When Bryant does make it to a state championship game, the routine won’t be foreign to them thanks to Salt Bowl week. Bryant third-year Coach Buck James was amazed by the commitments and stress involved in playing in the state’s largest rivalry against county foe Benton. His teams are 2-0 in those games, but the wins didn’t come without adjustments to the amount of time devoted away from the field.
“You have to be Week-4 ready because of the magnitude of the game. It’s not the typical Week-1 game,” James said. “When I was at Camden, we played El Dorado in front of 15,000 to 17,000 fans, but when you have 30,000 people at War Memorial Stadium, that is a different ball of wax. It really gets you ready to play in a state championship game. The state championship week isn’t nearly as intense and time-demanding as the Salt Bowl. If we can get past that next step to the state championship game, that week won’t be abnormal for us.”
James credits quarterback coach Kirk Bock for having two experienced quarterbacks competing in the spring. Senior Ren Hefley (6’2”, 190 lbs.) began 2017 as the starter but broke his collarbone Week 6. Hefley (4.2 GPA, 30 ACT), who was elected class president, returned Week 12 and finished 129 of 221 with 1,800 yards and 19 touchdowns with only four interceptions on the season.
Junior Jake Meaders (5’11”, 165 lbs.) started five games, and thanks to Bock’s tutelage Bryant “didn’t miss a beat” as Meaders (32 ACT) took over the offense. He passed for 244 yards and a TD at Cabot and 269 yards and three scores against Conway.
James said that Hefley has regained his place on the depth chart, but Meaders will take snaps as quarterback in games and has emerged as one of the top receiving threats as wide receiver.
“Jake is such a great athlete, and you want to have as many players on the field that can make plays,” James said. “He has been one of our best receivers in 7-on-7. Don’t be surprised if you see him in a game throwing and catching passes. He is a very versatile athlete we have to have on the field.”
Senior all-state running back Latavion Scott (5’9”, 200 lbs.) ran for 1,341 yards and caught 32 passes for 324 yards in 2017. Senior Braylon Butler (5’10”, 170 lbs.) and junior Ahmad Adams (6’1”, 200 lbs.) both saw work in the Hornets backfield a year ago.
Senior receiver Randy Thomas (6’1”, 180 lbs.) is a two-year starter and was third in receiving yards last season. Senior Josh Robinson (6’2”, 170 lbs.) emerged during 7-on-7 seasons as a playmaker. Sophomore River Gregory (5’10”, 165 lbs.) lines up in the slot, while classmate Butler will play in the other slot when he’s not in the backfield. Senior Grant Botti (6’, 200 lbs.) struggled with injuries last year, but should be at full strength this year and will see time. Senior Brandon Jett (5’10”, 165 lbs.) impresses with exact routes and will contribute more this year.
The Hornets return a strong, experienced line unit. Senior all-state tackle Blaise Smith (6’2”, 290 lbs.) is a three-year starter and bench-presses 410 pounds. Senior Jake Burton (6’3”, 305 lbs.), who lost 30 pounds and bench presses 330 pounds, takes over at guard after logging most of his experience on the JV squad.
Seniors Josh Stevens (5’9”, 285 lbs.) and Austin Trimble (5’11”, 285 lbs.) are embroiled in a battle for the starting center position. Stevens has started eight games the past two seasons subbing in for an injured starter, but he was injured in a car accident in the spring and spent several weeks recovering. He bench presses more than 300 pounds and squats more than 500. Senior guard Clay McElyea (6’2”, 275 lbs.) earned all-conference honors last season, while right tackle Logan Burton (6’2”, 285 lbs.) returns for his third season as a starter.
Senior Martin Ramirez (5’10”, 180 lbs.), a two-time all-state soccer player, handled most of the kicking duties a year ago booting a 32-yard field goal against Cabot. Junior Grayson Scoles (5’11”, 180 lbs.) kicked extra points during the playoffs. Sophomore Austin Ledbetter (6’1”, 175 lbs.), who was offered a baseball scholarship from the University of Arkansas as a freshman, could punt after playing quarterback in junior high last year.
Senior tackle Kajuan Robinson (6’2”, 305 lbs.) has become one of the premier defensive linemen in the starting of a good portion of the games since he first tried football as a sophomore. Robinson (385-pound bench press, 460-pound squat) totaled 24 tackles, including five sacks, in 2017.
Classmate Josh Salgueiro (5’11”, 255 lbs.) lines up at the other tackle. Salgueiro (400-pound bench press, 580-pound squat) racked up 28 tackles a year ago.
Senior Nate Wallace (6’3”, 265 lbs.) returns at one end. Wallace, who has gained 70 pounds over the past two years, bench presses 360 pounds and totaled 47 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and four sacks. Junior Austin Bailey (6’2”, 255 lbs.), a converted linebacker, started at the other end last year as a sophomore.
Versatile senior Logan Reed (5’11”, 225 lbs.) earned all-conference honors as a deep snapper last fall, but will also fill in on the defensive line as well as at guard and fullback, James said.
Senior all-state middle linebacker Jakob Neal (6’, 220 lbs.) has a chance to break the Hornets’ all-time tackle record, but he will have to wait until mid-October to get on the field after tearing his ACL. Neal racked up 122 tackles in 2017.
Senior Jake Wright (5’10”, 170 lbs.), who plays baseball, returns to outside linebacker after amassing nearly 50 tackles in 2017.
Athletic junior Catrell Wallace (6’6”, 215 lbs.), who has 4.6 speed, mans the other outside spot and has attracted recruiting attention from Memphis after collecting 33 tackles and three sacks last year. Wallace also lines up at end on occasion.
The secondary may be the biggest concern for James after losing three starters from last year, but he retains veteran cornerback Andrew Hayes (5’11”, 175 lbs.). Hayes (4.5 speed) is beginning his third year as a starter after totaling 36 tackles and two forced fumbles last fall.
Juniors Derrick Rose (5’10”, 165 lbs.) and Christian Cain (5’10”, 165 lbs.) are battling for the other cornerback job. Senior Jabin Gulley (6’1”, 185 lbs.) earned a starting nod at safety in the spring after transferring from White Hall. Gulley was one of the Bulldogs’ top offensive weapons last fall with more than 500 yards receiving.