JONESBORO — Steven Hampton expects last season’s experiences to pay off this fall for the Nettleton Raiders.
While the Raiders finished 6-4 for their third consecutive winning season, they missed the state playoffs after earning a share of the 5A-East conference title in the previous two years. Shootouts were an almost weekly occurrence as Nettleton averaged more than 40 points per game while giving up nearly 36.
Hampton, who is entering his eighth season as Nettleton’s head coach, indicated that a few plays here or there could have made a difference in 2019.
“Last year because of injuries and different reasons, we had to play a lot of sophomores. We lost several conference games that were really close, that came down to the wire,” said Hampton, whose team opens the season at home tonight at 7 against former league rival Blytheville. “I think a lot of that was due to experience and youth, and I think those experiences are going to pay huge dividends for these guys this year. They’ve been through it a little bit; they’ve experienced it.”
Nettleton’s 3-4 conference record included three losses by a combined 18 points. The year ended on a high note as the Raiders outlasted Wynne 64-57 for their first victory over the Yellowjackets since 2007.
While Nettleton lost the all-state pass-catch combination of Cade Carter and Joesee Perkins, the Raiders have the makings of another strong offense with six returning starters.
Junior Cameron Scarlett (6-2, 195) takes the reins at quarterback after starting in a different role last season. Scarlett ran for 383 yards and seven touchdowns, seeing some action at quarterback in a Wildcat scheme, and also had a role as a receiver.
“We’re going to have to pick and choose obviously, we can’t overdo it because we have to keep him healthy, but he’s going to be a huge weapon running the football and I think he’s going to surprise some people,” Hampton said. “This is my eighth year at Nettleton and out of all the quarterbacks we’ve had — and we’ve had some good ones — he probably has the strongest arm of any of the guys we’ve had.”
Senior Kyle Tolley (5-10, 150) is Nettleton’s No. 1 receiver. Tolley caught 28 passes for 500 yards and six touchdowns last season, including the game-winner against Wynne.
Junior Jacques Adams (6-0, 140) and sophomores Beau Smith (6-0, 170) and Jaylen Scales are also expected to start at receiver in Nettleton’s spread system. Junior O’Rion Pugh (6-0, 195) takes over at running back after battling an ankle injury last season.
Nettleton returns four offensive line starters in junior left tackle Allen Campbell (6-2, 287), junior left guard Ryan Crawford (6-2, 295), senior center Cooper Williams (5-10, 195) and senior right guard Jacob Tarpley (5-8, 195). Junior Moses Williams (5-8, 320) is the right tackle.
“Having four of your five starting offensive linemen come back is huge,” Hampton said. “I feel like our running game is going to be really good for us, especially early on, until some of these young receivers can get their feet wet in games.”
Hampton said senior inside linebacker Justin Livingston (6-0, 275) will lead the Raiders defensively. Livingston finished with 46 tackles last season
“He’s our vocal leader and he’s our best player on that side of the ball. We can do a lot of different things with him,” Hampton said. “He moves well enough to play linebacker and he’s going to have an opportunity to play at the next level on the defensive line. He’s a great pass rusher.”
The defensive front includes junior tackle Jorje Salas (6-1, 195), junior nose guard Win Robinson (6-5, 290) and junior tackle Javonte Wallace (5-11, 200).
Livingston and senior Martiss Buchanan (5-10, 197) are the inside linebackers, with junior Koby Bradley (5-11, 175) and sophomore Blake Brown lining up outside. Juniors Quad Brown (5-11, 190) and Juan Badillo (5-10, 145) start at cornerback, while juniors Markellin Barber (5-8, 160) and Dorian Tucker (6-1, 170) are the safeties.
Sophomore Joseph Nuhung will handle kicking duties, Hampton said, and Scarlett will serve as the punter.
“I’m really optimistic about this group. Team chemistry is a big deal and these guys have it,” Hampton said. “They hang out outside of football. I’m really optimistic about this season.”
In addition to tonight’s game against Blytheville, the Raiders’ non-conference slate includes trips to Pocahontas and Mountain Home. They open 5A-East play Sept. 25 at Batesville.
Games will be broadcast on KIYS-HD2 (FM-94.1).
Aug. 28 Blytheville
Sept. 4 at Pocahontas
Sept. 11 at Mountain Home
Sept. 25 at Batesville
Oct. 2 Brookland
Oct. 9 Paragould
Oct. 16 at GCT
Oct. 23 Forrest City
Oct. 30 at Valley View
Nov. 6 Wynne