[Go to bottom of post for more on Malzahn's 2005 Springdale team]
None of Pulaski Academy’s 14 wins this season came down to the wire. Votes for season-ending rankings, however, proved a different matter altogether. As expected, there is a severe rift in public opinion concerning Arkansas’ best overall high school football team this season.
On one hand, the state’s largest newspaper deemed P.A. the best team, followed by Fayetteville, then Bentonville. Central Arkansas-based sportswriter Robert Yates constructed these Democrat-Gazette’s rankings. Rivals.com’s national prep sportswriter Dallas Jackson also deemed P.A. as the state’s best, again followed by Fayetteville and Bentonville.
The Arkansas arm of national prep sports outlet VYPE, meanwhile, conducted a poll with Arkansas prep football coaches. Fayetteville won this poll, with P.A. and Bentonville trailing. Finally, about a dozen Associated Press members released their poll Monday. Their rankings mirror VYPE’s.
That the 4A Bruins didn’t top the Associated Press poll isn’t a surprise. In fact, no team of a similar classification (4th-largest) has ever finished first in the state’s final A.P. poll. Only two teams – 1964 Conway and 1987 Arkadelphia – have finished atop that final poll. Both teams were in the second-largest classification at the time.
This is according to the Almanac of Arkansas High School Football, by longtime Arkansas sportswriter Leland Barclay. Barclay, conveniently enough, also happens to be one of the Associated Press members whose votes comprise the poll. For Barclay, 7A teams – even those with multiple losses – are nearly always better than lower classification teams:
“Schools from the state’s largest classification will always get the nod as the overall final No. 1 team in the state because as the state champion that team had to compete and excel against the best teams in the state over an 11-week stretch. Schools from the other classifications don’t do that…”
In this week’s Sync magazine, I explored the question of the state’s all-time best running and throwing prep quarterback. It’s an appropriate time, considering the 4A has been dominated by two such leaders the last couple seasons – Shiloh Christian’s Kiehl Frazier and Pulaski Academy’s Fredi Knighten.
To pull this off, I asked some of the most knowledgeable football heads in the state while culling stats from various sources.
In the end, my final five candidates were Frazier, Knighten, Nashville’s A.J. Whitmore, Matt Jones (Van Buren and Northside) and Eric Mitchel of Pine Bluff.
You can find analysis and stats for all these players in Sync, but since that article published I have received additional statistics about Jones’ career from Leland Barclay, a Fort Smith writer who has covered high school sports since 1983:
As a sophomore, Jones completed two of five passes for 14 yards while running five times for 77 yards. (He caught 11 passes for 213 yards and six touchdowns)
As a junior, Jones completed 19 of 66 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown. He ran 92 times for 460 yards and four touchdowns.
Jones only played QB for an entire season during his senior year, when he completed 61 of 137 passes for 815 yards and seven touchdowns.
He also rushed 101 times for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns.
For his career, Jones completed 82 of 208 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. He ran 198 times for 1,480 yards and 17 touchdowns, according to statistics provided by Barclay in an e-mail.
These numbers pale in comparison to the more recent quarterbacks. That difference, along with Jones’ lack of titles, are the main reasons Barclay considers Whitmore and Frazier to be in “a class by themselves as far as dual threat quarterbacks. Their stats back that up as well. Then factor in the most important stat for quarterbacks, which is winning, and they again are in a class by themselves. Frazier was MVP of the state championship game three times, which is unprecedented.”
I also called Bernie Cox and Sam Goodwin, two longtime Arkansas high school coaches who won plenty of games at Little Rock Central and Little Rock Parkview among other places. Cox said that Mitchel was among the most athletic quarterbacks he had ever seen, but also mentioned Will Robinson, who played at Central in the early 1970s, as another great athlete who played multiple positions (including quarterback before his senior year).
“Robinson would run 120 yards to gain 20 yards,” Cox said. “He was so good at making people miss.”
Goodwin left the state in 1983 to coach in Louisiana but the best option quarterbacks at that time were from Pine Bluff – prominent among them Rodney Forte and Danny Bradley (who later was an all-conference player at Oklahoma).
Bradley found great success in college, but it was his younger cousin, Eric Mitchel, who became the bigger name in high school.
Speaking of relatives, two of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the last decade are the Burns brothers from Fort Smith Northside – Kodi and Kenrick. Kodi finished his senior season at Auburn in the 2011 national championship game, and while he was a very good athletic quarterback in high school the people I spoke with don’t quite rank him among the state’s all-time best.
“Kodi was an excellent throwing quarterback, but I thought Eric was just better,” said Marion Glover, Pine Bluff High’s coach during Mitchel’s senior year.
Finally, younger brother Kenrick is making a mark of his own this season:
The senior has thrown for 2,981 yards and 21 touchdowns while adding 699 rushing with 16 more touchdowns. The youngest Burns brother already has passed Kodi in passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns during their respective senior seasons. He needs 99 yards to pass Kodi in rushing yards as well.
Kenrick has already put up better senior-year numbers than possibly any other dual-threat quarterback in the history of the state’s largest classification. It’s certainly worth noting he is doing this in the state’s best conference.
If he can lead his team on an unlikely surge deep into the playoffs, his ranking in this discussion may skyrocket.
See the original article, photos and detailed, year-by-year stats at Sync magazine.
Pity the DVR during last year’s Auburn-Arkansas showdown.
Even the act of blinking often denied fans trying to keep up with the Tigers’ 65-43 win from catching pivotal plays in real time.
And those who dared dip a chip into that nearby dish of salsa were immediately sent scrambling for the remote control.
No. 10 Arkansas’ (4-1) rematch against No. 15 Auburn (4-1) this Saturday still promises to be a scorcher, even if it is turned down a few jalapenos. Turbo-charging last year’s pace was Auburn’s simple title-winning formula: Give the ball to Cam Newton, block, celebrate.
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