The benefits of having a third-year quarterback among 15 returning starters has made Shiloh Christian's start of practice much more productive.
Connor Reece, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior, has taken on an even larger leadership role than when he was named an All-Conference quarterback last season.
"With him at the quarterback position, it allows us to do some things this year that we weren't able to do in year's past," said Shiloh Christian coach Jeff Conaway, whose Saints tied for second in last year's 4A-1 standings. "He's really a coach on the field. He takes care of a lot of responsibilities and directs us in and out of play calls, especially bad play calls, and that's a relief as a coach.
"For the coaches and the players, it's been enjoyable to watch him grow and just take ownership in his responsibilities."
Conaway said senior receiver Tyler Roth and junior receiver Jake Nelson "continue to make plays" while seniors Broc Berus and Lorenzo Lopez "are doing a great job" as two-way players. Berus plays running back and linebacker while Lopez doubles at H-back and defensive end. Other position groups earning Conaway's praise thus far has been the defensive secondary and the offensive line, which is "really starting to gel."
"We're competing at a very high level in practice," Conaway said. "That's one thing you can count on with our kids. They work hard, they're coachable and they like to compete. It's a fun group to coach and makes practices a lot easier to coach."
Conaway said the number of players out are about where he expected with 43 out for morning practices.
-- Mike Capshaw • @NWACappy
Low numbers force staff to 'get creative'
With only 22 players out for practice, West Fork coach Brad Lindley and his staff are having to "get creative" to simulate game situations.
"We just have to move [players] around quite a bit," Lindley said. "We're doing some stuff with our skeletons with outside runs and our passing game with guys on the outside, and inside runs and screens with our inside guys to make it competitive."
Other than a few practice adjustments, Lindley isn't too concerned about the low numbers despite the Tigers moving up to the 4A-4 conference. Last year, they finished 8-4 overall and won the 3A-1.
"Back in 2006 we had 25 players and went to the [state] semifinals," Lindley said. "Moving up to 4A will be tough, but I think we can put 11 pretty good football players on the field. Depth is going to be a difference and our focus is to be in really good shape to have a chance to compete in the fourth quarter by finishing strong."
Several players have had great summers, Lindley said, like senior two-way lineman Chance Poplin, junior receiver/safety Logan Helms, senior linebacker Devin Worley and junior running back/linebacker Taylor Poplin.
Lindley also said the offense is working more on the passing game with senior Graham Langston progressing really well after shifting from running back to quarterback this season, Lindley said.
-- Mike Capshaw • @NWACappy
Pioneers look to skill players
GENTRY -- The Pioneers will have one of the best athletes in the 4A-1 Conference under center as junior Jon Faulkenberry (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) returns to lead Gentry.
Faulkenberry accounted for more than 1,800 yards of total offense last season and is a dual-threat who also excels at track for Gentry.
"We're still trying to find out where our strengths are," said second-year coach Paul Ernest. "We return two offensive linemen from last year, but we have a little bit of a philosophy change on that side of the ball. So we have to find out where they fit and how that fits into what we're trying to do."
The Pioneers were 3-7 last season with narrow losses to Huntsville and Gravette that kept the team from earning a playoff berth in the 4A-1 Conference.
"Our wide receiver have to get better, and we have to get a little bit more out of our defensive line," Ernest said. "We are a little bit undersized, so we have to play with a motor that other teams have trouble matching."
Ernest said around 35 players were out for fall practice, and that he doesn't see the number moving much when school starts.
"We had a bunch in spring, but I knew we'd have some attrition once summer hit," Ernest said. "But I think we'll be holding steady around the mid-30s."
The Pioneers will participate in a three-team scrimmage on Aug. 26 at Elkins. Green Forest will be the third team in the scrimmage. Gentry opens the regular season on the road at Lavaca on Sept. 2.
-- Chip Souza • @nwachip
Wolves settling in with coach
Expectations are high again after Lincoln went 4-7 in the first year under coach Don Harrison.
"Going into your second year, there's a familiarity with what's going on," said Harrison, who led a successful program at Newport before arriving in Lincoln. "They understand what's expected of them. Last year we were installing some things and, this year, it's kind of old hat."
The Wolves have 34 varsity players, including senior Harrison Swayne, who will start at quarterback and cornerback. Swayne passed for nearly 1,700 yards and rushed for over 570 yards as a junior.
"Harrison is a dual threat who can do about anything," Harrison said. "He's also an impact player on the (defensive) side as well."
Lincoln will host West Fork in a scrimmage on Tuesday, Aug. 23, before opening the season at home Sept. 2 against Westville, Okla.
-- Rick Fires • @NWARick
Sports on 08/11/2016
Print Headline: High School Football Notebook