Football is back.
It’s been an interesting offseason for Sylvan Hills as they’ve been homeless of sorts while their playing field, Bill Blackwood Field, is renovated with new turf, entrance, and track.
"The [field] project hasn’t really affected practice because we have a practice field, but getting this new field will make our program more attractive to all future students," said coach Jim Withrow. "It’s a project that will make our community proud."
The field is being laid down by Shaw Sports Turf out of Calhoun, Ga., and should be ready for action when the Bears come home in week 3 of the season on Sept. 19 to play the Greyhounds of Newport.
But the Bears are still rolling along, construction and all, as Aug. 4 marked the first day of their annual Fall Camp electing to practice early in the mornings at 6 a.m.
"Practicing in the early morning helps keep us out of the heat," Withrow said. "We can get a lot done without having to worry about safety issues,. Time of practice plays a huge factor in a lot of teams thought processes at this time of year, so Withrow and his staff decided it best to keep the kids cool even though the early mornings can be a grind for everyone involved."
The Bears are expectedto improve on last year’s disappointing first round playoff loss to 5A South co-champ Hope, relying heavily on a large senior class. The Bears have over 20 seniors who have a lot of playing experience.
Withrow is returning nine of 11 offensive starters who will be the force behind the Bears high-powered offensive attack led by 3-year starter and senior quarterback Trajan Doss. Out wide, the Bears see junior receiver Cameron Dews returning along with senior tight end Elijah Sowards, both of which made huge improvements in the offseason in the weight room and on the field in 7-on-7 play.
Moving to the slot opposite staple senior receiver and running back Marlon Clemons is senior Nathan Thomas, who was a frequent target for Doss last year out wide, but Thomas’ quickness and ability to block on the edge made for a great transition for him into a key role for the Bears’ offense. Moving to the backfield, the Bears return senior tailback Tyler Davis who is a wrecking ball carrying the ball due to his toughness and difficulty in bringing him down, backed up by junior tailback Fred Williams, who’s quick feet and elusiveness adds a dynamic combination with Davis’ tough downhill running. On the offensive line, the Bears will be returning 3 starters in senior guard Haden Hawkins, who has already received offers from Ouachita Baptist University and Arkansas Tech, senior guard Clark Thornton, who is making the transition from Center, and senior T Walker Meriwether, who is always solid is pass protection.
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the Bears are faced with a lot of holes to fill on the depth chart after losing three defensive All-State players to graduation. With only three returning starters, the Bears look to new faces and young talent to be the key to their success on defense. At safety, senior James Waller returns to take the role of free safety in defensive coordinator Coach Chad Collins’ 4-2-5 scheme. At cornerback is senior DeAngelo Bell, who made huge strides in the weight room in the offseason. Junior Joseph Craft will play the hybrid ‘bandit’ position which requires a player to play down on the line like a linebacker, but be able to cover like a corner or safety.
Moving to linebacker, Jonathan Hicks, a transfer from Parkview, has come in and made quite the impression on the coaching staff and is expected to contribute early. Up front, the Bears will see defensive tackle Devin Spencer, who saw a lot of rotation last year for the Bears, to step in and help clog the middle and cause problems for opposing offensive lines. Although the Bears defense will see a lot of new faces on defense, Collins’ expects them to be athletic and compete each night in the fast and pass-happy 5A Central.
The Bears will finish out their Fall Camp a=on Friday, and start school the following Monday.
From there, the Bears travel across town to Robinson on August 26th for a full-team scrimmage against Robinson and Greenbrier, both teams that will be a good challenge early for the Bears. The season will begin on the road, when they travel to Vilonia for a second year to take on the Eagles. The Bears set the tone early on in their game with an offensive rout winning 31-16 win, so expect the Eagles to be ready to play in their rematch at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.