SPORTS >> Devils aware of Cats
Leader sports writer
The week-one battle between Jacksonville and North Little Rock could be labeled many things. One of the main things is a revenge game for the Red Devils. Jacksonville entered last season’s opening game with high hopes and expectations, while North Little Rock was hoping to become a team to contend with, but were still up-and-comers.
The Charging Wildcats scored three touchdowns before most fans got to their seats en route to a 34-0 drumming of the visiting Devils.
This year, it’s Jacksonville that is rebuilding, and hoping to prove itself a real contender in AAAAA football.
First Year Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley is downplaying the revenge factor.
“I haven’t heard much talk about revenge,” Whatley said. “Hopefully we’re becoming a team that prepares for every game the same way. We’re very aware of how good they are this year. That’s all we’re concerned with.
North Little Rock coach Brian Hutson got a good look at Jacksonville last Saturday night in its scrimmage against Greenbrier, and came away impressed.
“They looked really good,” Hutson said. “I was very impressed. “They’ve got some big boys and really seemed to have grasped what they’re doing. They’ve got speed on both sides. I just didn’t see any weaknesses.”
Hutson was very impressed with Jacksonville’s size up front, but his Wildcats are devoid of size and speed.
Hutson has two of the most sought-after recruits in the state in Van Stumon and Jonathan Hicks. Both players can play defensive end and linebacker, while Stumon adds running back to his list of duties with his 4.6 speed.
They are both in the 6-foot-3, 240 range, and both have scholarship offers from multiple major division I schools.
Although Stumon and Hicks are the two everyone knows about, they are far from the only talented players on the team.
Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley saw the Wildcats scrimmage at Stuttgart, and left very impressed.
“We immediately came home, changed all the locks on the gates and we’re not letting ‘em in,” Whatley said.
“They just seem to have an awful, awful lot of talent over there and a tremendous amount of speed. They’ve got those two big guys on the ends, in very dangerous spots. We’re going to have to know where those two are at all times.”
Those two are a big reason for North Little Rock’s high ranking in all the preseason polls, but Hutson doesn’t like all the preseason attention.
“Everybody’s got us ranked high, high, high, but honestly I’d like to know where that’s coming from,” Hutson said. “I do have great, great players, but they can’t play the other nine positions too. It takes 11. There’s some talent on this team, no doubt, but I don’t know if it’s what people are saying. This week is going to be a good test.”
One thing Hutson spotted he hopes he can take advantage of was the number of Jacksonville players that started on both sides of the ball in the Greenbrier scrimmage.
“We’re going to have to do that too (play some on both sides), but probably not as much as they did,” Hutson said. “They may not show up Friday and do that anyway.
“If they do, I’m hoping we’ll be in good enough shape to be the fresher team in the fourth quarter.
“If one team is fresher than the other in the fourth quarter, it makes a difference. It doesn’t matter who’s playing.”
Whatley agrees that keeping players fresh is important at this level, but says that’s the hand his team has been dealt right now.
“We’re hoping by conference time we’ll have some other kids step up that can play those roles and give us some more depth. Right now, though, we’re playing the 11 guys that we feel like will make us the best football team.”
Friday’s game begins at 7 p.m. instead of the traditional 7:30 start time.
It will be the KATV feature game of the week.