For many Arkansas football fans, Michael Dyer is one of the most polarizing sports figures around. As a senior at Little Rock Christian High School, he was the top ranked running back in the nation. Dyer, of course, chose Auburn and it didn’t appear as if the Razorbacks finished a close second.
For a while, it appeared as if Dyer had made the correct decision. Two straight 1,000 yard seasons and a BCS National Championship Game MVP award will make it seem that way. But things weren’t going nearly as smoothly off the field. Dyer was smoking synthetic marijuana, and apparently running with the wrong crowd. The wheels started coming off in spring 2011 when his gun was used during an armed robbery, the vehicle started smoking in winter 2012 after he was indefinitely suspended from Auburn and then released from his scholarship and the whole thing went up in flames last summer when he was released from Arkansas State after more bad news involving marijuana and a gun.
Given these events, it’s little wonder Dyer has lately stayed out of the public eye.
Since fall 2012, he’s attended Arkansas Baptist College, the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi River, and is on track to earn his associate’s degree this summer in general studies, college president Fitz Hill told me.
Dyer has only given two interviews with mainstream media this year. In one this spring, with THV’s Mark Edwards, he says he would like an opportunity to walk on at the University of Arkansas. “I was asked to sit out [of football for] a year,” Dyer said on the broadcast. “I was asked to do a lot of changing and maturing to become a better person and a better football player. I spent this whole year doing exactly what I was asked to so that I could reach some of the goals that I knew later that I wanted to do.”
Perhaps Dyer ends up at a major college football program next season, looking to swing for the fences instead of suffering a third strike. Maybe he finds no major college is willing to take the risk. Either way, that college’s decision doesn’t ultimately matter nearly as much as whether Dyer has truly sought to become a better person this past year or not.
We talk about Dyer because of what he has done on the football field, in front of a thousand cameras and million eyes. But it’s the small decisions he’s made over the last year, the temptations he’s said “yes” or “no” when hardly anybody was around, that will more determine whether he thrives as a person or not.
Society may see Dyer’s “success” as football-based, but I hope Dyer has matured enough to know that the sport is of greatest benefit to him as a tool. If he is better now, if he has truly come around like he says he has, he will also be mature enough to be able to let go off football one day (possibly soon) and find success in whatever field he turns his mind to.
Because, as polarizing as Dyer has been for many football fans in this state who don’t know him, there are still a lot of people who do love him.
If you want proof, look at these pictures below. These pictures were taken last fall at a youth crime prevention program called the OK Program. Dyer was invited to share his story – the good, the bad and the ugly – with the teenagers who made up the audience.
He did, and he did a great job of it:
These kids aren’t praying for Dyer because he ran for three touchdowns for their favorite football team. They probably wouldn’t care which college program he played for. All they know is that he was once so high, and in some ways has come so low. But with their prayers he can be lifted again.
And, if his words hit their hearts right, so can they.
If Dyer wants to succeed in life – on the field and off, he would do well to nourish his roots and remember to seek strength from those who choose to love him despite the helmet he wears.
A family comes in all forms.
I had a good interview with Wadie Moore, the assistant executive director for Arkansas’s organizing body for high school athletics, about the enduring issue of incomplete records. Here’s the resulting article:
When Wadie Moore started compiling a record book for the Arkansas Activities Association around 1996, he wanted it to be as comprehensive as possible.
The assistant executive director for Arkansas’s organizing body for high school athletics combed through archives and drew on the contacts he’d made in his decades of sportswriting for the Arkansas Gazette.
All the while, though, Moore knew the record book he was creating told an incomplete story of his state’s athletic past. He knew there had been two high school sports associations divided by race until 1967, when the all-white Arkansas Activities Association integrated with the all-black Arkansas State Athletic Association.
When compiling the book, which includes a list of state champions in various sports and all-time leaders in statistical categories, Moore used official records kept by the AAA dating back to the early 1900s. But he didn’t find any records kept by the ASAA. The paperwork, if it existed, apparently wasn’t transferred to the AAA headquarters. So, Moore didn’t include marks set by all-black powerhouse programs in basketball, football and track like Pine Bluff Merrill, Little Rock Dunbar, Horace Mann, Scipio Jones, Hot Springs Langston and Texarkana Washington high schools.
The result affects not only the AAA record book, but all the news reports that use it as a source.
Read the rest of the Arkansas Times piece here.
In researching this topic, I’ve discovered every Southern state has made different degrees of progress in exhibiting the history of its pre-integration, all-black athletic association.
West Virginia appears to have made the most headway of all non-Northern states with a deeply segregated racial past. The border state appears to have the oldest all-black association – dating back to at least 1925 – and today has an active All-Black Schools Sports & Academic Hall of Fame that holds ceremonies to celebrate an aspect of that state’s heritage that likely would otherwise remain vastly under-reported.
I recently gave myself a concussion, so forceful were the repeated slaps to my forehead as I read the following column by Democrat-Gazette columnist Bradley Gitz.
On the surface, it seems Gitz would be someone who bases his arguments on, oh, actual reason. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Illinois and teaches at Lyon College, which has a fairly high academic reputation among mid South private colleges. But Gitz packed his column with so much sloppy thinking, overgeneralizing and sophomoric name-calling, I shudder at the prospect of him teaching our nation’s future leaders to think.
Below are the most egregious excerpts, with my own comments following:
Football’s risky—so what?
Published Feb 18, 2013
“The best thing about this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t how exciting the game was (although it was certainly that) but that there were so few of those ridiculous flags for breathing on the quarterbacks or accidentally touching the receivers that make fans groan and smack their foreheads.Maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the officials telling them to put the sissy stuff away and let the players actually play the game, for once.The powder-puff probably won’t stay put away for long though, as football at all levels is now squarely in the cross-hairs of our self-appointed pleasure police. They don’t much like football for the same reason they don’t like fast food, tobacco, fizzy soft drinks, SUVs, or guns—because the rest of us less-sensitive types in flyover country do.”
“Dedicated to a life of pestering their neighbors over their unhealthy habits and unenlightened attitudes, our hand-wringing “girly-men” have, in a moment of sudden revelation, noticed that football is violent and dangerous (imagine that!).”
I’ve spent the last few months interviewing North Little Rock football player Altee Tenpenny and his inner circle about his recruitment.
Tenpenny, of course, has been the subject of plenty discussion in these parts. He committed to Alabama in January 2012, but it always held the door slightly ajar from the Razorbacks to make their case. When Bret Bielema came aboard as Arkansas’ new coach, with a reputation for showcasing top-notch running backs at his previous stint in Wisconsin, Tenpenny allowed that door to creak ever slightly more open.
But Monday night, with a Tweet declaring he was 100% committed to Alabama, Tenpenny slammed the door shut.
This morning, on National Signing Day, he used a pen and fax machine to deadbolt that sucker.
I still think Arkansas fans should pay attention to the story of his recruitment, however. There are so many interlocking parts to the whole process – from the coaches’ spiels, to the parents’ jobs, to the high school coach’s background and the way the media (yes, me included) not only report on this whole crazy carnival but to different degrees actually participate in it.
Every recruit has to deal with similar issues. You hope the teen has people who have his best intentions in mind to deal with a process that only becomes more pressure packed and scrutinized by the year. So, I was heartened to see that Tenpenny has good parents to help him distinguish between emotion-fueled propaganda and reasonable arguments. I know Hog fans don’t like the outcome, but they should still reflect on and pay heed to the process.
Tenpenny’s recruitment represents only the first battle between Bret Bielema’s Arkansas staff and Nick Saban’s Alabama staff. It may be a while before Arkansas can win on the field, but in the recruiting world Arkansas’ first victory could come as early as next February. Josh Frazier, a 6-4, 324-pound junior defensive lineman from Springdale Har-Ber, has offers from Arkansas and Alabama.
Heading into his sophomore season at North Little Rock High School, running back Altee Tenpenny had never heard of a combine.
He didn’t know a summer circuit fitness test could rocket a previously obscure name onto the radar of every major college football program and secure the attention of top college football coaches. However, his high school coaches did, and in June 2010 they encouraged him to attend one. Tenpenny came back with a score of 90.91. “Everybody was looking at me like I did good,” he said. Indeed, at 15 years old, without a minute of varsity football under his belt, the native Arkansan’s score identified him as an elite athlete, the kind that made college football coaches and fans drool.
Read the entire 7,000 word article here.
I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, so I no longer expect to wake up on Christmas morning with treats stuffed in my stocking.
I do, however, believe in longtime Arkansas sportswriter Walter Woodie. And Woodie recently left an email in my inbox that made me smile as much as any snow-dusted Snickers bar from the North Pole could have.
He sent me the following game report from an Arkansas high school football final in 1990. I consider the game’s star, Basil Shabazz, to be an Arkansas version of Bo Jackson. This game represented his finest moment:
Here are some immediate impressions:
1. Texarkana quarterback Mike Cherry would end up as a highly touted freshman for the Arkansas Razorbacks. As Barry Lunney’s perpetual backup, however, he never could carve out consistent paying time. Houston Nutt, then a UA assistant, coached him at the start of his college career. In 1993, Nutt left to become head coach of Murray State. Two years later, Cherry transferred to that same Kentucky school and led Nutt’s teams to two conference titles.
In my previous post, I explored reasons why NWA 7A high school football dominates the rest of the state – specifically, central Arkansas.
All coaches I interviewed said NWA school districts prioritize sports and allocate more money for them. I was curious, then, how much NWA schools spend on athletics vis a vis central Arkansas schools. As you see below, only Cabot places among the top five districts in terms of estimated athletics expenditure per student:
How I got these numbers:
1. Most recent expenditure numbers (2011-12) came from the Arkansas Department of Education.
2. I also got most recent school enrollments (2010-11) from the ADE. Some schools in the districts (all elementary schools and most middle schools in NWA) don’t have athletic programs so I subtracted the enrollment of those schools. Therefore, the number of students mentioned in the above graph pertain to only the enrollments of high schools, junior highs and middle schools with athletic programs.
3. I divided the expenditures by the number of students to get a rough estimate of how much priority the districts give to sports. Rough, because I took numbers from two separate years. Also because I used only expenditure numbers from one specific year and those can strongly fluctuate based on major infrastructure building projects.
Still, the goal here was to provide a snapshot giving us a ballpark idea of why NWA keeps coming out on top. I believe the graph does that.
Oh, and here’s one of the consequences when it comes to football:
Since 2005, NWA teams are 24-10 vs. central Arkansas teams in the 7A playoffs. Six times in that period NWA has battled central Arkansas with a spot in the finals at War Memorial Stadium on the line. Six times, NWA won:
2005 Springdale 49, LR Catholic 14
2006 Fort Smith Southside 40, NLR 34 (2 OT)
2009 Springdale Har-Ber 14, Cabot 10
2009 Fort Smith Southside 24, NLR 23
2011 Bentonville 31, NLR 7
2012 Fayetteville 30, NLR 28
A casual observer might call the down-to-the-wire victory Fayetteville High pulled off at North Little Rock High on November 23 an act of God. North Little Rock had just finished surging back from a 24-6 deficit early in the fourth quarter to take a 28-27 lead with 30 seconds left in the 7A state playoff semifinals. As the teams lined up for the ensuing kickoff, the home crowd was rocking. Surely, after so many close calls, North Little Rock would make its long-awaited appearance in the state’s football championship game.
Then, the most statistically probable miracle in Arkansas sports happened.
In 25 seconds, Fayetteville drove the ball down the field with almost surgical precision. A 22-yard kickoff return and two passes totaling 37 yards led to a 38-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights and cut through the heart of every blue and yellow clad fan in the stands that bitter cold night.
Was it manifest destiny that Fayetteville return to its third straight championship game, where it would win its second straight title?
But, more likely, it was only the latest result of Arkansas sports’ own law of probability: Most things being unequal, northwest Arkansas football teams have the edge over central Arkansas counterpart long before they ever take the field.
Since 2004, no central Arkansas team has made the finals of 7A, the state’s largest classification. A team from the northwest, including Fort Smith, has won the title every year since 2005. Each runner-up since 2006 has also been from NWA. This year, NWA dominance extended to the second-largest classification when Greenwood beat Pine Bluff 51-44.
Central Arkansas’ biggest schools keep falling short. “Frankly, it’s almost embarrassing to those who have some pride in your athletic programs,” says Frank Williams, the athletic director at Little Rock McClellan High School, which is in 6A.
Why can’t anybody beat NWA?
“All coaches have talked about it from time to time, and everyone has their own theories,” says Shane Patrick, head coach at Springdale High School and former president of the Arkansas Football Coaches Association.
North Little Rock’s loss to Fayetteville only latest example of NWA dominance in high school footballPosted: November 24, 2012
North Little Rock nearly pulled off the improbable Friday night.
The Charging Wildcats were down 24-6 to Fayetteville early in the fourth quarter, and any hopes of reaching the championship game were quickly slipping away. But, with the help of a few big plays and the mounting support of a home crowd, NLR righted the ship and began quickly chipping away at the lead. With about 30 seconds left, North Little Rock converted a two-point play to push ahead 28-27 and cap a stunning 22-3 run in less than 10 minutes. The miraculous comeback neared completion.
Yet, even more improbably, a central Arkansas team was poised to win a semifinal game in the state’s largest classification – something that hasn’t happened in eight years. Moreover, since 2006, every 7A title game has featured northwest Arkansas teams.
North Little Rock’s successful reversal of the trend was not be to be.
The Fayetteville Bulldogs returned NLR’s ensuing kickoff to their own 42 yard line, then completed two passes for 37 yards to set up a game-winning 38-yard field goal.
And so, just like that, the 2004 Little Rock Central Tigers remain the last central Arkansas high school to not only win a state title in the largest classification, but even play for one at War Memorial Stadium.
Since then, in the playoffs, NWA teams are 26-10 against central Arkansas teams.
Here are the results from the last two rounds:
Springdale 54, West Memphis 20
Springdale 49, LR Catholic 14
West Memphis 17, FS Northside 14 OT
FS Southside 23, Rogers 22
FS Southside 40, NLR 34 2 OT
Rogers 35, Fayetteville 26
Fayetteville 28, Springdale Har-Ber 7
Fayetteville 24, Bentonville 7
Springdale Har-Ber 47, Russellville 23
Bentonville 32, FS Southside 20
Bentonville 27, Russellville 0
FS Southside 8, Springdale Har-Ber 7
Springdale Har-Ber 27, FS Southside 6
Springdale Har-Ber 14, Cabot 10
FS Southside 24, NLR 23
Bentonville 49, Fayetteville 28
Bentonville 49, Springdale Har-Ber 20
Fayetteville 24, FS Southside 21
Fayetteville 29, Bentonville 28 OT
Fayetteville 23, FS Southside 20
Bentonville 31, NLR 7
Fayetteville vs Bentonville
Fayetteville 30, North Little Rock 28
Bentonville 28, FS Southside 21
After the game, I spoke to Jamie Washington, an assistant football coach at Little Rock Fair, about why central Arkansas teams have so drastically fallen behind their NWA counterparts.
Before Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, and before Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in 2000, this Arkansan took Centre’s stage.
In the 21st century, Centre College’s national reputation has been staked to two events: the 2000 vice presidential debate and Thursday’s vice presidential debate/smirkfest pitting incumbent Joe Biden against Republican Paul Ryan.
For the 20th century, though, there is no debate on which event stands above the rest in the annals of this small, Presbyterian Kentucky school.
In 1921, Centre College’s football team snapped then powerhouse Harvard’s five-year winning streak, which the New York Times tabbed as arguably the century’s greatest upset. It might not have happened without Centre captain Norris Armstrong, a native of Fort Smith, Ark. Armstrong’s role in that 6-0 road victory wasn’t flashy; not that there was too much flash to go around in a game that ended 6-0 and was played in the 1920s. But the 5-10, 165-pound Armstrong did provide crucial blocking on teammate Bo McMillin’s a looping 32-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. So much acclaim came from this upset by a school of less than 300 students, that apparently McMillan later had a board game named after him.
“It’s the archetypal story of the underdog; Centre was so much smaller than Harvard,” the school’s director of communications told The Advocate-Messenger, a local newspaper, in 2006. “Also, there was prejudice against the South, and Centre was viewed as being in the South. And the fact these Southern boys went up there and give mighty Harvard a lesson in football captured the nation’s attention.”
Not surprisingly, the players got much ink in the following months and even met movie stars in Hollywood. Unfortunately, any articles written about Norris Armstrong, who went on to the NFL before a coaching career, haven’t yet been digitized for easy access online. Thankfully, I’ve had a few people help me fill this void.
They say in Texas everything is bigger, at all levels, all the time. That the highways are more clogged with more F-150s than anywhere on the planet. That under those wide open skies are arteries are more clogged with steaks far juicier than anything grazing in Oklahoma and Nebraska. And it should never be forgotten in Austin stands a state capital building thrusting its pointy fist far higher than all other states capitals’, even the US capital.
In no arena, though, are Texans more proud of being the biggest and baddest around than in football. Besides oil, big-time gridiron talent may their export most vital to the rest of the nation. This is a land in which Allen High School just opened a $60 million, 18,000 person stadium, bigger than all but two Arkansas universities’ home stadia.
No doubt the Longview Lobos will carry some Lone Star bravado into its 9,200-person home stadium when it takes on the Wildcats on Friday. Across the field, though, the Lobos find a team which it won’t be able to easily overpower. Indeed, by building what may be the biggest prep team in state history, North Little Rock has been looking downright Texan.
Five Heaviest Players on North Little Rock
Kenny Howard, 6’3” 315 pounds, defensive tackle
Malcolm Cranford, 6’0” 310, noseguard
Gerald Watson, 6’1” 302, DT
Javian Williams, 6’2” 300, N
Mike Stewart 6’1” 295, DT
Five Heaviest Players on Longview
Regginal Robertson, 5’10” 320 pounds, offensive lineman
Cornelius Williams, 5’10”, 290
Adrian Jackson, 6’2” 280, OL
Zaycoven Henderson, 6’2” 280, OL
Kenny Andrews, 6’2” 250, OL