For decades the best players in central Arkansas came from the area’s biggest public schools. What’s now known as Little Rock Central High, for instance, has produced at least eight NFL players, which is the most of any school in Pulaski, Lonoke, Faulkner or Saline counties. Next in line is Little Rock Hall High, which has produced four NFL alumni. Three other schools have produced three alumni each: Lonoke High, what’s now called North Little Rock High School and Little Rock Parkview High.
Jefferson Prep, a new-defunct college preparatory school won a Class A state title in 1981. That’s the year that signaled private high schools in Arkansas had arrived as a collective power. Generally, though, such domination has been relegated to the 5A classification and below levels. Plenty college-level players have come from these schools but it seemed public schools still had cornered the market on NFL-caliber players.
That is changing – and fast. As far as I can tell, after poring through this, the first NFL player from an Arkansas private school was Jeb Huckeba, a 2001 graduate of Searcy’s Harding Academy. In 2009, Johnathan Luigs of Pulaski Academy became the second, and last year D.J. Williams of Central Arkansas Christian became the third.
That number could double soon if all three of the following Razorbacks are taken in the NFL Draft this Thursday through Saturday: Jake Bequette (Catholic), Joe Adams (CAC) and Broderick Green (Pulaski Academy). Looking ahead, other potential pro players who have attended Arkansas private schools include Michael Dyer (Little Rock Christian), Kiehl Frazier (Shiloh Christian) and Hunter Henry (Pulaski Academy). This trend seems to be a logical outgrowth of the multiple state football titles private schools have racked up in the last 15 years. Success breeds success, and the more a program develops a reputation for developing elite players, the more young high school players want to go there.
In 2008, Robert Yates of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette explored some of the tension developing between the state’s public and private schools. The longtime prep football writer wrote some private schools are accused of “advantages – perceived or real – that include no attendance boundaries, screening potential students, offering financial aid, higher participation and flat-out recruiting.”
Pulaski Academy Kevin Kelley told Yates his football players aren’t being recruited. Too much emphasis is placed on celebrated transfers like Broderick Green and Cruz Williams, he said in 2008. “The majority of the Pulaski Academy nation is homegrown.”
Yes, athletic prestige matters. But for some elite players like Green, a private school’s academics are also a major draw. The former Parade All-American, a native of England, Ark., transferred from Joe T. Robinson High to Pulaski Academy after his sophomore year. “I went from pretty much not having homework or something simple that could be done in 30 minutes before class to doing papers and homework pretty much everyday,” Green said. “Pulaski Academy prepared me for college.”
Do you think local private schools will continue matriculating elite football players at this rate? Or do you expect the balance of power, in terms of future NFL players, to swing back to the public schools?
One more twist: Little Rock Central football appears poised for a major comeback this fall under Coach Scooter Register. Would a return to glory for the state’s most prestigious public program slow the rate of public-to-private school transfers among central Arkansas’ top football players?