With defending champion Dollarway moving to the 8-4A, there’s a power vacuum in the 2-4A. Conference natives Newport and Lonoke and new member West Helena are the early favorites to take control of the conference.
West Helena finished 6-5 in the 5A Central a year ago and now drop down. The Cougars bring back 17 starters including almost everyone at running back, receiver, and offensive line. Running backs Keith Hayes and Devonta Herred both weigh over 200 pounds and will be load to bring down. Middle linebacker Drekarrious Warren (5’10, 220) leads a big, fast defense that should stuff most running attacks. The Cougars need new quarterback Malik Arnett to step up if they want to take the conference title.
Newport won nine games in coach Don Harrison’s first season. Fourteen starters (seven offense, seven defense) are back, led by appropriately-named quarterback Gunnar Bullard (2,200 passing yards in 2013). Junior running back Carl Turner also posted a 1,000-yard season on the ground in 2013. A fast secondary should help Newport’s nickel defense hard to throw on, while 295-pound noseguard Jessie Simmons anchors the front of the defense. The Greyhounds are talented on both sides of the ball and have few weaknesses.
Lonoke recorded its best season since 2009, going 9-3 and reaching the second round of the playoffs. Running back Josh Coleman (1,400 rushing yards in 2013) is one of the 4A’s top backs, while the defense relies on excellent linebackers Ethan Holland, Chandler Elmore, and Lance Duggar to drive the Jackrabbits’ 4-3 scheme. Lonoke needs production from new quarterback Savonte Rountree and must also replace both starting offensive guards.
Stuttgart has a new coach and is looking to bounce back from a 4-7 season in 2013; a letdown after the Ricebirds captured the 2012 state title. Tall wideouts Weston Wilks (6’3, 175) and Justin Dorsett (6’0, 185) need a quarterback to step up to throw them the ball. CAC is a sleeper pick, moving from the 7-4A where it went 4-6 in 2013. The Mustangs are faster on defense, which should equate to improvement after surrendering 43 points per game last season. Heber Springs also returns 17 starters, including nine on defense, and promoted defensive coordinator David Farr to head coach in the spring. The Panthers are also searching for a quarterback to improve on a 2-8 campaign last fall. Riverview won six games in the 3A last season, and will need good season from all 18 returning starters to compete with the tougher competition of the 2-4A. Southside Batesville has increased participation numbers, which will be necessary to replace nine departed starters on offense.
Make your pick of who will win the 2-4A and check out THV 11’s 40 teams in the month of August previews for Lonoke and Stuttgart.