Bulldogs embarking on a special season says Young

Bulldogs embarking on a special season says Young

The countdown has started on what could be a very special season for the Greenwood Bulldogs, according to third-year Head Coach Chris Young. Football practice began this past Monday morning and there’s now just two weeks until the annual pre-season scrimmage against Fayetteville, followed 10 days later by the season opener against a new and highly regarded out-of-state opponent, the Pioneers of Stillwater, Oklahoma.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding reasons 2022 could be a special campaign for the Bulldogs, not all of which can be revealed at this time, so stay tuned. But what we do know is the past two seasons have been anything but normal. Young’s first year as Head Coach was 2020, greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, yet his Bulldogs went 14-0 and won the school’s 10th state football championship. Then the 2021 team was decimated by injuries to key players that led to four sophomores and one freshman starting in the state title game, won by El Dorado.

But the ’Dogs are expected to be right there again in 2022, knocking on the door of another state championship. Though the journey to the title this fall will be quite different, starting with a revised conference lineup featuring two new powerhouse opponents, Pulaski Academy and Little Rock Christian, the state’s top two private school gridiron programs.

Greenwood has also enjoyed back-to-back unbeaten seasons by its freshman team, winners of 20 consecutive games, and that wealth of talent is about to pay off with both the sophomore and junior classes expected to step up in a big way this season. This particular Bulldogs’ team has just 13 seniors, an unusually small group, but talented. Five of the 13 are returning after recovering from major surgeries that ended their junior campaigns.

But there’s more to be excited about. This season will be the senior campaign of quarterback Hunter Houston, fully healthy and considered to be among the best QBs in the state after throwing for over 3,000 yards last season, despite battling multiple injuries. Joining him in the offensive backfield are two returning senior running backs, Jake Glover and Javon Williamson, also both injured last season, plus the team’s top returning receivers in junior L.J. Robins and senior Aiden Kennon.

“We’ve got great speed at our skill positions,” added the coach. “It starts with L.J. Robins, Grant Karnes, and Noah Chaser at receiver. Javon Williamson and Jake Glover have great speed in the backfield. Brayedan Davis can run. Isaiah Arrington is a young guy with great speed. He’s got to put some weight on, but he runs good routes.” There’s plenty of offensive firepower to back them all up too, though much of that talent is young.

By now everyone knows about Kane Archer, the 14-year-old phenom considered by some to be the top freshman QB in the nation with double-digit college offers already in hand. Firmly entrenched at #2 behind Houston, Archer will see plenty of action in junior varsity games on Mondays and on Friday nights as well. He will also have lots of company from the freshman class, including move-ins Jacob Cruz and Cody Taylor. Super talented sophomore receiver Grant Karnes also returns after playing on the varsity as a freshman late in 2021.

So, what’s not to like about the 2022 Bulldogs? The talent pool is deep and there’s plenty of experience returning at key offensive positions with up to seven starters back from 2021. Three starters return on defense, but many other players gained needed experience last season and will compete to fill the vacant spots. The defense looks to be smaller up front, but faster from sideline to sideline with a deep and talented secondary and a strong linebacking corps.

The one pre-season concern for Young and his staff is the defensive line, the responsibility of newly hired assistant coach Hunter Moreton, younger brother of offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Austin Moreton. Like his brother, Hunter played at Southside High School in Fort Smith, then started four years at Arkansas State University on the defensive line. According to his head coach, the younger Moreton has plenty of talent and bodies to work with on the D-line.

“Right now we’ve got five or six of those guys competing for spots,” said Young, “including [junior] Brady Pettigrew and [senior] Tanner McKusker on the inside. [Senior] Logan Taylor, [junior] Bryce Williams, and [sophomore] Mark Garretson are competing with those guys. On the edge we’ve got Riley White, Cameron Green, Cash Archer, and Brendan Chick. We’ve got some competition, which makes everybody better.” White, Green, and Chick are juniors and Archer is a sophomore, the older brother of Kane Archer.

As for hiring Coach Moreton, Young first spoke of the departed Brandon Elmore. “Coach Elmore decided that he was just going to teach. People know that football coaches work, but they really don’t understand the hours they put in. It’s hard on coaches, especially with young children [at home] and family. We’ll kick off practice on Monday and we’ll go 14 weeks (or more) without a day off if things go the way we expect them to go. It’s not for everybody. It’s a grind and it’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding at the same time. Coach Elmore decided he was going to teach fulltime, unfortunately we didn’t have a position at that time here in the district, so he went to Fort Smith to teach math.

“But we’re fired up,” he continued. “We were able to hire Hunter Moreton, the brother of our offensive line coach Austin Moreton. Hunter was a great player at Southside High School and went to Arkansas State, starting as a true freshman on the Division I level. He played four years under some great coaches, and he understands the D-line position really well. He’s young and relates well to our kids. We’re excited to add him to our staff. He’s been here all summer working with the kids.”

Asked about Greenwood’s willingness to take on young, inexperienced coaches, Young said, “We look for people that love kids and have a football background. The coaching profession is struggling right now. There’s a lot of schools looking for coaches. Coach Moreton had been offered several jobs and had actually started at Maumelle for a couple days, when we hired him away.

“We’re fortunate that people know the reputation of Greenwood. It’s a great school system and the pay is good. Fortunately, we’re able to go out and get who we want most of the time. A lot of districts aren’t in the same boat. We look for guys that love kids, have a lot of energy, and a football background. I think the best thing I’ve done as a head coach is hire assistants. We’ve been fortunate to hire some great coaches.”

Young gave the interview last Thursday, the final week of FASDOGS, and he talked about the now legendary fitness and conditioning program. “We had a little over 400 kids in all, and the majority of those are football players. Probably 275 of those are grades 7-12 football players. We had a great turnout,” he said.

FASDOGS was once a four-week grind, but more recently has been trimmed to a more manageable three weeks. “It’s [really] based on the schedule of the AAA,” explained the head coach. “We can’t actually do a fourth week because we aren’t allowed to start until July 11th and football practice starts on August 1st. There’s not another week in there. But really, we like the three weeks because we think that gets them in condition to start fall practice without getting them tired. You don’t want to burn them out before fall practice.

“Most of the others are younger kids, third through sixth graders, and a lot of those are Pitbull players. My guess would be about 40 [females], and they are mixed in with the [boys]. We don’t have a separate group [for them].” The lower number for the girls is due in part to competing with volleyball and basketball camps and summer softball activities.

Fortunately, FASDOGS starts at 6:30 each morning, helping to beat the extreme heat the region has experienced this summer. “The heat has been a non-issue,” said Young. “The parents do a great job of getting the kids up. We start at 6:30 with the older kids. The younger kids had a day or two it was a little warm in the afternoon for them. But we’ve not had any heat illness. We’ve been fortunate.” On a related topic, the Bulldogs are also looking for a new athletic trainer this season.

Asked about his current roster, Coach Young said, “We’ve got 87 players right now. We got our numbers up a little bit in the spring, but we’ve lost some. We’ve got a real small senior class. We’ve got 13 seniors, but we’ve got good-sized sophomore and junior classes. We had over 75 kids in seventh grade orientation. That’s the largest group we’ve ever had here. Our numbers are really good except for our senior class.”

When questioned about any newcomers of note, Young spoke of four players who have moved to Greenwood in recent months or weeks. “We have a kid named Jacob Cruz, a ninth grader who moved in from California in the last two weeks. He’s a really talented kid that will have a chance to play for us on Friday nights as a [freshman]. He’s a defensive back.

“Cody Taylor is a ninth grader, and his brother Logan Taylor is a senior. They came in [late last] year. I think they came from Kansas City, and they’re both going to be good players for us. Logan (6’0”, 225) plays on the defensive line and Cody (6’3”, 270) plays offensive guard. I expect to see both those kids on the field.”

The Taylor brothers also have a connection to Kane Archer, who played nationally for the Kansas City Outlaws. Also potentially earning a spot on the offensive line is sophomore Ashton Stein (6’4”, 240) the younger brother of recently graduated Braden Stein, who also started for the Bulldogs.

“We also had Josiah Spicer, a [senior] cornerback or wide receiver, move in from Stuttgart about three weeks ago, and he has good speed. But it’s hard because we haven’t seen any of those guys in pads yet. From everything we’ve seen they are great kids. They will add to our program, and we’re excited to have them.”

As for the number of returning starters, Young played down their importance. “Those starting numbers don’t really mean a lot, but we’ve got a lot of good football players back that we’re excited about, and a lot of good young players. We’ve got three receivers that were starters and two running backs. Hunter [Houston] is back and two [starting] offensive linemen are back.

“Those two guys were having great years before their injuries,” said Young of Glover and Williamson. “But they’re both healthy and look good in pre-season practice. We’re also very excited about juniors Brayedan Davis and Carson Hobbs. I think we’ll see all four of those guys on Friday nights. We’ve got great depth [at running back].”

Regarding the quarterback position, Young said, “Hunter is our guy. I expect him to be one of the best QBs in the state, if not the best. He’s had a great off-season and has gotten healthy. He’s thrown the ball great all summer in the 7-on-7s and team camps. He’s our guy, but we’re also confident with Kane. We’ve held him out for the last month. He had a little soreness in his shoulder, but he’s fine and he’ll be ready to go.

“He’s got all the tools to be a good quarterback and he’s in a perfect situation. He’s going to get a ton of reps as the #2 QB. He’s got a guy in front of him that he can learn from, and he’s going to get his opportunity this year. The reason we moved him up is because he’s our quarterback of the future. It’s going to give him a year in our offense to learn our terminology and be there with [co-offensive coordinator Stephen] Hogan.

“Hopefully we won’t have to play him too much this year. Hopefully Hunter can make it through the year, but we feel very confident in Kane if we have to play him. He will play in the JV games on Monday nights. We’re always going to play our best guy and we are looking for a third arm for practice reps. There are plenty of options, but we’re not going to go there until we have to.”

Asked about running the quarterback this season, Young said, “It's easier to run the quarterback when we have a great back up like we do. But early in the year we want to take things easy. We want to limit the times Hunter is hit, but there are times he’s going to have to run for us to be successful.”

Turning to the defense, Young said, “[Seniors] Evan Williams, Storm Scherrey, and [junior] Landon Nelms are our three returners, but there’s a ton of guys with experience. [Junior] Braden Skaggs started in the state championship game and had three picks. He should have been on the field more last year. He’s a ball hawk. He’s a very instinctive football player.

“Josh Allen and Brady Mackey [both juniors] are two more safeties we’re really excited about. [Senior] Brett Wood moved from receiver to corner. [Junior] Caden Nelms is competing over there and the [freshman] move-in Jacob Cruz we’re going to work him at corner. We’ve got some pieces, we’ve just got to figure out how they fit in the puzzle.

“Linebacker is going to be a strength we think,” continued Young. “Storm Scherrey is going to be there some, and Evan Williams will be our middle linebacker with over 150 tackles last year. [Junior] Eli Whitaker is an outside linebacker and played a lot last year late as a sophomore.

“We’ll be smaller up front with good size at linebacker. But these guys are quick and will cause some problems. We have good speed up front at linebacker and in the secondary. We’ll be a faster defense overall. We have guys that can run sideline to sideline and cause the offense some issues.

“In the state championship game we started four sophomores and a freshman, but more of those guys are going to be ready to play this year. We’re going to play a lot of juniors and probably a lot of sophomores and even some ninth graders. The good thing is that we have a small senior class, and those good young players are going to have to step up.”

Asked about the potential for a special season, Young said, “We’re always excited to play. The expectations are always high in Greenwood. But I think there is a little extra excitement this year. Our first game we’re going to play Stillwater, OK, at the home of Oklahoma State University. The OSU head coach’s son is Stillwater’s returning quarterback. They’re a really good football team in 6A. Nobody in Oklahoma wants to play them, but we’re excited about playing them.

“Our conference was already good, but then you add in Pulaski Academy and Little Rock Christian, and it’s exciting. We like playing good football teams and our fans like it too.” Greenbrier is also joining the 6A West for the first time this season and reached the semi-finals in Class 5A last season, along with PA and LRC.

“It’ll be fun to see how it falls. It’ll be a challenge. Our kids are excited about it and the opportunity to play them this year,” concluded Young. (For more information regarding the 2022 schedule and Coach Young’s comments, see the accompanying article.)

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