Eight weeks after he was given a promotion to head coach, Jody Grant will lead Bentonville’s football team to the Tigers’ first spring practice Monday afternoon.
The Tigers will hold practices on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for the first two weeks, then switch to a Tuesday-Wednesday-Friday format the final week because of Memorial Day weekend. The two-time defending Class 7A state champion will welcome about 160 players to report to practice when it starts at 4:30 p.m.
Here are five things to keep an eye on as the spring workouts transpire:
1. Changes? What changes?
There aren’t that many to report. Grant plans on having the Tigers continue to do the things that they have done the past 10 years under Barry Lunney, who announced his retirement on Jan. 26.
“All I can do is just do it how I envisioned doing it,” Grant said. “I’m going to do it the way I’ve seen it done and done right under coach Lunney, and truthfully we’re continuing to operate as we have for years here — just with a different head coach.
“When we start Monday and go through the practice process, it’s the same practice plan, the same concepts, the same stuff. It’s just a different guy at the helm, and I hope the results are the same.”
The most noticeable differences from years past will be in Bentonville’s coaching staff. Jared Cecil has earned the title of defensive coordinator and will continue to work with inside linebackers, while Chris Hutchens moves from Bentonville Black’s ninth-grade team to coach safeties and be the Tigers’ special teams coordinator.
“I hope the changes are unnoticeable,” Grant said. “What we doing differently is probably not football related. It’s some of the stuff we’ve implemented in the offseason programs and through community service projects and our leadership academies.
“As far as what people see on the football field, schematically, I don’t think you’ll see a lot of change.”
2. Plug those lines
Grant didn’t hesitate when asked where Bentonville has the biggest holes to fill. The Tigers need linemen — a lot of linemen.
Rising senior offensive lineman Jacob Clark is the only returning starter in the trenches on either side of the football.
“The offensive and defensive lines, no doubt about it,” Grant said. “We have to create some starters and develop some depth. It’s probably the first time in a long time that we didn’t have that as a strength.
“It’s always been a strength of our program. We have some kids that we are excited about, but depth is a concern. The opportunity is there to earn some spots at those positions.”
3. Their time has come
With the spring practices come a time when a player can leave a mark or a good impression after waiting for his time to arrive.
Grant said there will be a number of players that will have the opportunity to do just that during Bentonville’s spring workouts.
“The opportunity is there to earn a number of spots,” Grant said. “You think of a guy like last year — Noah Stubbs, who played sparingly but not much on the defensive line. He started the game against Har-Ber, and now he has a chance to be one of our leaders on the defensive line.
“Tim Fernandez is the same way. He’s been hurt a lot as a sophomore and a junior, and we need him to stay healthy and do his job. Nick McMann on the offensive line has a chance to do the same thing as center. ”
It’s not just in the lines where younger Tigers could make a name for themselves. Grant pointed out that some of the younger receivers could push those that are returning on the team, and some younger running backs are there to challenge rising junior Jacob Clark for playing time.
4. Leaders must emerge
With all the holes that Bentonville must fill before the season starts, there will be a bigger need for the experienced veteran players to be team leaders.
On the offense, there may be not be a bigger leader than rising senior quarterback Kasey Ford, who has played a role in the Tigers’ last two Class 7A state titles.
“We’re going to ask a lot out of Kasey,” Ford said. “He will have to do a lot of stuff to operate our offense.”
Tyrone Mahone, a rising senior cornerback who has played sparingly on offense the last two seasons, may become more of a two-way player, as will players like David Nichols, Austin Roth and Destyn Adkins. Safety Logan Darby will be asked to be more of a defensive leader in the secondary, as will Brandon Atchison, who moves from outside linebacker to middle linebacker.
5. Young but ready
Sophomores usually have to be loaded with talent in order to see serious playing time in the 7A-West.
Bentonville, thought, may have a couple of newcomers that may deserve some serious looks at receiver, and Grant plans on doing that this spring. Jadyn Loudermilk, who played for Bentonville Gold last fall and ran a leg in Bentonville’s winning 4×100-meter relay team last week in the Class 7A state track meet, has drawn interest, as well Kam’ron Ross, a transfer from White Hall.
“We’re excited about them,” Grant said. “Jadyn has really developed and running great. You go out here in the mornings, and he’s catching the ball. He’s a smart kid, from what I’ve seen so far. I would be surprised if he didn’t push for some Friday night time immediately.
“Kam’ron has come on as of late. Coach (Rod) Washington clocked him the other day running at 4.7, and that’s after he slipped at the start.”
Tyler Johnson could also push for some playing time at outside linebacker and tight end.