchfield won the defensive line award, Chism the linebacker award and Benton the defensive back award.

Kicker Austin Bradley garnered the special teams award for his six field goals. He converted 29 of 33 extra points.

It was also announced that Brandon Wallis was the recipient of the Brandon Burlsworth Award which is presented to a player “who demonstrates a desire to succeed at the highest level, a willingness to overcome life’s obstacles and welcomes the many challenges that lie ahead. The recipient must have a strong work ethic, character and a willingness to go beyond what is asked of him.”

The team’s 12th man award was presented to Sandra Powell. 

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