ARLINGTON HIGH SCHOOL
By Bill Sorrell
The night before Arlington’s football team played in the jamboree there was an icebreaking sophomore talent show with heated-up competition.
“It gets them away from the football field. Nobody is going to be worried about every little thing they do. They can relax and have fun together. They can do whatever they want, show a talent or just be goofy. They can make fun of each other. It’s all a good time. I think it builds comradery,” said Arlington coach Adam Sykes, who began the team-building exercise last year in his first season as head coach.
It provides more laughs later as coaches filmed the show.
Tucker McDowell, a 5-4, 136-pound defensive back, won with an original rap song.
“The kids loved it,” said Sykes.
There is also talent on the field.
“Talent is through the roof this year,” said Arlington junior quarterback Tate Kolwyck.
With 26 seniors, 13 returning starters, six on offense and seven on defense, the Tigers will have experience along with “a lot of new faces” who are expected to play “big minutes” and “big roles” said Sykes.
“They tend to be coming together. We have a lot of guys coming back in certain positions. There are guys trying to step up and trying to be leaders who have not been leaders in the past.”
On defense, Sykes expects much improvement. “If we can stay healthy,” he said.
Injuries in last season’s jamboree to Chris Jackson (knee) and Brandon Parker (shoulder) robbed them from much of the season. Both seniors, Jackson, a 6-1, 265-pound defensive lineman, and Parker, a 5-11, 200-pound linebacker, are healthy.
“My expectations are extremely high for this season. After missing almost all of last season, I will be pushing harder than ever,” said Jackson. “I expect nothing less than my defense and I to show up strong every game. The defensive line will be a key factor to spotting the run, applying pressure and making the quarterback as uncomfortable as possible.”
Seniors defensive lineman Thomas Cornelius and all-region linebacker Nick Fortner add to Sykes’ excitement about a defense that will transition to a 4-3 from a 4-2-5. “We think our personnel suites us better to run a 4-3 defense this year,” said Sykes.
Senior Harrison Walker is a “hybrid” defensive end who has added weight — he weighs 180 pounds — and strength.
“He has really good speed and he is strong enough to hold his own,” said Sykes. “We moved him to the defensive line (from secondary) because of his athleticism. We are expecting big things out of him.”
Kolywck’s comfort level at quarterback continues as he leads a spread offense. He has started since he was a freshman.
“I’ve been learning more on the mental aspect of the game and controlling what I can control. I feel like I have improved a lot,” said Kolwyck, who was all-region last season.
Said Skyes, “He makes things go for us on offense.”
Tavarious Foster, a senior running back and wide receiver, will add to the Tigers’ offense.
The strong point will be the offensive line with Trevor White, a 275-pound senior, and Eli Jordan, a 275-pound junior.
“We are banking on the offensive line to carry us through the first part of the season until we can get some of these young guys expected to play some reps and get their feet under them in varsity football,” said Sykes.
White said, “I am just plain excited to see what this team can do. I know what we are capable of, we just have to execute our game plan and if we do that, we’ll definitely have a chance at taking the gold ball home.
“We have a strong bond this year. Most of us have been playing together for a long time and it will be our last time on the field together. We want to make sure our last season will be one to remember.”
Team chemistry is another plus. “Some teams have chemistry, some don’t. I think this team is still building chemistry,” said Sykes.
The Tigers have a strong kicking game in Blake Allen and Hunter Goodman, a junior, who was an all-region punter. “He can change the field,” said Sykes of Goodman.
Mental toughness will “hopefully be our greatest strength” said Sykes and something to improve on. Midway through the season, the Tigers “mentally shut down” when things got tough.
“We lost some confidence and that hurt us in some games. Ever since camp started this year, we are trying to put guys in tough positions and see how they react, putting pressure on him to let him know times are not always going to be easy. How you react to trials is where your character is revealed.”
They started on a roll, upsetting Whitehaven 28-25 in week three.
“We were down late and made a big stop on defense late in the fourth quarter. We were able to drive down the field with basically a minute left and punch it in. I think that did a lot for our kids’ confidence. We can play with the best teams in the state on any given night but you have to show up every night and play that way. You can’t just pick and choose what teams to play tough against,” said Sykes. “We found that out first hand.”
The Tigers finished the season with a 6-5 record.
“Our goal is to win our conference and progress to the playoffs. Expectation-wise that is not going to drop depending on what year it is,” said Sykes, who is in his 12th year of coaching.
• Key losses: Justin Robbins (playing at Occidental College, Calif.), Bryan Lewis (playing at Jackson State, Mississippi) Cameron Freeman (playing at Hendricks College in Arkansas), Everett Mitchell (preferred walk-on at Alabama).
• What Sykes learned his first season as a head coach: “Time management. Off the field duties that you have as a head coach, you have to make sure that everything is organized.”
BARTLETT HIGH SCHOOL
By Bill Sorrell
Bartlett football coach Tim Haney expects to see his team play multiple homecoming games.
“That is to be expected. A lot of people have counted us out because of our history. That should be an inspiration, something that will get our guys fired up. At some time, we are going to say, ‘This is it, no more.’ Hopefully we will gain that confidence to where we will be able to do that,” said
Haney, who takes over as head coach after two years as the Panthers’ defensive backs coach.
Entering his 28th year of coaching, Haney spent 21 seasons at Houston where he compiled a 115-75 record and reached two state semifinals.
Senior running back Marquavis Weaver wants Bartlett fortunes to change.
“I would like to prove that even though we are an underdog team in the past we can always make a huge turnaround. I would like to send that message to every team that is marking us down as a win on their schedule.”
The difference is the energy that Weaver has seen in practice and in coaches. “They give us the energy we give them,” he said.
The team’s attitude has been positive said Haney.
“They have done a great job and have bought in and done everything that we have asked them to do. It’s an ongoing process of being consistent and not picking our days that we are going to practice hard.”
Wide receiver Will Corson said, “We have been working hard preparing for this season and I hope the hard work reflects on the field. I expect us to go far under our new head coach.”
Haney expects improvement in all three phases of the game.
There are 12 starters returning, six on offense, six on defense.
The multiple offense with two backs and one back will be led by junior quarterback J.J. Vaden.
“J.J. has gotten better since last year,” said Haney.
Said Vaden, “I have learned how to be more relaxed and confident. I have a year under my belt so there’s more excuses about being young or inexperienced. I expect our team will do big things this year.”
Haney expects big things from Weaver.
“Marquavis is hoping to have a great year like the last half of last season,” said Haney.
Wide receivers Mario Washington and LaKeece Kimble plus center Chris Evans are other leaders on a team that will try to rebound from a 3-8 record in 2015.
The 4-2-5 defense will be sparked by linebackers Nathan Johnson and Dakota Tucker, defensive back Brandon Smith, strong safety D’Vocia Walker and defensive end Ben Kunkle.
The Panthers are not as big overall as most teams. Graduation “hit hard” said Haney but there are “good-sized kids” on both lines. He is concerned that inexperience could play an early role.
“There will be growing pains with sophomores coming in getting them adapted to try and help. Some are not physically able to play at this level. We play in one of the toughest regions (4-6A) across the state, top to bottom.”
All of the state’s 32 6A teams will make the playoffs for the second straight year.
After a solid first season kicking, Brian Cannon should improve even more said Haney.
“We are still in a rebuilding process but my expectation is to see improvement in all areas of our program, both on the field and off the field. Hopefully it translates into more wins. They are hungry to win. We have to learn how to win, ” said Haney. “Hopefully it’s going to be the group that is going to propel this program to reach its potential. We expect to win every time we go out.”
• Seniors: 17
• Overall lettermen returning: 20
• Key losses: LaMarcus Young (now playing at the University of Tennessee at Martin), Dalton Frederick (playing at Mississippi College), Jake MacFerran (preferred walk-on at University of Memphis).
• Haney’s Most Memorable Moment Coaching: “Seeing young men grow up and become successful in whatever they choose. We have been fortunate to have players in the NFL. We have been fortunate to have young men after they graduate never play another down of football but they become successful in life. I think that is what football teaches. It prepares young men for life whatever they choose. They learn life lessons.”