The 2018 Class 7A State football champion Bryant Hornets lined up 11 seniors on National Signing Day on Wednesday, Feb. 6, to ink offers to play at the next level and head coach Buck James mentioned there would’ve been more had they chosen to play in college.
It was a bonanza for the program which, according to James, welcomed representatives from 50 colleges across the country, from Virginia to California, to the fieldhouse during recruiting season.
Listed in numerical order on the Hornets’ roster (from left, above):
Quarterback Ren Hefley signed with the University of Michigan;
Cornerback Andrew Hayes signed with Ouachita Baptist University;
Safety Jabin Gulley signed with Southern Arkansas University;
Receiver Josh Robinson signed with Missouri Western University;
Running back Latavion Scott signed with Arkansas State University;
Defensive end Nate Wallace signed with Harding University;
Linebacker Jakob Neel signed with Henderson State University;
Center Austin Trimble signed with Lyon College;
Guard Logan Burton signed with Arkansas Tech University;
Tackle Blaise Smith signed with Henderson State University;
Defensive tackle Kajuan Robinson signed with the University of Memphis.
In addition, senior soccer player Madison Humbard represented the Lady Hornets, signing with Ouachita Baptist.
Scott, Wallace, Burton, Smith and Robinson were all-State selections for the Hornets. Gulley, Hefley, Hayes, Gulley, Robinson, Neel and Trimble were first-team all-conference.
“I can’t do them justice,” said James before introducing each player and saying a little about them. “We started this thing about three years ago and we had four guys sign. The next year, we had six and here we are at 11 guys. That’s some good stuff going on. We’ve got guys going to every school in the state, except for UAM.”
With the 11-2 record in 2018, the senior class led by the group of signees became the winningest class in Hornets football history with 30.
Of Hefley, James said, “Ren was our quarterback for the last three years. Let me go on record and tell you, we couldn’t have done it without him. He was a great player for us. He did a tremendous job.
“You know, there are presidents that came from the University of Michigan — and I say this, and I don’t mean it light of heart — Ren Hefley could be president of the United States someday,” he added. “He’s a great kid, 30 ACT, and will represent Bryant very well.”
Hefley set a school record for touchdown passes in a career with 46.
“Andrew Hayes was one of the original dogs back there (in the secondary),” James said of the three-year starter at corner. “He’s the guy that got it done for us. If you got to watch him much this year, he didn’t get a lot of action because they never came his way. Without a doubt, the best corner in Arkansas coming out this year.
“I’m very proud of Andrew. I never will forget, you look at him and you don’t think he’s a very strong guy. He’s a 300-pound power-cleaner. A good student, he will do well. Our guys have always done well at Ouachita and there’s no doubt this guy will be another great one at Ouachita Baptist University.”
Hayes holds the school record for most pass breakups in a career with 30 including 13 last fall.
“Jabin came to us last semester, transferred in and, man, did he find out a whole different world,” James quipped. “He’s a guy that grew for us the entire football season. He’s got a tremendous body. He’s a guy that’s really starting to understand the game, a great cover guy, got where he tackled a lot better in space and was a highly-recruited guy for us, and will do great things.
“We’re glad to get somebody back down at Southern Arkansas. We’ve got two Southern Arkansas coaches on our staff and I know they’re excited.”
Gulley finished with 36 tackles last season plus eight pass breakups and an interception.
James continued, “Josh Robinson, man, I can sit here and tell you all day about Josh. A guy that didn’t like the weight room a whole lot but figured out that was his best friend. He really came a long way. He’s really got a lot of football ahead of him. He’s going to be a good player.
“There’s some, it’s like “Mork and Mindy”, that were born about 65 years old and worked to 1. If we had started Josh as a senior and worked him back to ninth grade, there’s no telling where he’d be. He has done a great job for us. He was our deep threat receiver.”
Robinson caught 14 pass for 219 yards, nearly 16 yards per catch, including four touchdowns as a senior.
“Latavion Scott is a guy that’s unreal,” asserted James. “I don’t know if we could’ve done it without him. He’s a guy that energized our big mules up front and got those guys going. He learned how to work hard every day. The school’s all-time leading rusher, the Darren McFadden Award winner for the best running back in the state — he’s got it all in a pile, for sure.”
Beyond the school record 3,361 yards rushing, Scott set new marks for touchdowns in a season with 27 including a record 24 rushing, for a career with 37 and rushing in a single season with 1,760 yards.
“Nate is probably a better person than he is a player and that’s saying a mouthful,” declared the coach. “He’s the school’s all-time sacks leader (18). He’s a guy that didn’t get all caught up in numbers and symbols and signs and stuff.
“He had Division I offers and still chose to go to Harding University. He felt a relationship there with that coaching staff and he saw home. That’s just it in a nutshell.
“This guy here could be in the NFL someday,” James continued. “There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s got all the tools and the work ethic. He’s just got to keep getting bigger and stronger. I had one just like him back in 2003 at Star City who played eight years in the NFL, same body type, same kind of kid. So, I expect big things from this guy. He’s going to do a great job and their defenses up there are always awesome.”
Wallace had a school record 15 sacks last fall and led the team in tackles with 89 including 17 for losses and 12 quarterback hurries.
“Jakob Neel could’ve very easily been the school’s all-time leading tackler, playing in the last five, six games and still only missed it by about 30 tackles,” James said of his middle linebacker who sat out the first half of his senior season, heeling from an early-summer knee injury.
“He started from the first day he got here. He was hard-nosed. He worked his tail off. You know, if he lived everything else like he does on the football field, I don’t know if we could let him out. He is a football player. You cut him open, little footballs fall out. He is a football dude. They’ve got them a good one at Henderson.”
Despite playing half the season, Neel finished third on the team with 60 tackles. He led the team with 136 stops as a junior and 115 as a sophomore for 300 tackles for a career, second only to the 338 recorded by Austin Humbard in the mid-2000’s.
Trimble, Burton and Smith were a big key to the Hornets’ success last fall as they grew and developed into perhaps the best offensive line in the state, leading the Hornets to a school record 2,759 yards rushing as a team and 4,891 yards of total offense.
“Austin’s going to Lyon on a wrestling scholarship and a football scholarship,” James said. “I think that’s huge. He’s a guy, like I talked about Josh a little bit, if we’d started him as a senior and worked his way back, there’s no telling where he’d be, too. A guy that gotten really strong, gained almost 50 pounds in offseason last year alone, went from 230 to 280. He played center for us. He’s doing really well in wrestling and he’s a really good student. He will be a heck of a football player for those guys, a great kid.
“Logan might be one of the toughest guys I know,” he continued. “He proved it by being here. He had (shoulder) surgery yesterday. I can’t say enough about what this guy brought to us and what he did for our football team. He can play center, guard or tackle, right side or left. He’s really a hard-nosed kid. They’ve got them a good one there.”
James also mentioned, “Arkansas Tech is really almost Bryant North. We’ve got a lot of guys up there. I just saw where we’ve got three guys on the Great America Conference all-academic team. That tells you something when schools keep coming back and keep recruiting kids from your school.”
Of Smith, he stated, “He is the strongest guy in high school football in America.
“I know this, it’s a better world if Blaise is not the kind of guy in the real world that he is on the football field,” the coach added. “He is a dude. I mean, he was a dude from the first time we got him. He’s a guy that weighed 205 pounds as sophomore and he was 290 as a senior.
“He started just about every game he played here. He is what we call a dude. He does it the right way and I’m proud of him. He is a guy that should do very, very well, will be ready to play when he gets there. All he’s got to do is learn the system. He’s physically got the tools to play right now.
“I’m really proud of this young man,” James said. “For an offensive lineman, he’s probably one of the most well-known guys in the state. He and Latavion are going to get to play in the high school all-star game and they’ll represent Bryant well.
Robinson set a school mark for most tackles for loss in a season with 19. He had eight sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.
“Kajuan is a special young man,” James asserted. “He’s arguably one of the best defensive linemen in the country, very heavily recruited.
“He’s a guy that really hasn’t played a lot of football. He’s just played three years. He’s still a baby in football terms. He’s a guy that weighed 306 and ran sideline to sideline. You barely had to take him out during the game because he never hardly got tired. Now, it looked like he was sweating from everywhere, but he was playing.
“He’s a guy that will represent our school well,” the coach concluded. “He’s going to a great place. The head coach there, I know him very well and, man, they are excited about getting Kajuan. There were three teams in that conference (recruiting him). It went down to the wire and Kajuan chose Memphis. We’re glad that he did that. It’s close and we’ll be able to see him play. He’ll do great things.”
James added, “Without a doubt, this doesn’t happen to this magnitude if we don’t have a person in the office like Shelly Daniel. She went beyond the call of duty. That’s not even in her job description but every coach that came in said, this is the best school in the state of Arkansas for recruiting because they always got transcripts. They always got to see the kids. They always got to talk to them and they were always able to be found. On a campus this size, that’s hard to do.
“It takes a lot and what Shelly and DeeAnn Shepard — I’m telling y’all, those are people behind the scenes that don’t get near enough attention or near enough appreciation for what they’re able to do but those two ladies really worked their tails off.
“You don’t have 12 people sign on a signing day unless there’s a lot of people in the background getting some stuff done. I want to say a personal thank you to them.”