JONESBORO — Jonesboro begins its 13th football season under head coach Randy Coleman this evening at a venue the Hurricane would love to visit again in December.
Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium is the site for all six Arkansas state championship games. The 54,000-seat stadium off West Markham Street also serves as the home field for the Little Rock Catholic Rockets, Jonesboro’s opponent today at 5 p.m.
Coleman said his teams have enjoyed opportunities to open the season in stadiums built for college football, whether in Little Rock at War Memorial Stadium or at Arkansas State’s Centennial Bank Stadium.
“I think it’s always been special to open at War Memorial. We started playing Catholic as our scrimmage game back when we played somebody local in week one,” said Coleman, whose team is ranked third in Class 6A. “When we lost the local game, we picked them up and it’s been good. You talk to the kids about trying to bookend the season at War Memorial. That’s the goal when you play there.
“It’s fun for the kids. It was always fun when we played at Arkansas State. Any time you play in that college venue, it’s a little special.”
Jonesboro’s hopes for a special season begin with a strong senior class.
Sixteen seniors, including six on offense and eight on defense, are listed as starters. Two have made verbal commitments to NCAA FBS programs, a third is committed to play SEC baseball and others are also drawing college interest.
“Any time you brag about one particular class, you don’t want it to seem like an insult to previous classes, but this is the best class that we’ve had since I’ve been at Jonesboro,” said Coleman, whose team was 8-4 and reached the 6A quarterfinals last season. “Now in past classes there’s been players like Martin Stafford and Zac Brooks who could take over games. You’ve had players like Jonathan Adams who can individually stand out and dominate games.
“We don’t have that guy, but we’ve got 25 seniors and one through 20 are as good as we’ve had. Just the depth and quality of the senior class is really, really good.”
Senior quarterback Cross Jumper (6-2, 200) returns to lead the offense. Jumper, who has committed to play baseball at Tennessee, completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 1,735 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He also ran for 550 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior running back Charlie Long (5-7, 185) ran for 354 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Seniors Will Barre’ (5-6, 145) and Dawson Wagner (5-7, 140) start at receiver along with junior Kavon Pointer (6-2, 185). Barre’ caught 28 passes for 427 yards in 2019 and Jonesboro has another passing game threat in senior tight end Connor Clark (6-3, 220), a college prospect who caught 24 passes for 266 yards last year.
“I think we’ll throw it a little more than normal,” Coleman said. “Typically we’re pretty balanced and we’d like to stay fairly balanced, but we’ve got a really deep group of receivers and then you throw in Connor Clark as a really dynamic pass catcher at tight end and we’ve got running backs who can catch it out of the backfield.”
The offensive line features junior left tackle Josh Hyneman (6-4, 265), junior left guard Omarion Wilson (5-9, 250), junior center Hunter Mitchell (5-9, 245), junior right guard Ben Webster (6-2, 290) and senior right tackle Kannon Scott (6-1, 275).
While Jashaud Stewart has moved on to the University of Arkansas after recording 114 tackles and 17 sacks last season, Coleman expects another strong defense after holding opponents to just over 16 points per game in 2019.
“Our secondary is solid. Cameron Clark has started three years at linebacker, Leon Hayes started at linebacker last year and obviously Marco Avant has a lot of experience and is a very good player,” Coleman said. “Our linebacker corps is solid and Nate Light is as good a defensive tackle as you’ll find in the state. He’s very good, and Ryan Cranford started all season last year as a well.”
Avant (6-3, 210), a senior who moved to Jonesboro from Forrest City in January, has made a verbal commitment to Arkansas. Senior cornerback Brodie Williams (5-10, 170) recently made a verbal commitment to Navy.
Light (6-0, 265) made 62 tackles and two sacks last year from his tackle position, while Cranford (5-11, 235) had three sacks at end. Senior Chamar Anderson (6-3, 235) and junior Elijah Faulkner (5-9, 250) start at end and tackle, respectively.
Seniors Cameron Clark (6-1, 200) and Leon Hayes (5-9, 230) start at linebacker along with Avant. The secondary features Williams, senior cornerback Braelyn Moore (5-10, 175), junior free safety John Paul Pickens (6-0, 170) and sophomore strong safety Carter Reece Long (5-11, 165). Pickens finished with 66 tackles last season.
Junior Tenison Roscoe, who handles kicking and punting duties, was 40-of-43 on extra points and 5-of-10 on field goal attempts last season. Senior Mason Webb is the deep snapper and senior Jonathan Huey is the holder. Williams is a threat on kick returns after scoring twice last season.
Jonesboro’s non-conference schedule includes three 7A opponents in Catholic, Cabot and Conway, with each of the last two games at home. The Hurricane defeated Catholic 18-13 last season.
Games will be broadcast on KNEA (FM-95.3).
Aug. 28 at LR Catholic
Sept. 4 Cabot
Sept. 11 Conway
Sept. 25 at El Dorado
Oct. 2 at Sheridan
Oct. 9 Pine Bluff
Oct. 16 at West Memphis
Oct. 23 Searcy
Oct. 30 at Sylvan Hills
Nov. 5 Marion