JONESBORO — Valley View’s offense will look different, at least in terms of personnel, when the Blazers open the 2021 football season.
The starting quarterback, top running back and top three receivers graduated from last year’s team that made Valley View’s fourth straight trip to the Class 5A state playoffs. Three starting linemen are also gone.
“We have a lot of question marks there,” Valley View head coach Sean Cockrell said. “I think we have more depth than we had last year. We had a really good junior high team that went undefeated, so we’ve got a lot of good ninth-graders who are coming up and I feel like some of them can help us there with depth, but also the sophomores and juniors are a little more experienced, a little stronger and faster.”
The Blazers started looking for the answers recently in spring practice.
With Valley View’s baseball and soccer teams playing deep into the postseason, both winning state championships last weekend, the football team started spring drills last week without a few coaches and about a dozen players. Work continued this week up to Thursday, when the Blazers’ spring game was canceled because of inclement weather.
“Last week we did some stuff, but without Coach (Josh) Allison, he’s our defensive coordinator, we didn’t do a lot defensively,” Cockrell said. “This week has kind of been our first week, even though it’s our last one. The biggest thing is we wanted to make sure we were being physical and running to the football, those kind of things. All the scheme stuff will come later.”
The Blazers have been looking at three quarterbacks. Keats Grantham, who will be a senior in the fall, was a backup last season and junior Carson Winters played in eight games, giving Valley View a running threat with three touchdowns. Sophomore Carson Turley led the junior high team.
“All three can throw it and we feel like all three can run,” Cockrell said. “Turley is the fastest guy we have at that position, but also the youngest and most inexperienced. We feel good about all those guys and where they’re at right now.”
Senior Reid Tyler is likely Valley View’s No. 1 receiver, Cockrell said, and 6-5 junior Jackson Harmon will see more action. Grayson Becker, a senior whom Cockrell said was Valley View’s top receiver in junior high, is back on the gridiron. Sophomores Slade Caldwell and Gavin Tice are also expected to contribute.
Junior Jay Morman is likely to get more carries this fall after averaging 4.9 yards on 41 attempts last fall. Junior Lejavian Ervin and senior Layne Rains also figure to see more action at running back.
All-state selection Cooper Lutz and all-conference pick Jaden Wells return to lead the defense as seniors at inside linebacker. Senior end Mario Crawford has drawn considerable college interest, while Morman, junior Dekwon Gallaway and senior Kannon Jones return in the secondary.
“We feel good about those guys,” Cockrell said. “Obviously Mario has kind of taken off and has a bunch of offers now and has really blown up, will be our guy up front.”
Lutz led Valley View with 56 tackles, followed by Wells with 55 and Jones with 52.
Cockrell said Arkansas State, Kansas State, Tulane, Marshall, Air Force and Army are recruiting the 6-4, 225-pound Crawford, who had five sacks and 11 tackles for loss as a junior last fall.
Seniors Dylan Gingras, Spencer Walker and Hunter Bray are among the leaders at outside linebacker, Cockrell said, while sophomore Brian Huff could play inside or outside. The Blazers also expect depth in the secondary with seniors Cameron Davidson and Evan Paxton, plus Caldwell and sophomore Zakhi Ervin.
Cockrell said the Blazers are scheduled for pad camps each week in June as well as 7-on-7 tournaments at Hoxie, Harrisburg and Pulaski Academy.
Valley View picked up Southaven, Miss., for its season opener at Central Dealerships Stadium. Southaven competes in Class 6A in Mississippi and its enrollment is that of a 7A school in Arkansas. The Blazers will also play Gosnell and Rivercrest at home in non-conference play.
“I picked that one up, I don’t know if it was smart or not,” Cockrell said of Southaven. “Manila dropped us and so we had to find one, and everyone in Arkansas is in a two-year cycle, so there wasn’t anybody in Arkansas that we could play.”