Raiders hope to complement ground game

Nettleton quarterback Cameron Scarlett (left) and running back Orion Pugh run a play during a game against Brookland last fall at Raider Field.

JONESBORO — The Nettleton Raiders have the makings of another productive rushing attack in the fall.

All-state quarterback Cameron Scarlett returns along with running backs Orion Pugh and Koby Bradley, a trio that combined for 1,770 rushing yards last season. Three offensive linemen are also back, led by all-state selection Moses Williams.

“Offensively, our line, quarterback and running backs, our run game, should be our strength,” Nettleton head coach Steven Hampton said. “Now we just have to work this summer to try to develop our passing game, develop some receivers and try to complement that. That’s going to be a big focus for us.”

Identifying those receivers was one of Nettleton’s focal points during spring practice last month. The Raiders wrapped up spring drills a couple of weeks ago with 55 players on their roster.

Hampton said the positions where the Raiders are looking for new starters remain open for evaluation as they head into the summer.

“On offense, we were looking to find out who our starting receivers are going to be. We have some open spots there, so we were trying to get a look at guys and see what they could do at receiver, and then on defense linebacker was kind of our big question mark,” Hampton said. “We were moving guys around, seeing what they could so. Those were two areas that we’re really looking at and then carrying it over into the summer, we’ll continue to evaluate kids and try to figure out where they all fit.”

Nettleton returns six starters on each side of the football after finishing 3-5 last season. COVID-19 concerns caused the Raiders to go nearly a month between games as they had to cancel their final three regular-season games against Forrest City, Valley View and Wynne.

The Raiders were competitive in a Class 5A play-in game at Maumelle before falling 19-7 to end the season.

Scarlett proved especially effective running the football in his first season as the Raiders’ starting quarterback, finishing with 888 yards and 13 touchdowns. He completed 48 percent of his passes for 796 yards and seven touchdowns, with three interceptions.

“Any time you can return your quarterback, that’s always a positive and something to build around, especially with one as talented as Cameron running and throwing the ball,” Hampton said.

“I think he’s farther along in the passing game, understanding the concepts and where the ball needs to go, getting the ball out quicker. I think he is much farther along. We’ve been able to do more 7-on-7 through the spring.”

Pugh and Bradley rushed for 517 and 365 yards, respectively. Williams, all-conference selection Ryan Crawford and Allen Campbell return on the line.

Savion Floyd, who battled an ankle injury last season, and Kenwarren McShan are two of the top candidates at wide receiver. Hampton said Jaden Brown, who runs for the Raider track team, could provide a deep threat.

The Raiders have two returning all-conference selections on defense in lineman Javontae Wallace and defensive back Dorian Tucker. Tucker and Wallace also finished as Nettleton’s top two tacklers with 55 and 52, respectively.

Defensive back Markellin Barber led the Raiders with three interceptions. Defensive back Juan Badillo and linebackers Blake Brown and Jamie Morris also have starting experience.

“I really like the makeup of our team in the spring. We’re looking at guys at certain positions like linebacker,” Hampton said. “I think we have some guys there who have the ability to help us, it’s just a matter of how they progress through the summer. I’ve been pleased with the progress we’ve made.”

Nettleton’s coaching staff will have a different look this fall with three new assistants. Allen Johnson, an assistant coach the last seven seasons at Arkansas State, has joined the staff. Brian Lovins and Josh Pagan will also help coach the Raiders after working at Greene County Tech and Wynne, respectively, Hampton said.

Hampton said he and Johnson will share defensive coordinator duties.

“He wasn’t with us in the spring because with board meetings and things like that, it wasn’t official until pretty much all of spring practice was over, but he was able to come out and watch,” Hampton said. “We’ve been meeting trying to get things organized as we go into the summer as far as what direction we want to go. He’s going to be a huge asset.”

Hampton said the Raiders will work in team camps at Jonesboro this summer and will also participate in a 7-on-7 tournament at Harrisburg this month.