01 Feb

Why if Fredi Knighten and Michael Dyer Risk It, They May Just Get that Biscuit for ASU

This guy was so good there's never not a good time to talk about him.

Little Rock Central hasn’t had an All-America caliber football player in decades, but that sure doesn’t mean the neighborhood cupboard’s bare. Two speedsters who have recently grown up in an area a few blocks southwest of the downtown high school both merited Parade All-America honors as seniors: Darren McFadden (who attended what is now Maumelle High School) and Fredi Knighten of Pulaski Academy. No, they didn’t know each other – not like McFadden befriended another high profile private school star soon to be Knighten’s teammate.

But Fredi was certainly aware of the McFaddens, who lived three blocks away from the home into which his mother moved when he started middle school. On many evenings, he recalls hearing stereos booming from McFadden’s car as it rumbled down his street. Of course, McFadden was also making all kinds of noise in Fayetteville, where he solidified his place as the best Razorback running back of all time with consecutive Heisman runner-up finishes.

It’s yet to be seen whether Knighten, a quarterback, can translate his own outstanding prep success to the college level. But if he does, it will likely be to the Razorbacks’ recruiting detriment in central Arkansas. Arkansas State now has three new inroads into central Arkansas it didn’t have during its record-setting 2010 season – Gus Malzahn, a longtime Arkansas high school coach, along with Michael Dyer and Knighten, the area’s last two Parade All-Americans. If ASU continues to build on its recent success, Jonesboro can’t help but become a hotter destination for central Arkansas high school players. A Little Rock native like Knighten, or Dyer, throwing up All-American-type numbers while at ASU would likely lavish unprecedented amounts of media attention on the Red Wolves program.

At the same time, it’s important to note as a Top 5 team the Razorbacks are also becoming a hotter name, not just at home but everywhere around the nation. Arkansas no longer needs to rely on nabbing every 5-star recruit that comes out of central Arkansas (or Springfield, Mo., for that matter). Sure,  Altee Tenpenny, North Little Rock’s star running back, recently said “aye” to Alabama. But with the wide net Petrino and his coaches are casting over the nation – especially Western states – that loss doesn’t hurt the program like it would have in the Houston Nutt years.

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14 Dec

Pulaski Academy vs. Gus Malzahn’s best high school team & 2010 Shiloh Christian

[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.

Hunter Henry is one of P.A.'s several future Division I players - possibly seven or more. Is that much talent enough to beat powerhouse 7A squads?

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…”

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12 Dec

Pulaski Academy coach Kevin Kelley discusses hypothetical overall state football playoffs

Pulaski Academy football coach Kevin Kelley doesn’t like his players to wait around long before a game.

To Kelley, extra time on the field doesn’t help his kids play better. In fact, it can make the experience less enjoyable. “Most teams warm up for an hour, or an hour and fifteen minutes before a game,” he says. “We try to get to games 25 minutes before kickoff because we don’t want our kids sitting and getting stressed out and things like that.”

Instead, he tries to take his players minds off the game at hand. They’ll grab a bite to eat, or catch a movie. Which was the idea a couple weeks ago before Pulaski Academy’s state playoff semifinal at its west Little Rock campus. The Bruins planned to see Immortals, a rah-rah take on a bloodthirsty army’s quest in mythic ancient Greece. Instead, because of a time mix-up, they got part one of  The Twlight Saga: Breaking Dawn.

“We thought Twilight was going to be all about vampires, and it turned out to be a love story,” Kelley recalls. “That was a miserable movie for teenage boys to see. They all hated it. But we had fun talking about it, so it worked.”

A lot has worked for Pulaski Academy this fall.

In the semifinal, the Bruins beat Pine Bluff Dollarway 51-32. On Saturday, the Bruins (14-0) won the 4A state title by defeating Malvern 63-28. In both games, the Bruins didn’t wait long to strike, outscoring their competition by a total of 87-13 in the first halves.

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10 Dec

Can Malvern close the curtains on PA’s “Greatest Show on Turf”?

Anything’s possible, but this is highly unlikely.

Heading into Saturday’s 5A state title game, the Pulaski Academy Bruins are simply one of the greatest offensive machines this state has seen.  “The Bruins average 534.2 total yards and 50.6 points per game, figures that likely would be even higher if their starters weren’t pulled at halftime in many games,” Robert Yates wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The Bruins have outscored opponents 534-126 in the first half and its starters have played in the fourth quarter in just two games.”

And this year, with the help of numerous future D1 players, their defense has been pretty top-notch, too.

Here’s a taste of what Malvern has to stop:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBrfUju5nSg&w=420&h=315]

As you can see, stopping the Bruins will be a monumental task. Malvern itself knows this firsthand, after playing P.A. on Oct. 21. The Leopards lost 47-16 on the road.

The above video isn’t mean to target or disparage Dollarway in any way. I only meant to showcase the mind-meltingly efficient blitzgrieg nature of the Bruins’ attack. It’s an attack HBO will soon feature on national television, and one headed by possibly the greatest dual-threat quarterback in the state’s history. Senior quarterback Fredi Knighten, who has completed 240 of 328 passes for 4,239 yards and 63 touchdowns this season. Knighten has also rushed 93 times for 766 yards and 13 touchdowns, according to the Democrat-Gazette.

No matter what happens  against Malvern, this P.A. team’s numbers so far this season will be hard to topple for any future juggernaut.

Oh, and here’s some of the players who feature prominently in the video:

#1 L.J. Wallace

#5 Jack Snider

#7 Fredi Knighten

#9 Kendall Bruce

#16 Aum’Arie Wallace

#22 Cody Adcock

#82 Hunter Henry

03 Dec

Pulaski Academy ignites “Greatest Show on Turf” in front of HBO cameras

Quick notes from Pulaski Academy’s 51-32 win over Dollarway on Friday night:

Five HBO crew members were prowling the sideline during this thing, soaking up every last cinematic morsel for a future “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” episode exploring PA coach Kevin Kelley’s innovative approach to the game.

Kelley had already earned a national reputation as a relentlessly rational coach who almost always goes for it on fourth down instead of  punting and declines to attempt punt returns because he deems the odds unfavorable to this team. Oh, and he onside kicks after nearly every score, even against schools roughly five times larger.

While PA has won plenty championships in its 40-year history, it’s never had a season quite this dominating: It is a mild shock if their starters play into the second half. On the cusp of their first undefeated season, the Bruins were at it again on Friday night, racking up 356 passing yards and 156 rushing yards for a 44-6 lead  – in the first half.

Here are some highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlG2FLZKONE&w=560&h=315]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FW1pWNVwtE0&w=560&h=315]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6PRsKFJ7Q0&w=560&h=315]

08 Nov

Knighten, Frazier, Whitmore, Oh My! Who’s the Best Dual-Threat QB in Arkansas history?

Pulaski Academy's Fredi Knighten has put together one of Arkansas high school football's all-time great two-year runs. But where does he rank among the state's all-time best dual-threat QBs?

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.

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