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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Fayetteville High School quarterback Darius Bowers (5) runs the ball during a playoff football game on Friday, November 10, 2017 at Fayetteville High School in Fayetteville.

Conference of champions.

That was the headline in last year's preseason publication for a story on the strength of the 7A-West Conference.

2017 7A-West Conference

TEAM^CONF.^OVERALL

Bentonville^7-0^10-3

Bentonville West^6-1^9-2

Fayetteville^5-2^7-5

Har-Ber^4-3^7-4

Springdale^3-4^6-5

Rogers^2-5^5-6

Heritage^1-6^1-9

Van Buren^0-7^0-10

2018 Hooten’s Coaches Poll

  1. Bentonville West
  2. Bentonville
  3. Fayetteville
  4. Har-Ber
  5. Springdale
  6. Rogers
  7. Van Buren
  8. Heritage

SHINE ON ….

Derrick Wise II

SCHOOL FS Northside

POSITION Quarterback

CLASS Senior

HEIGHT 5-11

WEIGHT 185

TWITTER HANDLE @deucethatkid

THE DIGITS Wise was moved to quarterback from running back last season and showed improvement from week to week. Wise compiled 2,400 combined passing and rushing yards, while also seeing some time at defensive back. He was 9-for-9 passing and rushed for 101 yards in a playoff-clinching win against rival Fort Smith Southside in Week 10.

CRUSHING ON Jilly Anais, a singer and model.

I LISTEN TO Rapper Chick Keef

I BINGE WATCH Martin

I DRIVE A Moped

MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW Umpires church league baseball games.

MY HERO IS My father, Derrick Wise Sr.

FAVORITE MEAL Boneless chicken wings

WHAT I LOVE MOST ABOUT FOOTBALL IS Just the competitiveness and coming out and working every day to see how will show in the game.

IN 10 YEARS I WILL I would like to play in the NFL, but if not, be a dentist.

— Chip Souza • @nwachip

2017 7A Central Standings

TEAM^CONF.^OVERALL

North Little Rock^7-0^13-0

Bryant^6-1^10-2

Conway^5-2^9-4

Cabot^3-4^6-6

FS Northside^2-5^4-8

FS Southside^2-5^3-8

LR Catholic^2-5^4-6

LR Central^1-6^2-8

2018 Hooten’s Coaches Poll

7A Central

  1. North Little Rock
  2. Bryant
  3. Conway
  4. FS Northside
  5. FS Southside
  6. Cabot
  7. LR Catholic
  8. LR Central

And why not? No team outside of the 7A-West had won a state championship in Arkansas' largest classification since 2004, and league coaches routinely refer to their conference as the SEC of high school football in Arkansas.

But North Little Rock shattered the league's stranglehold and made history by winning state championships in football and boys and girls basketball in the same school year. An argument can be made the 7A-Central has the better teams again, and the Charging Wildcats would surprise no one by reaching the championship game for the third consecutive year.

So, who's going to stop them?

The top challenger from the 7A-West will likely come from Benton County, where Bentonville West and Bentonville High are the first and second picks in a preseason poll of the 7A-West coaches. Fayetteville could challenge again after losing too many close games last year, including a pair of one-point losses to Bryant of the 7A-Central Conference. Springdale Har-Ber has much to prove after taking a nosedive following a 5-0 start, and Springdale High will have a different look with the addition of six transfer students from Har-Ber. The remaining three teams in the league -- Rogers High, Rogers Heritage, and Van Buren -- will likely fight it out for the last two playoff spots.

Bentonville West has plenty of ability, especially at quarterback and wide receiver. The challenge is how well West handles soaring expectations after a 9-2 finish in its second season as a varsity program. The Wolverines will be helped by playing in their own stadium for the first time after sharing Tiger Stadium with Bentonville High.

"We place high expectations on our kids everyday to do the little things right and the big things will take care of themselves," West coach Bryan Pratt said. "This is a very tough conference and preseason picks are just that. I think our kids will come out and battle every week and represent our school in a positive way. We will just try to be 1-0 each week."

Bentonville High handed Bentonville West its first defeat last season, and the Tigers reached the state championship game against before falling 44-37 to North Little Rock at War Memorial Stadium. Remember, too, it is Bentonville that has won nine of the previous 10 conference championships in the 7A-West.

"Bentonville won it, so it's hard for me not to say Bentonville," Fayetteville coach Billy Dawson said. "We haven't beaten Bentonville in 12 years during the regular season. So, until we or someone else dethrones them, Bentonville is the team."

Fayetteville is set at quarterback with Darius Bowers, a Division I prospect who threw nearly 3,400 yards and 34 touchdowns as a junior. Connor Flannigan could emerge as one of the league's best receivers and defensive linemen in Keondre Conley is an all-conference player from last season. But Fayetteville must do a better job of finishing games after a 7-5 first season under Dawson, a veteran coach with several championships on his resume.

"We lost five games in the fourth quarter, so we've got to fix that," Dawson said. "We found out who were late and played pretty well. That helped our confidence. We brought that into summer (workouts) and we brought that into (preseason) camp."

No one faces a bigger challenge in the 7A-West more than Casey Dick, the fifth coach in the last 12 years at Van Buren. But the former Arkansas quarterback will bring new ideas and youthful enthusiasm to a program that hasn't produced a winning season since the Pointers went 7-5 in 2010.

Rogers High is a young team with potential, including junior quarterback Hunter Loyd, who threw for more than 2,200 yards last season as a sophomore. But the Mounties must figure out how to stop people after allowing an average of 44.7 points a game in four consecutive defeats to end the season.

Fort Smith Northside and Fort Smith Southside are among the 7A-Central teams chasing North Little Rock, which finished 13-0 last season. Northside and Southside each finished with losing records last season, but there is renewed optimism in both camps were several returning starters.

Quarterback Taye Gatewood is back for Southside after he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior. The Grizzlies return Stevie Young, a 300-pound offensive tackle who made all-state last year.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Southside High School quarterback Taye Gatewood (5) during a playoff football game on Friday, November 10, 2017 at Fayetteville High School in Fayetteville.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Wide receiver Harrison Campbell (21) runs the ball during a football practice, Thursday, August 9, 2018 at Bentonville High School in Bentonville.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Rogers quarterback Hunter Loyd (5) passes while under pressure from Har-Ber defensive end Blake Wade Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, during the first half of play at Wildcat Stadium in Springdale. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
Northside vs Springdale Har-ber 7A Playoffs - Blaise Wittschen (15) of Springdale Har-ber is sacked by Stevie Young (76) of Northside at Wildcat Stadium, Springdale, AR on Friday, November 10, 2017 Special to NWA Democrat-Gazette/ David Beach
Northside vs Springdale Har-ber 7A Playoffs - Blaise Wittschen (15) of Springdale Har-ber is sacked by Stevie Young (76) of Northside at Wildcat Stadium, Springdale, AR on Friday, November 10, 2017 Special to NWA Democrat-Gazette/ David Beach

Sports on 08/23/2018

Print Headline: CLASS 7A: West will attempt to regain superiority

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