There wasn’t much open space on the desk in Zak Clark’s office in mid-July. Call sheets, folders and a laptop were just a few of the items littered across the workspace of the second-floor office in Springdale High’s indoor facility.
There were also several old VHS tapes lying on the desk — a rare sight these days when even DVDs are nearly extinct and film simply uploaded to Hudl. But Clark spent part of the busy summer prior to his first year as Springdale’s head coach searching for old clips, digging up highlights of key moments in Bulldog history to add to a new hype video for use on game days and on the team website.
Most of the highlights were on VHS because that’s how long it has been since Springdale has had a truly memorable football moment. In fact, none of the footage that made the final cut for the video was from after the 2005 state championship season the final year before the school district split.
It’s no secret Springdale has struggled since 2005. The Bulldogs haven’t won a playoff game since the split and had the worst season in program history in 2014, which paved the way for Clark’s hiring.
But Clark appears to be the right man to return the program to respectability and perhaps more. He’s proven that this season.
Friday, Springdale beat Rogers 25-22 to earn its first trip to the playoffs since 2011. The win also snapped an 11-game home losing streak. Earlier in the season, the Bulldogs snapped a program-worst, 16-game losing streak that dated back to 2013 with a win at Rogers Heritage. The roster doesn’t feature as much talent as last year’s 0-10 team, but found a way to make the playoffs while steadily improving as the season wore on.
“I can’t believe they’re so resilient,” Clark said after the final horn Friday. “We don’t always play smart or well. We don’t always coach smart. But dadgummit, these guys just play hard. After the season last year, we’ve been in almost every game.
“You’d think at some point they’d let go of the rope, but they haven’t. Keep playing hard. Hat goes off to them.”
There were plenty of chances to let go of the rope for a team that is young and undersized with recent history stacked heavily against it. The results weren’t always pretty — the Bulldogs are just 2-8, with three mercy rule losses thanks to porous defense early in the season and struggles on the other side of the ball as the offense gave up 17 sacks in weeks eight and nine in losses to the two Fort Smith schools.
But progress was evident, both on the field and elsewhere. The theme for the season is ‘Create the Culture,’ a motto voted on by the team and approved by the new head coach, much to the players’ delight.
Clark showed belief in the players, who in turn bought into him and the rest of the staff. The change was dramatic in some ways. This year, there were no instances of key starters using Twitter on the sideline before running onto the field for the next series. The players stayed locked in to what Clark and his staff were preaching, a resolve that was rewarded by week-to-week progress and finally a playoff berth.
A must-win victory at Heritage gave them the light at the end of the tunnel knowing they would have a chance to extend their season even as they embarked on a five-game stretch against the conference’s top teams. They took their lumps, but made marked improvement along the way.
Springdale’s 17 points allowed against Alma in week two was the least it had given up since 2013. Week seven featured the least amount of points the Bulldogs had allowed against Bentonville (28) since 2009. Week nine at Southside featured the least amount of yards allowed (279) against a 7A conference foe since 2010. And of course, there are the two long losing streaks snapped and playoff drought ended.
Springdale will be the underdog at Conway on Friday. Its season may end in the central part of the state in five days. If not, it faces a true David-Goliath scenario back in Springdale against a loaded, No. 1 Har-Ber in the second round.
But the future is promising with Clark at the helm, a schedule that will soon soften with the shakeup of the 7A-West and a roster full of underclassmen — nine sophomores started at least one game this year and the Bulldogs will return at least 17 players with starting experience next season.
Springdale will have to replace several key seniors, including the duo that provided the play which clinched the playoff berth —receiver Hunter Necessary and quarterback Jack Lindsey. Lindsey found Necessary for the 12-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 53 seconds left Friday to lift the Bulldogs over the Mounties in a thriller that has become the norm when Springdale and Rogers meet.
Necessary has been a part of Springdale’s program his entire high school career, paying his dues each season until this year, when he’s emerged as a playmaker. Lindsey has been a part of the program since March, when he transferred to follow Clark, his uncle, from Fayetteville.
Lindsey has been a bright spot all season and was at his best when it counted most Friday, completing 10 of 12 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns, including the final score to Necessary, in the second half as the Bulldogs rallied late.
“When it comes to dropping back and reading a defense, putting the ball where it needs to go and to the receiver it needs to go to, I don’t think there’s anybody better in the conference. It’s certainly a talented group and there’s a lot of guys that do some good things and do some things better than Jack. But as far as playing the game and making throws when you’ve got to make them, reading the defense, there’s nobody better. I’m just proud of him.”
In a twist of irony, two great Fayetteville names — Clark and Lindsey — helped halt the downward slide of a storied Springdale program in a single season. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, there will be some new footage to add to next year’s hype video.