The 5A Central has been Pulaski Academy’s stomping grounds for years, with the Bruins capturing four straight conference titles along with state titles in 2008 and 2011. Sylvan Hills and Mills are strengthening the rest of the conference, but don’t expect the Bruins to be unseated just yet.
Pulaski Academy remains the elite high school football program in Little Rock. The Bruins’ ridiculous offense returns quarterback Will Hefley (4,100 passing yards in 2013) and athletic backs Tre Bruce and Myles Fells. Wideouts Will Hastings (1,400 receiving yards in 2013) and Zach Kelley (1,600 receiving yards in 2013) are also back. However, the Bruin defense was depleted by the graduation of eight starters, and an offseason injury to safety Chase Coody has caused even more depth issues. Still, the Bruin offense is probably too powerful to contain.
Sylvan Hills has been rising for a few years now under coach Jim Withrow. The Bears won seven games a year ago, the most since 2007. Eight returning offensive starters, led by speedy quarterback Tra Doss (1,000 passing yards and 1,200 rushing yards in 2013) should produce a potent attack. Versatile backs Marlon Clemmons and Tyler Davis offer speed on the edge. Veteran linemen Clark Thornton and Hayden Hawkins are some of the best in the 5A. The defense needs work, though, with seven starters lost and a number of new faces in the front seven.
Beebe executes its option running offense to brutal perfection, topping 35 points five times last year. The Badgers, who finished 5-6 in the 5A East last season, will need more speed against the faster 5A Central defenses. Fullback Tripp Smith (1,900 rushing yards in 2013) is the lead rusher behind a powerful offensive line. The Badgers may struggle with the speed that teams such as PA and Sylvan Hills possess, but the brutally effective option should at least keep them close in most games.
Mills won nine games last fall, but enters rebuilding mode in 2014. Only six starters (two on defense) return, however, running back Calen Peters (700 rushing yards in 2013) is both big and fast and should be one of the better backs in the conference. The Comets also have big offensive linemen to open holes in their newly-unveiled I-formation scheme. The defense, however, needs new playmakers, especially in the secondary where there is less experience and speed.
Jacksonville hired new coach Barry Hickingbotham, and returns 13 starters. Running back Lamont Gause (1,000 rushing yards in 2013) leads the offensive attack, but Jacksonville is still searching for consistency on both sides of the ball. McClellan has a chance to break out with 17 starters returning from last year’s 1-9 team and a very talented sophomore class incoming. Fair drops down after going 1-10 in the 6A/7A South, and will try to regroup under new coach Roosevelt Turner. North Pulaski went winless for the second time in three years, but does feature a veteran defensive line.
Make your pick of who will win the 5A Central and check out THV 11’s 40 teams in the month of August previews for Sylvan Hills and Mills.