After a couple of ripples, the wave of football season hits this week.
Excitement is rampant at every point in Faulkner County. Everyone is optimistic. As Labor Day approaches, there is much title talk.
It’s Christmas in September.
This year, there’s a touch of newness to go with the regular routine.
Hendrix will field its first football team in 53 years, bringing a new dynamic to campus with new faces and new traditions.
It’s brought a different dynamic to the Log Cabin. We’ve produced a 40-page special section commemmorating the historic first season at Hendrix. The almost unprecedented excitement surrounding University of Central Arkansas football has prompted this newspaper, in conjunction with UCA’s sports information department, to publish a weekly tabloid that will be inserted into the Friday newspaper and will serve as the game program for home games. UCA’s playoff success had a lot to do with this. It was inspired by a similar publication that the University of Montana offered when the Bears played the Grizzlies in an NCAA FCS playoff game.
This is the third year that the Log Cabin has produced a television special featuring county teams that is airing on Conway cable. With Hendrix adding football, the TV show will involve two 30-minute specials, one for college and one for high school. Coaches and selected players for all the county teams will be featured.
In putting together the special, videographer Eric White and I visited every preseason camp in the county.
Along the journey, here are some initial reflections:
On a brilliant afternoon, a Warrior team had their first practice in 53 years and curiosity was high as the team took the field in new gear in a new stadium with their soon-to-be-opened modern fieldhouse and locker room. Everything is fresh.
Talk about campus concerns where extra seating can be available in the 1,500-foot Young-Wise Stadium. There are no visitors stands. Officials expect 3,000 for the opener against Westminster.
“But we really have no idea,” said Frank Cox, communications director.
The steel drum band from Episcopal Collegiate in Little Rock will perform at halftime of the opener. Hendrix will not have a marching band and what will develop for halftime is uncertain. Whatever, it will have a unique and special “Hendrix” touch.
The most emotional moment of the opener could occur when members of Hendrix teams of the past lead the new Warriors onto the field, followed by a ceremonial handoff from the past to the present.
The official tailgating spots are on a waiting list. But there will be tailgating throughout campus, even at Hendrix Village. Several have reportedly scoped out “unofficial spots.”
When tailgating begins, think Oklahoma land rush.
The Bears opened Thursday night with a 58-7 home victory over Incarnate Word, a game won with such ease that it gave fans plenty of time to visit and tailgate.
UCA is undefeated on “The Stripes,” but will have several challenges at home this season, including McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin, Southeastern Louisiana and the climactic regular-season game against Sam Houston State.
Many UCA fans left First Security Field at Estes Stadium talking about Colorado, Saturday’s opponent in Boulder. Many believe UCA has a strong chance of defeating the Pac-12 team, one of the worst in NCAA FBS last year.
Because Bruce Street couldn’t be blocked off early because of classes Thursday, tailgating at UCA did not get into full swing.
When we arrived for an early morning practice at Conway High, the Wampus Cats were not on the field.
The players were inside the fieldhouse, lifting weights and in position meetings.
Conway coach Clint Ashcraft and his staff believe in preparation and they will field another large squad, both heavy on seniors and sophomores.
Allowing the sophomores to plan a Monday sophomore schedule has kept players competing against players in their same class and development stage. It has kept them interested.
“We have put a lot of emphasis on leadership and it’s paying dividends,” said Ashcraft.
Under Ashcraft, the Cats have had success but have never gotten past the second round of the playoffs.
They seem determined to break past that barrier this season.
The Panthers continued their amazing revival as a 5A school last season, winning the 5A West title with an 11-0 regular-season record.
Football is cool and electric around Greenbrier.
You are not around the city long before you detect the community excitement.
There are a lot of new faces on the team. The Panthers are now high on their quarterback tradition that has sent Neal Burcham to SMU and Seth Peters to Hendrix in recent years.
“Last year was fun,” said Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble. “We lost some great senior leaders but we hope to keep building.”
Coach Jim Stanley is smiling and has reason.
He thinks this is his best team since 2007, a group that reached the state title game.
Much of the optimism rests on some strong skill players and junior quarterback Jared Willis, whom he claims as possibly the best quarterback he’s ever coached.
“If we can stay healthy, this could be a fun year,” Stanley said.
Optimism is also high at Mayflower, one of the more high-powered offensive teams in the state last season.
The Eagles believe they have a defense this season that could potentially slow a team down.
Coach Jed Davis thinks he has a group that could make a serious run in the state playoffs
One thing is certain. Playing for Davis is not dull. Before the season began, he talked of a “band of brothers” camp and a “father-son” camp. He and some of his coaches even took a group white-water rafting in Tennessee.
He stresses bonding and he hopes the bond is strong.
With the best group of senior athletes in its history, Conway Christian had the best overall season last year of any shool in Class 2A.
The football team challenged Bigelow for a conference title and won its first playoff game in history.
Now, there is a sense of determination at one of the newest schools in the Arkansas Activities Association.
The players talk about building on the legacy. There is a sense there is more to prove.
“We don’t have a lot of players but we have some good ones,” said coach Michael Carter.
A new season begins and continues with gusto beginning this weekend.
How it unfolds will be interesting and exciting — everywhere.