Bradley County in south central Arkansas is nationally renowned for producing some of the most refreshing fruit to grow on a vine.
For 67 years, locals and tourists alike have gathered in Warren, the county seat, for the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival that is held early each summer.
In the 21st century, spectators have gathered for another kind of show, too. Warren has become perhaps the nation’s most fertile ground for elite wide receiver talent.
Treylon Burks was the most recent Warren Lumberjack to be highly recruited and go on to the National Football League. Burks was selected 18th overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2021 NFL Draft following a standout career at Arkansas, where he was a three-time All-SEC selection.
While he is the latest, Burks was not the first premier prospect to come out of Warren and he certainly will not be the last.
In fact, he is one of four former Lumberjack wideouts drafted in 2012 to 2022 to play at the highest level. Former Razorback standouts Greg Childs, Chris Gragg and Jarius Wright were all selected in the 2012 NFL Draft — Childs and Wright were picked by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round, while Gragg was nabbed by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh.
To put it into perspective, Warren is a town of just over 5,000 residents and produced four NFL wide receivers in an 11-year span. That’s the same number of wideouts as Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas from 2013-2022. STA had a nation-leading 17 draft picks during that period.
Warren’s century of success began when Bret Smith and RoShaun Fellows helped put the Lumberjacks on the map. They, along with their young, up-and-coming head coach Bo Hembree, led the program to back-to-back Class 3A state titles in 2001 and 2002 with a new-to-south-Arkansas spread offense. Since then, the Lumberjacks have won two more state titles in 2014 and 2016, along with runner-up finishes in 2006, 2013 and 2017 under Hembree.
Smith and Fellows both signed with the University of Tennessee, but it took only a few more years before a new wave of talent came through that’d make any quarterback salivate at the thought of being able to throw to.
The trio of Childs, Gragg and Wright kept opposing Arkansas prep offensive coordinators up at night, and later in the Southeastern Conference while playing for the Razorbacks.
Now, the page turns to the next torchbearers. Junior wide receiver Antonio Jordan has emerged as the next Lumberjack pass catcher to be courted by Power 5 programs and he has already lived up to the hype.
While schools across the country would love to know the recipe it takes to develop such elite talent, Hembree credits it to kids willingly putting an emphasis on sharpening their skills as a part of their everyday life.
“It is all about the kids’ development,” Hembree told Best of Arkansas Sports. “In Arkansas you can go to a state track meet and see athletes running around, but the ball skills that translate to football may not be there. That is what we try to do at an early age, is translate it to football.”
From Power-I to Shotgun
Around the turn of the new millennium, any offense that did not emphasize running the ball was largely non-existent in south Arkansas.
Following a two-year stint from 1996-97 as a graduate assistant at Central Arkansas, Hembree accepted a position on the Warren staff as an under Tommy Arnold prior to the 1998 season.
The Lumberjacks continued with their run-first offense during Hembree’s first season as an assistant and finished 4-6.
“The first year I was here, we ran the Power-I and I was the wide receivers coach,” Hembree said. “There was only one wideout and all he had to do was know the play because we ran the plays in with him. I would get the smartest guy so he would remember the play from the sideline to the huddle.”
Going into the 1999 season, the Lumberjacks were still in the Power-I during two-a-day practices, but a poor showing in their scrimmage game prompted Arnold to allow Hembree to install the spread. As expected, it was not successful right off the bat.
“Coach Arnold decided that he was going to let me handle the offense and see if we can make it work,” Hembree said. “We had about seven or eight days to get ready for Stuttgart. We got there and we went about 8-of-31 (passing) and tied them 6-6.”
Progress was evident with each week that went by and Warren advanced to the second round of the playoffs. A close, high-scoring conference matchup against McGehee, the back-to-back 3A state champions in 1998-99, showed that everything was falling into place.
“We kind of knew that night that what we are doing is going to work, we just have to keep doing it,” Hembree said.
Fellows and Smith were sophomores during the 2000 campaign the same year Hembree was promoted to head coach for the Lumberjacks. They improved to 7-3 and made it back to the second round of the playoffs before going all the way the next two years.
Small Details Reap Big Rewards
Three years following the consecutive state championship run, Hembree knew he had collective talent in three of his sophomores; it would just take some time to get them settled into their natural positions.
Those were Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and also Basmine Jones, who initially signed with the 2008 Arkansas class, but ended up going to play at Fort Scott (Kan.) C.C. before a stint at Arkansas State.
“It was kind of weird because Jarius played quarterback in junior high, but worked at receiver some during the summer,” Hembree said. “As a sophomore, he never played a snap at receiver, just corner and quarterback. Also, Childs did not play any receiver, he was mainly a defensive end and so did Basmine.”
Chris Gragg was actually not living in Warren at that time, at least not yet. Due to his father’s job, the family moved away when he was in fourth grade and they returned prior to his junior season in 2006.
A distant cousin of Bret Smith’s, Gragg looked up to Smith during his childhood and credits a lot to him.
“His step dad was the pastor of our church, so I was usually with Bret on Wednesday and Sunday night,” Gragg said. “I remember we would be in the front of the church and me, Jarius and Greg would run routes while Bret was the quarterback. Anytime there were kids around, he would be showing us routes or playing all-time quarterback.
“RoShaun Fellows’ mom worked at the school and so did my dad, so those guys were good examples who showed us that kids where we were from could make it out with sports.”
Wright also recalls forming a bond with the same guys throughout his childhood who helped him grow both as an athlete and as a person.
“Being from a small country town, sports is just something you do,” Wright said. “Not only at school, but growing up with your friends. I remember riding my bike for 10 or 15 minutes to play football and baseball with my friends. That was another reason we became closer, because we did not have to go across town and see each other, so we grew bonds.”
Smith’s national accolades were also a motivating factor for the younger crowd to show them that it is possible to earn recognition outside of Arkansas.
“Bret being a Parade All-American his senior year made the next group want to be the next Bret Smith,” Hembree said. “The thing I am most proud of is you go back and look – Bret Smith and RoShaun Fellows played as true freshmen. Jarius, Greg and Chris played as true freshmen, and so did Treylon Burks. That is really hard to do at that level.”
None of them may have known it as young children, but everything they were taught by Smith and others before them was the foundation of what they would ultimately mold themselves into.
“They all wanted to be wideouts, so they would work at it, they were just not developed yet,” Hembree said. “All of the sudden, the skill level would get to where they were finally able to do it.”
While the star-studded quartet did contribute at the other positions Hembree mentioned during their prep careers, college coaches began to take notice of their abilities as a pass catchers during their junior seasons.
Warren went a combined 30-0 during the regular season from 2005-2007 and made it to the state finals in 2006, which turned out to be one of the more controversial endings to a championship game in state history.
One of the waterboys at that time was Burks, who was a second grader. Despite being so young, Hembree knew from the first time he watched him during a pregame warmup there was something different about Burks.
“Treylon’s granddad worked at the school so he was around a lot,” Hembree said. “He came out of the womb with great ball skills. We would send him out early before the game on Friday nights with the kickers and stuff. He would be out there as a second, third, fourth grader like he did at Arkansas with his hands above his head catching punts.”
Burks led the Lumberjacks to the 2017 4A state championship game, but missed the majority of his senior season after tearing his ACL early in the year. Though far from a self-promoter, major college programs around the country found their way to the ultra-reserved Burks, but Arkansas won out over the likes of Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Ole Miss and Tennessee, among others.
2025 Arkansas Target Headlines Next Wave
Warren is one school you always circle at the beginning of each season as a state contender. Though they have not played at War Memorial Stadium for the ultimate prize since 2017, it may not be much longer before the Lumberjacks return.
Hembree mentioned that his current crop of wide receivers will likely end up being on the same pedestal as those previously mentioned when it is all said and done. This group includes Antonio Jordan, Neon’Dre Thomas, Kam Davis and Tramond Miller – all of whom are only juniors.
Jordan has the highest ceiling thus far in terms of recruitment and received his first offer from Arkansas last November, while Florida State, South Carolina and Tennessee have since followed. As a sophomore last year, Jordan led the Lumberjacks in receiving with 1,043 yards and 14 touchdowns on 43 receptions.
Also, throwing to them this season is Jackson Denton, the first in Hembree’s 24 years as head coach to start the season at quarterback for the Lumberjacks as a freshman. Denton is talented in his own right, but considering the weapons around him and his previous experience playing up, it was an easy decision for Hembree to make.
“I felt comfortable doing it because as a seventh grader, I moved him up to junior high,” Hembree said. “We opened up a junior high game with Bryant and he pretty much saw everything in one night that we are going to see.”
Hembree touched on multiple groups of wideouts he has had throughout his tenure that may have not gotten the recognition they deserved, but praised this current one as being willing to do whatever it takes just as those before them did.
“Take Greg Childs for instance,” Hembree said. “In seventh, eighth and ninth grade, he was not a ball-skill guy. All of the sudden, his 10th grade year he got better, but he had done it every day since he was a seventh grader.
“We spend a lot of time catching footballs and the development between seventh grade and high school is really just crazy. We have kids that do not want to leave the fieldhouse and there is stuff set up where they can catch footballs at any time during the day.”
Just as some of the best tomatoes sprout each year in Bradley County, this current corps of pass catchers will only continue to grow as they keep perfecting their craft for the sake of landing the Lumberjacks state championship No. 5.
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