Arkansas High School Football Powerhouses over the Past Decade
By Tommy Tabler
High school football in the state of Arkansas has always been tradition filled, but over the past ten years, it has become the place to be on Friday nights. Every conference it seems has had a team or teams that have dominated the conference at one time or another during the decade. For the communities in which these teams call home, Friday nights are special because of the winning tradition that these teams have put together.
Starting things off with the 7-A Conference, the 7-A West has been the dominant division in the state of Arkansas for ten years now. The two teams that have appeared in the most championship games and garnered the most championships have been the Bentonville Tigers and the Fayetteville Purple Dogs. The Purple Dogs of Fayetteville have racked up five state championships over a ten year period. In two of those seasons, the head coach was a different individual with Bill Blankenship and Daryl Patton both leading Fayetteville to titles. The list of players that have suited up for Fayetteville is an impressive one that includes Brandon Allen, Austin Allen, C.J. O’Grady, and Taylor Powell, which are all players that are either in the NFL or currently on an SEC football roster.
For the Bentonville Tigers, in the years in which Fayetteville doesn’t win the championship it seems like the Bentonville Tigers win the state championship. Since 2008, Bentonville has won three state championships. During that time period they have not had a season in which they did not win at least nine games. Barry Lunney built the Tigers into a powerhouse and over that time, the drop off if any, has been minimal to nonexistent. Jody Grant has kept the bar very high at Bentonville and competing for conference and state titles have become the norm at Bentonville. Look for Bentonville to continue to produce the wins and put players in the college football ranks.
The third school that sticks out on this list of powerhouse schools in the state of Arkansas, is the Pine Bluff Zebras. The Zebras have been a powerhouse since the late 1980’s early 1990’s so people will not be surprised to see them on this list. Pine Bluff since 2010, has won two state championships and three conference championships. The schedule they play is not an easy one and they seem to always meet up with the Greenwood Bulldogs in the playoffs, which makes for some classic games. The Zebras have made winning 12 or 13-win seasons routine and they always seem to find success in the playoffs. The tradition in Pine Bluff is rich and the Zebras and coach Bobby Bolding build on it every season. Look for the Zebras to continue to contend for state championships.
Tradition and the Greenwood Bulldogs are two things that seem to go hand and hand. Coach Rick Jones and the Bulldogs have made double digit wins seasons look predictable. It has become the three constants in life are death, taxes, and Greenwood winning 11 games a year. Since 2010, Greenwood has won three state championships, with a good possibility of winning another in 2017. Greenwood has produced Tyler Wilson, Luke Hales, and numerous other college football prospects during the past decade. Greenwood is one of those towns where the folks shut down everything for a few hours and go to the game on Friday night. I highly recommend catching a game there, if you get the opportunity. Look for Greenwood to carry on the tradition and challenge for a state championship once again.
The final team that this article will look at is the Pulaski Academy Bruins. When you look back over the win totals over the years and see the lowest is 10, you know you have a powerhouse. Since 2017, the Bruins have won seven conference championships and four state championships. Coach Kevin Kelley likes to play fast and put the pressure on opposing defenses and that is something that has paid off for Pulaski Academy in a winning fashion. The Bruins have produced Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, so this is a school where tradition continues to grow, and they have become a big powerhouse in Arkansas. Look for the Bruins to challenge for a state championship once again in 2017.
Every school discussed in this article are schools with a rich tradition and the communities support them completely. All are schools that should challenge for state championships and continue to build on the tradition that teams before them have set. Folks can look for those schools to be in the playoffs and challenge for state titles in November. Football fans can look for other schools in the state to either start traditions or look for these schools to continue to show the power they have displayed. No matter what it is a beautiful game and football Fridays in the fall mean the most to us covering it, and to the people in those towns.