Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SPORTS >> Whatley says televised football provides great chance to showcase city

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville Red Devil head football coach Mark Whatley took on a variety of topics when he spoke to the Rotary Club on Monday — from private schools to a proposed classification realignment to education standards at his program.

The big items, though, were the televised football game with Cabot that opens the season on Sept. 1 and the introduction of new defensive coordinator Derek Moore, who is awaiting the approval of the Pulaski County Special School District board.

Whatley, who will be starting his fifth season at the Red Devil helm, touted KARK/Fearless Friday’s televised football package, which was unveiled last month and will launch with the Jacksonville-Cabot game.

“Those guys have done a great job putting this together,” Whatley said before adding with a laugh, “Now I have my own thoughts about those blogs and message board sites (Fearless Friday offers a forum for fans to discuss statewide sports topics). I don’t read those because it can upset you sometimes.

“But this is a great chance to show people what we have here in Jacksonville. And we would like to try to get that traveling (Jacksonville-Cabot game) trophy back.”

Whatley said his 2009 Red Devils should benefit from having as many as eight incoming junior defensive players who either started or saw plenty of action last fall.

Jacksonville lost long-time defensive coordinator Rick Russell, who took over the head coaching job at North Pulaski. When Whatley went in search for a replacement for Russell, he said he had in mind an older guy with lots of experience. Warren head coach Bo Hembree urged him to think young, Whatley said.

“It seemed like every time Warren lost a game, Bo would fire a defensive coordinator,” Whatley joked. “So I called him and he said to stay away from the old guys. He told me that defense was about attitude, energy and flying to the football. Find someone young who has learned under great coaches.”

Hembree also pointed out that computers have started to play a key role in coaching and that younger coaches are much more computer-savvy. Hembree mentioned Moore, a former Arkansas Razorback defensive end and student assistant under defensive coordinator Reggie Herring, as a perfect candidate.

“So I called Reggie and he told me, ‘You better get him. You better get him right now,’” Whatley said.

Whatley got the same recommendation from new Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino and defensive coordinator Willy Robinson.

“It’s a big jump for me,” said Moore, who was introduced as the prospective Red Devil defensive coordinator at the Rotary Club gathering. “But I’ve learned under two really good defensive coaches and I got a feeling for coaching high school football under

Coach (Barry Lunney) at Fort Smith Southside.”

Whatley listed defensive experience, junior quarterback Logan Perry and deep offensive and defensive lines as the strengths of his 2009 squad. Those lines will benefit significantly from the move-in of a Batesville senior transfer who clocks in at 6-feet, 5-inches and 270 pounds.

“Last year, we just didn’t have much depth up front and we had to play some guys both ways on the line,” Whatley said. “This year, we’ll be stretched a little thin with the skill people.”

Whatley was asked about the controversial matter of private programs, which have now been relegated to their own conference after allegations of recruiting and complaints that they enjoyed unfair advantages over public schools.

“I think sometimes people don’t recognize the things that successful programs are doing right,” Whatley said. “Successful programs have accountability, long-range plans and are committed to what they are doing.

“I mean, yeah, I want a level playing field, but I think we need to find the best thing out there and try to level it that way.”

Whatley wouldn’t speculate on the allegations of recruiting but stressed that he’d much rather be able to just keep Jacksonville kids home, rather than rely on move-ins.

“I just want to get the ones we have here (in Jacksonville),” he said. “I want these kids walking the halls together and developing that chemistry and sense of community. We would all really benefit if those kids (in the Jacksonville youth football programs) would stay in our feeder schools and we wouldn’t lose them to different schools along the way.”

Whatley also stressed that academic performance would continue to be a top priority in his program, employing the phrase “books before ball.” While the requirement for player eligibility is a 2.0 grade point average, Whatley suggested that wasn’t high enough.

“You have to have a 2.5 to play at a Division I school,” he said. “We need to send a better message to these kids about academics.”

Jacksonville will continue to scrimmage Little Rock Catholic and Vilonia every Thursday at 5 p.m. through July at Jan Crow Stadium.