Lake Hamilton Wolves:
Wolves will lean on experienced players
August 28, 2011
The Wolves are quite familiar with the late rounds of the state playoffs. They made it to the Class 6A semifinals last year before losing to fellow 6A South Conference member and eventual state champion El Dorado, who went on to win the state championship in the semifinals.
It was the sixth year in a row the Wolves made it to at least the semifinals. Lake Hamilton won the state title in 2008 and was runner-up in 2007. The team was close to making another state final appearance last season.
“Last year it would have taken one play in two ballgames, including the one in the state playoff against El Dorado,” longtime coach Jerry Clay said. “We want to get past that, but it’s hard to get there. It’s hard to get that far. It takes being at the right place at the right time and being healthy.”
Quite a few of the upperclassmen have been involved in all those games. Clay said the playoff experience will help his team on the field.
“When you go that far in the playoffs, two seasons almost turn into three seasons. You have six more games than other teams,” he said.
One of the players returning with extensive game experience is quarterback Levi Runyan. The senior passed for 2,742 yards and rushed for another 554 in his first season at the helm of the offense. Clay said Runyan has matured and protects the ball very well.
Runyan has also received interest from several in-state colleges, including a couple of scholarship offers, Clay said. But none of the offers has been for quarterback. Instead, they have been for the secondary or as a receiver, positions that Runyan played until last season, he said. He could see some time at safety again this season, however.
“He may get some time there. Levi started as safety as a sophomore but didn’t play a lot there last year. He’s a good safety, but you want to make sure you don’t lose your quarterback playing safety. But he’s a ballhawk kinda guy. If he’s in there, you better not throw the ball around him. Levi is also an outstanding receiver,” Clay said.
Runyan will have two all-state receivers to throw to, Dalton Daniels and Dante Ranson. Daniels had 962 yards on 46 catches last year, while Ranson added 816 yards with 48 receptions.
“He’s [Daniels] in the 4.4 range. He’s definitely a big threat,” Clay said. “Both have great hands. Dante can make great adjustments to the ball. He catches the ball in the crowd very well. He’s fearless; let’s put it that way.”
Dre Bennet will join his fellow senior receivers as a key cog in the passing offense. Bennet caught 42 balls for 529 yards last year. Sometimes the Wolves will trot out as many as five receivers on the field for some formations.
Leading rusher Austin Essner is also back. Clay said the senior, who gained 853 yards on 151 carries, is a hard runner with good speed who can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Tight ends Trent Curry and Cameron Anderson could be integral pieces for the team, both in the passing and running games, Clay said. Curry will spend most of his time out as a receiver, while Anderson will be more of a blocking tight end who could benefit from play-action passes.
All-state offensive lineman Andy Ngyuen will be a leader on the offensive line for the Wolves. Clay said the senior plays more like a fullback and is almost as fast as many of the team’s running backs.
He’ll be joined on the line by junior guard Trey Martin, who at 6 feet 3 is probably one of the legitimate college prospects on the team, Clay said. Senior Pau Roeck, who was injured much of last season, will return to the line this season. Jerry Chancellor, John Thomas Dutton and Gavin De Los Santos will also play key roles on the offensive line.
Last year’s leading tackler, middle linebacker Tyler Lindsey, returns for his senior season after registering 120 tackles. It was the second year in a row he led the team in tackles. Corey Green finished with 83 tackles and will be back at linebacker as well.
Many of the offensive players will get starting nods on the defensive side of the ball. Ransom was an all-state cornerback last season, leading the team with six interceptions. Ngyuen will be back on the defensive line, and Bennet saw time at safety last year and will likely get some playing time again. Cody Smith started at corner and also worked at safety last year and will again this year.
The Wolves finished third in the 6A South last season, and all four state Class 6A semifinalists were from the conference. Texarkana defeated Pine Bluff before falling to El Dorado in the finals. Clay said Benton and Sheridan should be very competitive as well. He expects much the same this season, as well as tough nonconference games from Springdale and Pulaski Academy.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Pulaski Academy is ranked No. 1 overall in some of these preseason polls,” Clay said.