The 4-4A received a shakeup during the spring, with Clinton, Robinson, Ozark, and Arkansas Baptist all joining the conference, replacing 4A state champion Booneville along with Waldron, Maumelle, and Mena.
If defense does indeed win championships, it’s no surprise that Pottsville is an early favorite to capture the 4-4A title. The Apaches return eight defensive starters from a unit that held eight opponents to 20 points or fewer. The Apache offense has great speed, and size comes in the form of 270-pound fullback Austin Moore and tight end Austin McNeely (6’4, 240). Pottsville needs new quarterback Jake Duggar to effectively command the offense if its expects to fill the power vacuum left by Booneville’s departure.
Dardanelle, on the other hand, boasts the offensive power to challenge Pottsville. The Sand Lizards will start Kristian Thompson at quarterback. Thompson started 2013 but was injured against Mayflower. Junior wide receiver Chris Kershner, who also plays some quarterback, has been clocked at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Running back TJ Tucker (1,550 rushing yards in 2013) is another of the 10 returning starters for the Dardanelle offense. The Sand Lizard defense includes a talented pass rush, but needs help in the back seven, especially at linebacker.
Robinson posted six wins in the challenging 7-4A a season ago, and 16 returning starters have the Senators poised for a breakout season. Quarterback Brennan Johnson threw for 2,300 yards last season and is the conference’s top passer. Robinson needs improvement on a defense that gave up 40 points or more in six of the final seven games.
Clinton won four games with a young team, but returns 17 starters and has improved size and speed. Quarterback Fielder Dufrene threw for 1,600 yards and rushed for 400 more in Clinton’s option-based rushing attack. Massive senior Harrison Lester (6’2, 250) is the primary dive back, while speedy halfbacks Robert Ferrell and Nathan Teague, and Jackson Allen also work in the backfield. Clinton’s defense is anchored by a large defensive line. The Yellow Jackets have few weaknesses on paper, but finished 1-4 in games decided by one possession last season.
Arkansas Baptist struggled in the 7-4A, but should benefit from the move to the 4-4A. Riley Perkins is a four-year starter at quarterback, and threw for nearly 1,900 yards last season. Ozark went from 12 wins in 2012 to two wins last season, but speed in the offensive backfield and a veteran defensive front should assist in the bounceback. Dover has combined for just three wins over the last two years, but returns 16 starters and is much bigger on both lines. Subiaco Academy returns 17 starters from last year’s 3-7 team, but hasn’t won more than six games in over a decade.
Make your pick of who will win the 4-4A and check out THV 11’s preview of Arkansas Baptist and Clinton.