The situation has reversed for the Conway Wampus Cats this season.
Last year, almost all the experience was on the defensive side. This year, the Cats return nine starters from a prolific offense and two on defense.
“Last year, it took awhile for our offense to catch up with the defense,” said coach Clint Ashcraft. “The offense may have to carry us this year while the defense catches up. We have some players who have played on defense but just not started.”
The Cats, 9-3 last season, reached the 7A semifinals last year for the first time in 10 years.
In a scrimmage game last week, the Cats lost to highly regarded North Little Rock, 21-16, in a tightly contested match.
“We saw some things and positions we’ve got top shore up before we play a game,” Ashcraft said.
Junior quarterback Breylin Smith is one of the best in the state. The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder passed for 1,975 yards and 19 touchdowns, completing 145 of 234 passes.
“The thing about him is he is so steady,” said Ashcraft. “You can’t tell whether he’s frustrated or happy. He has the same expression, acts the same.”
Smith is supported in the backfield by senior Kevin Chamorro, who rushed for almost 1,000 yards last season and scored 16 touchdowns. Senior Karlil Johnson is a dangerous breakaway threat.
The Cats are led up from by Colton Jackson, 6-6, 291, who began the season last year as a backup, then impressed Univesity of Arkansas coaches so much in a camp that he was offered a scholarship right there. “He’s improved this season, particularly in the running game, but he has a few things to work on with his technique,” Ashcraft said.
Frank Jackson, Ben Nolen, Zach Mills and Ethan Williams were the top offensive linemen going into preseason camp.
D.J. Johnson, who caught 20 passes for 320 yards and five touhdowns last season, leads the receiving corps. Brock Mitchell, Matt Cummins, Grant Ellis and Harrison Pew are other projected top receivers.
Linebacker Hunter Scott is one of the leading returning tacklers. Senior safety Collin Condit is a three-year starter who had 63 tackles and two interceptions last season. The rest of secondary was up for grabs at the beginning of preseason drills.
Senior end Saxon Smith started the last three games last season and should be a stalwart up front. Austin Norris, Daniel Nyberg, John Tiefel and Bobby Miller are needed to bolster things up front.
The Cats will have one of the best kicking games in the state with Matt Cummins (47 of 49 PAT) and nine field goals, including a 50-yarder. Punter Grant Ellis appears solid.
Can an inexperienced Wampus Cat defense hold up?
Sept. 5 season opener at home against Cabot. Oct. 10 at Greenwood.
PLAYER ON THE RISE
Junior defensive end Austin Norris may be a key to the development of the CHS defense.