ARKADELPHIA BADGERS: Badgers building on strengths
August 26, 2012
After three early losses last year with a new coach and a new system, the Arkadelphia Badgers won four out of the next five games and was making a strong push to the playoffs, but coach J.R. Eldridge said that after a heartbreaking one-point lost to Hot Springs Lakeside, his team never seemed to recover.
This year, Arkadelphia moves from Class 5A to the 7-4A Conference, and the coach, in his second year with the Badgers, sees good things happening.
“I’m really excited about this year because we kept getting better last year,” Eldridge said. “We’ve had a strong spring and summer, building up our strengths.”
At the top of the team’s positive list is quarterback Jakahari Howell, a junior who was all-conference as a receiver last year. His coach said Howell has a strong arm and speed but, more importantly, possesses “an understanding of the game.”
Howell will be in the middle of two other team members Eldridge said will be major factors in the success of the season. One is all-conference junior Kris Oliver, who ran the ball for several spectacular touchdowns last season. The other is senior center Jake Knight, who played several positions as a lineman last year. Eldridge said Knight’s ball handling is quick and accurate and that he is quick after the snap as well.
Senior Cantrell Lewis plays both ways as a receiver and cornerback. The coach said he goes after the ball the same way while on offense or defense and is a physical, straight-ahead runner after the catch.
Sophomore Emmanuel Cooper will start as tight end after impressing the coaches in the spring. Senior Darius Holt is fast and strong as a receiver known for his ability to jump and catch the ball.
The line is anchored by brothers Truman and Tony Vo, both senior guards, along with juniors Dalton Huerkamp and Cole McNalley at tackle.
One of the projects for Eldridge in the offseason was making the defense stronger. Most of the starting defense are also offensive starters.
Senior Jyrunn Dixon pairs with Knight at tackle. The coach calls Dixon a leader, while the speed of the line that Knight shows at center comes into play again on defense, where he routinely made stops in the opponent’s backfield last year.
Truman Vo plays the interior defensive line, and sophomore Anthony Jenkins has been added at tackle. Junior Jahlon Mitchell, the team’s leading tackler last year, returns as middle linebacker, and Junior Austin White plays the outside position on the line.
Corner Rashad Young plays a corner spot. Eldridge said Young adapted well to the 4-3 defense and is always in the right position.
Holt is at free safety, and junior Jalen Barrett, who did not play last year, played well as safety in the spring, the coach said.
Eldridge said that after faltering late in the season last year, a top priority in the offseason was for the team to become “mentally stronger.” He said the players needed to be able to overcome problems and build on their confidence.
“We also had a good weight program over the summer, and the team showed a great attitude,” the coach said. “They all bought into it.”
The season starts Tuesday against Benton in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
“We’re excited about that. I don’t know the last time we did something like this. It will be good for the kids and the fans,” he said.
However, he said, he doesn’t want the big arena to pump up the team too much.
“One of our goals is to approach every game the same — not too high or too low,” Eldridge said. “We will not play a big game, then face a downtime. We will play well and hard all the time.”