High School Football Stories

I can’t divulge much about the project yet, but I’m working on one with some others about the history of high school football in Arkansas. Because we have some many Arkansans on this board, I’m looking for feedback from you all about what you remember - the rivalries, dynasties, teams, players, coaches, games, etc. - about football in the state from your years as a student or an observer. Did your high school or one you know of have any unique traditions or legends passed down through the years?

Your feedback is appreciated. We have a number of people involved in this who know a lot about the state, but it doesn’t mean we know it all. I’m hoping there are some responses here that we can look into more.

In my day, LR Central was Arkansas football. Coach Matthews had them beating state champs from other states and they were by far the best team in Arkansas. At that time I think there were maybe three high schools in LR, Dunbar, Central and Catholic High. NLR was pretty good but Central was top dog. But that was over 60 years ago.

All those Thanksgiving Day games that were played across the state before they started the playoffs. Being from Eastern Arkansas I especially remember Clarendon-Holly Grove, but there were many others.

Yeah, Walnut Ridge and Pocahontas use to play on Thanksgiving, the winner got to keep the bell, which was on a trailer. Many a time it was painted, and even ended up in Black River.

My father was an RB at FS Northside during the WW2 years. They were very good back then.

Of course, I recognize that you’re probably not looking at the 1940’s.

I played out west…farther west than Fort Smith.

My dad played in the late 30’s, he told of some stories of games between Walnut Ridge and Blytheville. They road a train to games, an unfortunate incident between some inbibed fans and the Blytheville train when it headed home, lol. Walnut Ridge was a powerhouse, they had players in their early 20’s according to Dad, but he wasn’t. He was the QB, which didn’t mean much in the wing-t.

No, we want stories as far back as we can go. When did Bill Stancil become coach at Northside?

Heard some of the stories. Recruited kids to town, with some living at the fire station. Guess this was the approach before getting parents employment or the trend now with studs going to athletic mills. While I don’t think this trend was on-going during my growing up, but Coach Glenn’s American Legion baseball team cast a fairly wide net in my early years.

Jimmy Jeff Sharum and the Firehouse Boys, lol.

Top Dynasties

  1. LR Central from the days of leather helmets until 2000’s
  2. Pine Bluff High with Marion Glover as Head Coach.
  3. Barton under Frank McClellan

I always thought this was a neat story because I was close to it, but it was also the subject of a movie so someone else thought the same thing: John Outlaw won an Arkansas state title in 1979 as a 25-year-old first-year head coach at Arkadelphia (my brother was on that team); that team shut out every playoff opponent, an Arkansas first in the playoff era. Eight years later he won a state title again, went 14-0 and got the highest USA TODAY ranking for any Arkansas team to that point. Then he went to Texas and won big at first Sherman and then Lufkin, winning a state title at Lufkin with Reggie McNeal. Only coach I know of with state titles in two different states, but I could be wrong. Then he dropped dead on his 5 a.m. run one morning at age 58, which is how old I am now.

There’s a back story for that '79 team. Second week of the season they lost a close game at Ashdown, which was a really good team that year, going 9-1. But Outlaw was not happy with his team’s performance or preparation. Saturday morning they suited up for practice, which was basically nothing but gassers. He wanted to see who would quit on him. They ran gassers for three hours and no one quit (today he probably would get fired for that). And they never lost again. That was the last year that only district champs made the playoffs. Arkadelphia, Camden and Ashdown all finished 9-1, but Arkadelphia beat Camden decisively enough in their meeting at Camden to win the tiebreaker and ran the table in the playoffs; the other two schools stayed home. In all likelihood they were the three best teams in Class AAA that year.

Another Arkadelphia story, much more recent. Last year, as defending 4A champs, the Badgers started 0-5. Brutal schedule to start the season, three larger schools and then the two best teams in their conference, but still 0-5. Some people got healthy and they made some other lineup changes, using their quarterback on defense as a linebacker for one thing. And they got on a roll. Won 10 straight, beat Warren at Warren, and avenged one of those opening five losses by clobbering Robinson in the state title game at WMS to go back to back state champs with a 10-5 record. Hooten’s Magazine details that pretty well in the summer edition, I’m told, although I have not read their story.

Rick Jones and Bill Blankenship both won state championships in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

As soon as I typed that I thought of Blankenship, but Outlaw was the first to do it IIRC.

Jamie Mitchell at NLR and Starkville, MS.

Mississippi isn’t a state, it’s a Third World country.

Crossett was really good from about 1978 until the mid 80’s. Two 3A state titles in 78 and 84 (I think) in a paper mill town full of tough blue collar kids that had sports and the Ouachita river bottoms to keep them occupied. We produced a couple of Razorback players from this era…Jesse Clark, Keith Kidd, Bill Pierce just off my memory.

I remember being baptized into that 84 team and high school FB as a sophomore with a major concussion the first day of practice with pads…in a middle drill against an all state nose guard that played at UCA. That team had several NAIA players on it.

Coach Ed Johnson was a good coach, but a chain smoker that would get in your face and blow that smoke into it while chewing on you. Our run as a great small division program declined once the great athletes/skilled guys took up basketball full time, about the same time Nolan and Hog hoops took off. We needed the skill guys with speed(like Kidd’s younger brother and friends that graduated with me but elected to do only hoops at school), and there were always good skill guys in Crossett back in those days.

This should be a fun project and I have some ideas that may not be obvious.

One of features that might be interesting would be on Joe Fred Young. I believe he may have been head coach at some of the storied programs in Arkansas high school history: Little Rock Central, Fort Smith Northside, Fayetteville and Conway. There may be other stops. He also worked as the dorm counselor at Wilson Sharp while getting his Masters. Very interesting dude. And, he also fly fishes. OK, that’s enough on Joe Fred. Ken Stephens was a pretty good coach at North Little Rock. He’s still alive and in sharp wit, although not getting around as well.

Richard Bell (tailback) was like a son to Wilson Matthews during the glory days of Little Rock Central and would make a good feature. He was the first captain for Frank Broyles at Arkansas. Richard is still coaching in Athens, Ga.

There are lots of neat stories for this project, including some power houses (that may have recruited) like Forrest City. There were some great players that came through Forrest City that played at quite a few SEC schools, especially Arkansas.

Old Mo-head Ed. I knew him well. Got run out of Arkadelphia before he landed in Crossett. I think he went 2-8 his last year at AHS. Definitely had a lot more success in Eagle maroon though.

Jessie Clark went to La Tech initially then transferred to UA. Pierce was a transfer too, saw he was never going to play for Bear Bryant at Bama with Steadman Shealy running their Wishbone and came to UA.

Springdale coached by Jarrell Williams was a machine. Right when you thought they might be down, here comes Gus Malzahn.

Springdale seldom had the talent level of Northside, but they did more with what they had.

Sometimes, Northside was so fast, you had to have elite talent just to stay with them.

Fayetteville-Springdale was an entertaining rivalry. When I was in college at the UA, I tried to see that one every year.

To me, Springdale is a bigger long-term story, but the rise of Bentonville – which had only a modest legacy of success prior to Barry Lunney’s arrival – was spectacular.

At one time, Farmington was a real powerhouse on its level, the one small school in NWA that was consistently strong.

That’s what I remember – that and a thousand Winslow Squirrels jokes.

The best Winslow Squirrel joke was probably when the Elkins coaching staff concocted a plan to get John Bunch the national high school single game rushing record against the mighty Squirrels in 1974. He was stepping out of bounds at the 1-year-line to avoid running up the score any more than they did; as it was, the final score was 74-0.

Rogers did pretty well at punching above its weight in the 70s too, not to the extent of Jarrell Williams at Springdale, but Gary Bond was a good coach.