While instilling a “Burn The Ships” mentality for the team, coach Clint Ashcraft hopes the Wampus Cats can sail past the second-round playoff barrier the last three years.
“Burn The Ships” is taken from a command by Spanish conquistador Cortez during the conquest of the Americas in which he ordered his men to burn the ships because they had to be in all the way or not complete the mission.
“For us to get to the next step (in the state playoffs), we need everybody in this together,” said Ashcraft. “Our guys have bought into that.”
The Wampus Cats have 35 seniors, the most in awhile. There are six returning offensive starters and 10 on defense.
“There are not a whole lot of things they haven’t seen or been through or prepared for,” said Ashcraft. “We didn’t get great senior leadership last year. This spring and summer, we took our seniors aside and told them how to be leaders and it’s making a difference.”
Sophomore Breylin Smith is a multi-threat quarterback, potentially one of the best in school history. “He came out in the spring, competed against two juniors and two sophomores and took the position over and is drawing some college interest,” Ashcraft said.
The offensive line is anchored by center Blane Joyner (6-foot-2, 261), who is one of the strongest players on the team. Colton Jackson (6-6, 291 junior) has already been offered by the Arkansas Razorbacks. Danny Thomas, Josh Hannon, Frank Jackson and Ben Nolen add to the mix. “Side to side, we may be the biggest we’ve been in the offensive line,” said Ashcraft.
The Cats are deep at running back with seniors Evan Wilson, Kevin Chomorro, Karlil Johnson and junior Derail McCoy. Wide receiver Sidney Moore (5-11, 178) has drawn college attention with his strength and speed.
“We have some tight ends we can use in the passing game, and we haven’t had that element in the past,” said Ashcraft.
The Cats also have one of the best place-kickers in high school football in junior Matt Cummins, who booted six field goals and hit 50 of 51 extra points last season.
It’s rich in experience and speed.
“Our line is not the biggest, but it can run,” said Ashcraft. “We need to be moving. We will be challenged by teams that run straight ahead and try to knock us in the mouth.”
The line, led by seniors Cortez Akins and Kevasia Tate, David Ford, Quentin Day, Allen Poole, Andre Willard, Daniel Nyberg, Saxon Smith and John Tiefel, has improved sign significantly in strength.
Senior linebacker Justin Vinson is the leading returning tackler and another of the Cats’ strongest players. Landon Hood is the leader of the linebacking corps that also features Nick Starr and Jackson Smith.
Conway could have one of the best secondaries in 7A with seniors Malik Lemons, Collin Condit and two-year starter A.J. Burton, who had 59 tackles, two interceptions and three forced fumbles last season. Cornerback Anthony Tufu is another returning starter.
Can the Wampus Cats’ slew of veteran players combine with the promising young ones to develop the chemistry and unity to take the next step?
YOU MAY NOT KNOW
Smith, the Conway quarterback, is a son of the late Dandra Thomas, one of the best overall athletes in school history who was killed in an automobile several years ago, His grandfather is former Hendrix basketball star Danny Thomas.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Junior offensive lineman Colton Jackson was offered a scholarship while at a camp at the University of Arkansas over the summer.
“We took him up there to camp and by noon, he was in the coaches’ offices and they offered him,” Ashcraft said. “That’s without him ever starting in a high school game. That shows you the type of athlete they think he is.”