The 5A West was overhauled during the offseason, and conference champion Alma is moving up. However, the conference is still home to defending state champion Morrilton, who enters 2014 as the favorite despite needing to retool both sides of the ball.
Morrilton captured a surprising state title after finishing second in conference a year ago. Coach Cody McNabb has continued to add victories every season (3, 6, 8, 12) during his tenure, but topping 2013’s performance will be tough. Just six starters return, although the Devil Dogs will still be tough up front and have a lot of confidence in their offensive ability. Morrilton may take a step back, but they have talent all over the field.
Greenbrier finished just 4-7 in 2013, ending a streak of four seasons with at least nine wins. Quarterback Will Drewry threw for 1,800 yards before an injury sidelined him, and he was replaced by Harold Ross, who threw for 1,200 yards. Drewry and Ross, along with sophomore Carter Burcham, the brother of former Panther and current SMU quarterback Neil Burcham, are fighting for the starting quarterback job. Speedy slot man Carson Matthews (600 receiving yards in 2013) will be a top target for whomever is chucking the football. Senior defensive end Chase Weatherly leads the pass rush. Greenbrier has quite a bit of offensive potential in coach Randy Tribble’s pass-heavy offense, but needs work on defense to compete for a title.
Harrison boasts a high-powered offense, but a lack of defense has been its undoing, a fact never more evident than in a thrilling 66-64 shootout loss to Ozark (Mo.) in week one. Quarterback Brock Humphrey (2,400 passing yards in 2013) commands the spread attack. Talented receiver Silas Huskey (900 receiving yards in 2013) paces a deep group. The Golden Goblins need to replace three starting offensive linemen and improve a defense that surrendered at least 32 points in each of the squad’s seven losses.
Vilonia is coming off a very disappointing 3-7 campaign in 2013, but returns 16 starters. The Eagles have had to overcome quite a bit on the field (most of last year’s senior class missed time with injuries) and off the field (two devastating tornadoes in three years), but they appear poised to return to the playoffs in 2014. Quarterback Jared Willis runs Vilonia’s double wing attack and is a talented passer and runner. A strong defensive front should slow most downhill running games, while the secondary has some experience and more speed. The Eagles must avoid the injury bug and remain unpredictable on offense.
Little Rock Christian moves from the 5A Central, where it finished 4-6 last season. The Warriors bring back 14 starters, including running back Hunter McFarlane (600 rushing yards in 2013). Quarterback Brooks Boshears played in four games and threw for 350 yards. He’ll be in charge of a Warrior offense that struggled to move the ball in losses to Sylvan Hills, Mills, Jacksonville, and West Helena. Maumelle won 10 games in the 4A and could a surprise team in a conference lacking a solid middle. The Hornets’ defense in stingy and could slow the offenses of squads like Greenbrier and Harrison. Farmington also moves up from the 4A, and boasts a tough defense that only gave up 30 points twice. However, the Cardinals are small for the 5A and may struggle against bigger programs. Clarksville finished 3-7, and new coach Eli Cranor has only seven returning starters to work with. Brothers Brian and Jason White play running back and combined for nearly 900 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards.
Make your pick for the 5A West conference champion and check out THV 11’s 40 teams in the month of August preview for Maumelle.
40 Teams Preview: Maumelle Hornets