On the college level, Cowboys Stadium events have been a resounding success for Arkansas. The Razorbacks have won all four of its games – three regular season matchups and a Cotton Bowl – in Arlington, Texas.
It’s been more of a mixed bag for high schools.
In 2010, Shiloh Christian School, during the 2000s one of the state’s premier programs at any level, traveled to Texas for an early season matchup with Euless Trinity, which entered the season at the top of the state’s highest classification. Although Shiloh was doubtless the underdog, their performance was seen a barometer of how far Arkansas high school football had come relative to the nation’s best.
It wasn’t a contest. The Saints hung with Euless for a quarter, but couldn’t match the Texans’ overall size, speed and depth as the game wore on. Trinity triumphed 80-26, and for many Texan apologists this was validation Arkansas had been put in its place.
The last two summers, North Little Rock sent some of its players to Cowboys Stadium for the Nike Football SPARQ Combine, a variety of contests measuring speed, agility and power. Of the roughly 1500 participants, North Little Rock produced two top place finishers (Altee Tenpenny and Kavin Alexander) and this year had 10 of the top 20 finishers, says North Little Rock head coach Brad Bolding.
The Texans didn’t take kindly to this, and made sure to inject some interstate trash talk.
“There was a lot of chirping going on from some of those Texas players after we had won it” in 2011, Bolding says. “They were talking about ‘Shiloh this,’ ‘Trinity that.’ I didn’t get caught up in all that. The players were telling me that.”
Rarely are massive central Arkansas public schools and private northwest Arkansas schools in the same boat, but when it comes to toppling Texas, Friday will prove an exception.
That night, Arkansas’ #2-ranked North Little Rock plays at Longview High School, a perennial east Texas power. NLR aims to redeem its state’s reputation against a team which, like itself, finished as a semifinalist at its state’s highest classification last year and is considered an early season contender.
Typically, with the exception of Little Rock Central in the 1950s, a central or west Arkansas team is an underdog when traveling to Texas. This appeared to be the case in NLR vs. Longview, which has produced multiple Division I players (including Razorbacks Fred Talley and Eric Hawkins). Longview, last week ranked nationally at #34, paid NLR $15,000 to entice the Wildcats to fill an open spot on their schedule with this trip, Bolding says. This is like a mini version of the roughly $950,000 Arkansas State received for its trip to Oregon last week.
On the other hand, North Little Rock (1-0), which last week beat Lake Hamilton 42-7, shapes up as one of the most talented and physically imposing teams to come out of central Arkansas in years. It has six players who have serious looks from Division I schools, and was ranked #73 nationally by Rivals.com in late August.
Both teams have plenty of talented, dynamic playmakers. Two NLR running backs – junior Juan Day, cousin of former Hog Cedric Cobbs, and Altee Tenpenny – are back after injuries which wiped out last season. They join senior receivers Rodney Bryson and Aaron Adams, brother of Carolina Panther Joe Adams, as some of the most impressive Wildcats of the early season.“When he gets the ball, he does things that remind me a lot of what Joe does,” Bolding says of Aaron Adams. (randomly, I actually met Aaron at a Lakewood basketball park in North Little Rock after I’d written this article. He’s a nice guy, and happens to have a giant Razorback tattooed on his chest)
Longview (0-1) counters with senior running back Tory White, who has run for 108 yards on 19 carries, and sophomore tailback JaMycal Hasty. Quarterback Bivins Caraway, who threw for 2424 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, was injured Friday and is unlikely to play against NLR.
Caraway’s absence is a significant blow to Longview, which opened its season with a 41-8 loss to Coppell in Dallas. The Lobos’ offensive line – all first-time starters – played weakly and NLR, like Coppell, has a strong defensive line which could wreak havoc. Still, Longview is dangerous, as it will play better defending its home turf. And its team speed is higher than any of NLR’s Arkansas opponents, says Jimmy Carter of the Longview News-Journal.
Longview will be tenacious on defense, which could cause problems for NLR’s inexperienced quarterbacks – junior Payton Holmes and sophomore Heath Land. “He’s a lefty,” Bolding says of Land. “He conducts the offense really well. He’s probably got a better throwing motion than our other quarterback.”
Not getting flustered and safely delivering the ball to the best playmakers, especially Alabama commit Tenpenny, will be Land and Holmes’ biggest charge.
In March, Tenpenny told ESPN his favorite movie is “Friday Night Lights.” Given the setting, in his high school career this is just about as bright as they’ll come.
This article originally published in Sync magazine.