Archive for August, 2017

College football: Week 1

Monday, August 28th, 2017

It’s football time in Arkansas.

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks will open the season on what looks to be a wet Thursday night in Little Rock with a glorified scrimmage against a 1-0 Florida A&M squad that can’t even afford to fly to the capital city. The Rattlers will make the long trip by bus.

Conspiracy theorists claim that the Thursday night slot against a no-name opponent is the university’s way of ensuring that the stadium isn’t sold out. When the current contract between the university and War Memorial Stadium ends next year (the Razorbacks are obligated to play a Southeastern Conference opponent in Little Rock in 2018), the conspiracy theorists contend that athletic department officials will point to empty seats in Little Rock as one reason for not signing a new contract.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories.

Or do I?

Let’s get to the picks:

Arkansas 44, Florida A&M 9 — We finally get to see the 3-4 Razorback defensive scheme that has been implemented by the new defensive coordinator, Paul Rhoads. On offense, if things go as planned, we likely will only see senior quarterback Austin Allen play for a half. Allen led the Southeastern Conference with 3,430 passing yards and threw 25 touchdown passes last season. The seat has warmed a bit for Coach Bret Bielema, who is 25-26 as the head Hog. The natives are restless following a 7-6 season in which Arkansas was outscored 56-0 in the second half of its final two games — at Missouri and in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech. Arkansas has yet to win an SEC championship as it enters its 26th season in the conference. Don’t expect this to be the breakthrough year, though it’s going to be hard to tell much until next week’s CBS game against TCU in Fayetteville.

Nebraska 30, Arkansas State 20 — Look for the Red Wolves to hang around for at least three quarters in Lincoln on Saturday night. “We truly want to bring that signature victory, that signature season to Jonesboro,” Coach Blake Anderson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We love winning conference titles, and we want to continue to do that. But we want to take that next step.” Upsetting the Cornhuskers would be a huge next step. ASU has won four Sun Belt Conference championships in the past five seasons. The Red Wolves were 8-5 overall and 7-1 in conference play a year ago, winning seven of their final eight games following an 0-4 start.

Kansas State 35, UCA 21 — The Bears return eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters from a team that finished the 2016 season with records of 10-3 overall and 8-1 in the Southland Conference. UCA is ranked 15th in the FCS preseason coaches’ poll. Four of last year’s starting five offensive linemen are back, as is leading running back Carlos Blackmon. The Bears are usually competitive in the money games (they defeated Arkansas State, 28-23, last year in Jonesboro), and they’ll be competitive again Saturday night at Kansas State.

UAPB 19, Morehouse 12 — It has been rough for Monte Coleman’s program at UAPB since the Golden Lions won the SWAC championship in 2012. UAPB is 9-35 since that time, and Coleman is now 19-62 as head coach. The Golden Lions were 1-10 a year ago, defeating only Alcorn State. Seven offensive and eight defensive starters are back from that team. Given the number of starters returning and the weakness of the opponent, we’ll give the nod to the Golden Lions in the season opener at Pine Bluff on Saturday night.

Henderson 31, Harding 29 — This Thursday night game in Searcy should be a dandy. Harding went 11-0 in the regular season last year (the Bisons finished 13-1 overall) and won its first Great American Conference championship. Henderson had won three of the previous five GAC titles (Ouachita won the other two). The Reddies were 8-3 last year but return far more starters than Harding. The GAC coaches’ preseason poll had Harding second and Henderson third. In addition to a number of new starters, Harding has a new head coach in Paul Simmons, who had been the defensive coordinator since 2010. Expect it to take a few weeks before new starting quarterback Terrence Dingle has the Bisons’ Flexbone offense clicking on all cylinders.

Arkansas Tech 24, Southern Arkansas 23 — This is our upset special for Week 1. All signs points to a stellar season for the Muleriders. Southern Arkansas returns nine starters on defense and eight starters on offense. Quarterback Barrett Renner, who led the GAC in passing with 3,371 yards, is back. Running back Michael Nunnery, who had 1,110 yards rushing, is back. Leading tackler Elgin Moore is back. SAU was 9-3 last season. Arkansas Tech was 6-5. The coaches have Southern Arkansas picked to win the GAC. They have Tech picked sixth. Since Bill Keopple has been the Southern Arkansas head coach, the Muleriders are 0-4 in Russellville. And Thursday night’s game is in Russellville.

Ouachita 37, Northwestern Oklahoma 26 — The Tigers open their season at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia against a Northwestern Oklahoma team that finished 4-7. Ouachita finished 7-4 — including a victory at Henderson in the Battle of the Ravine to close the season — despite losing its starting quarterback, its top three running backs, its best wide receiver and two starters in the secondary to injuries. Quarterback Austin Warford out of Malvern, who missed the second half of the 2016 season, is back for his senior year. Ouachita has nine consecutive winning seasons, the most of any college program at any level in the state. The coaches picked Ouachita fourth and Northwestern Oklahoma ninth out of 12 GAC teams in the preseason poll.

Southwestern Oklahoma 39, UAM 36 — The Boll Weevils, who finished with a record of 4-7 a year ago, open the season at home in Monticello on Saturday night. Southwestern Oklahoma was 5-6 in 2016. The coaches picked Southwestern to finish seventh and the Boll Weevils to finish eighth. It should be a competitive game between two programs seeking to move into the GAC’s top tier.

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Rex’s Rankings: The preseason

Friday, August 25th, 2017

It’s high school football season in Arkansas.

I hope to be at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium for doubleheaders on Monday and Tuesday nights. It’s always fun to start the season with a dose of four games in two days.

On Friday nights, I’ll again be hosting a high school scoreboard show that’s heard on more than 50 radio stations across the state. We’ll be on from 10 p.m. until midnight for 12 consecutive Fridays (the regular season and the first two weeks of the playoffs). Each Friday night, I’ll have updated rankings before we’re off the air. Those rankings will later be posted here on the blog.

You’ll notice a lot of familiar names in our preseason rankings. Here’s goes:

OVERALL

  1. Bryant
  2. Springdale Har-Ber
  3. North Little Rock
  4. Jonesboro
  5. Pine Bluff
  6. Fayetteville
  7. Greenwood
  8. Pulaski Academy
  9. Bentonville
  10. El Dorado

CLASS 7A

  1. Bryant
  2. Springdale Har-Ber
  3. North Little Rock
  4. Fayetteville
  5. Bentonville

CLASS 6A

  1. Jonesboro
  2. Pine Bluff
  3. Greenwood
  4. El Dorado
  5. Benton

CLASS 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Batesville
  3. Wynne
  4. Morrilton
  5. Alma

CLASS 4A

  1. Nashville
  2. Warren
  3. Stuttgart
  4. Prairie Grove
  5. Pea Ridge

CLASS 3A

  1. Prescott
  2. Harding Academy
  3. Charleston
  4. Glen Rose
  5. Junction City

CLASS 2A

  1. Rison
  2. Mount Ida
  3. Des Arc
  4. Danville
  5. Camden Harmony Grove

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Remembering Glen Campbell

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

We had spent the day at the Hope Watermelon Festival, and it was time to head back to Little Rock.

I was riding with Paul Austin, the head of the Arkansas Humanities Council, and suggested that we not get back on Interstate 30 just yet.

Instead we would make our way through the pine woods and cattle pastures of southwest Arkansas — to Washington, Ozan, Nashville and Murfreesboro — to soak up the rural atmosphere in my old neck of the woods.

Our destination was Delight.

Glen Campbell, one of our most famous Arkansans, had died four days earlier and been buried the next day in a private ceremony near Delight.

A perk of hailing from southwest Arkansas was being able to correct people when they claimed that Campbell came from Delight.

“Well, he’s actually from Billstown,” you would say with a smile. “That’s a suburb of Delight.”

Glen Travis Campbell was born April 22, 1936, at Billstown to Carrie Dell Stone Campbell and John Wesley Campbell. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and he was one of 12 children.

“Many of his relatives were musicians, and young Campbell soon developed an interest in singing and playing,” Terry Buckalew writes for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “He received his first guitar at age 4, performed in public by age 6 and made occasional appearances on the local radio station. The Campbell family first moved to Houston and then to Albuquerque, N.M, where teenaged Campbell began performing in nightclubs. Campbell dropped out of school in the 10th grade to spend more time on music. In 1956, he joined the Sandia Mountain Boys, a local band led by his uncle, Dick Bills. Campbell stayed with the group until 1958.

“In 1958, Campbell formed his own band, Glen Campbell and the Western Wranglers. In 1960, Campbell disbanded the group and moved to Los Angeles. He hoped to establish himself as a solo performer but found himself instead to be a sought-after studio musician and guitarist.”

Billstown is about six miles from Delight. The schools there consolidated with Delight at the start of the 1948-49 school year. Since then, Billstown has mostly been a collection of homes.

The Ozan Lumber Co. was among the area’s dominant businesses for much of the 20th century. The company owned 132,000 acres by 1956 and was sold to the Potlatch Corp. in the 1960s. As timber companies cleared the woodlands, farmers such as John Wesley Campbell turned to growing cotton in the “Pike County sandy loam” that son Glen later would reference in his song “Arkansas.”

Young Glen hadn’t been a stranger to chopping cotton in the summer and picking it in the fall.

As Paul and I headed east on Arkansas Highway 26 last Saturday afternoon, I spotted the small sign for Billstown and asked Paul to take a right. We wound down a county road on the off chance that we might see Campbell’s grave. For all we knew, it was hidden in a family cemetery well off the road.

We were about to turn around when I spotted a mailbox that had “Campbell” stenciled on it.

“Let’s keep going a bit,” I said to Paul.

Just up the road on our left was a cemetery. A wooden sign read “Campbell’s Cemetery, Billstown, AR.”

Eureka.

We got out of the truck and found the headstone for Carrie and John Wesley Campbell. Behind it was a freshly dug grave. At the head was a large floral arrangement from a Murfreesboro florist with a ribbon that said “Brother.”

At the foot was a vase of roses.

It was quiet on Billstown Road as the August sun baked the soil. We stood there for a minute, silently paying our respects to an Arkansas legend.

Less than 48 hours after that cemetery visit came word that we had lost another Arkansas icon, former Razorback football coach Frank Broyles. Campbell was 81 when he died; Broyles was 92. Both had Alzheimer’s at the end.

I was born in September 1959 and was coming of age in the late 1960s when Glen Campbell became a national star.

Campbell recorded “Gentle on My Mind” in 1967 and earned Grammy Awards in 1968 for Best Country Vocalist and Best Contemporary Vocalist.

In 1968, he recorded “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which won him three more Grammys. Songs such as “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” soon followed.

The man from Billstown became a regular on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” and CBS asked him to host a summer replacement show in 1968.

In 1969, CBS created “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” and the program ran through 1971.

The year 1969 also saw the release of the John Wayne movie “True Grit,” based on the novel of the same name by native Arkansan Charles Portis. Campbell had a role in the movie, which premiered at Little Rock’s Cinema 150.

In 1970, Campbell played the title role in “Norwood,” which also was based on a Portis novel.

“Campbell continued to enjoy chart success through the late 1970s,” Buckalew writes. “Among his more than 70 albums are several gospel albums recorded in the 1990s, one of which — ‘A Glen Campbell Christmas’ –earned a Dove Award in 2000.”

Campbell was inducted into the first class of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 1996 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

In the late 1960s when Glen Campbell was at the height of his popularity, we were just more than a decade removed from the embarrassment of the 1957 Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis. Arkansas had lost the highest percentage of its population of any state from 1940-60.

There wasn’t a great deal to be proud of, but we had the likes of Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash on the national stage.

Like Frank Broyles, who would die less than a week after him, Glen Campbell made us proud to be from Arkansas.

Godspeed, Glen.

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Coach Broyles

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Frank Broyles wasn’t born and raised in Arkansas.

He hailed from Decatur, Ga., and his rich Southern accent was never replaced by an Arkansas twang. Yet he was one of us. Indeed, he was the best of us.

He moved to Fayetteville following just one season as the head coach at the University of Missouri.

Orville Henry wrote in the Arkansas Gazette the day after Broyles’ Dec. 7, 1957, hiring at the University of Arkansas: “Frank Broyles is the fastest walking, thinking, talking Southern boy I’ve ever run across, in or out of football. He charms the uninitiated with his complete candor and confidence and the rippling softness of his Dixie accent. And he possesses the pigskin technicians with the inside-outside mastery of his subject matter, which is basic football in general and the T formation attack in the specific. As of this hour, he embodies every answer to John Barnhill’s prayer.”

Barnhill, the Arkansas athletic director at the time, told Henry: “Frank is the only man from the outside who could come in and pull us all together toward what we’re after. We’ve lost no ground in the last three years, and we’re in good shape. Within a month I believe we’ll be a lot better than we were.”

Barnhill added: “Broyles convinced me that he wants to come to Arkansas and stay.”

Stay he did, for the next six decades.

National news had been dominated in that fall of 1957 by the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis. That didn’t deter Broyles, who always would refer to the Arkansas coaching position as his dream job.

The desegregation crisis made Arkansas the subject of derision in other parts of the country. Arkansans had both a strong pride in the place they called home and a glaring inferiority complex.

Though Broyles wasn’t from here, he understood us.

He pledged his allegiance to Arkansas and never left.

It didn’t take Broyles long to build a football powerhouse. John Barnhill’s instincts had been correct.

As least among college football fans, Gov. Orval Faubus wasn’t the only well-known personality in Arkansas. We had Broyles, his shirttail flapping as he paced the sidelines on those glorious fall afternoons.

College Football News once ranked the top college football programs for the 1960s. The ranking was based on Associated Press polls. Alabama (coached by a native Arkansan, Paul “Bear” Bryant) was first in that decade. Arkansas and Texas were tied for second.

I was born in September 1959. Frank Broyles was the only Razorback football coach I knew until high school. Arkansas won several versions of the national championship in 1964, but that was the year my 9-year-old brother was killed in an accident. So the few memories I have of that year are of family tragedy, not college football.

The next year was different. I clearly remember that at the end of the 1965 season, as the Razorback winning streak reached 22 games, my parents announced that they would take my older sister and me to Dallas to see Arkansas tangle with LSU in the Cotton Bowl.

I remember the trip down U.S. Highway 67 from our Arkadelphia home to Dallas. I remember the stop at The Alps restaurant in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, for lunch. I remember staying in downtown Dallas at the Baker Hotel.

And I remember wanting to see Frank Broyles in person, which I finally did.

I got into trouble with my father on that trip when I refused to shake the hand of the LSU head coach, Charlie McClendon. McClendon was from south Arkansas (Lewisville to be exact) and knew my father. McClendon’s brother, Bill, and my dad hunted quail together.

But to a 6-year-old, he was the enemy because he coached the hated purple-and-gold Tigers.

LSU upset Arkansas on Jan. 1, 1966, ending the 22-game winning streak. I cried in the cab on the way from Fair Park back to the Baker Hotel.

With victory having proved elusive, the highlight of the trip for me was having seen Broyles at the hotel.

You could tell by looking at him that he had once been a great athlete. He was a star quarterback at Georgia Tech, where he played for Bobby Dodd and led the Yellowjackets to three bowl games. He started his coaching career as an assistant at Baylor in 1947, but Dodd soon brought him back to Atlanta where Broyles served as the head coach’s right-hand man for a decade. Many Southern football fans felt that Broyles would hang around until Dodd retired and then become the Georgia Tech head coach.

Broyles was restless, however. He wanted to lead his own program and try out his own ideas. He took the Missouri job.

Arkansas, though, was the place where he really saw potential. His vision, in fact, went beyond the football field. He once told me that the smartest move the university made in his early years there was when it offered broadcasts of Razorback games free to any radio station in the state that wanted them. Prior to that, a number of people in west Arkansas followed Oklahoma football, a number of people in south Arkansas followed LSU football and a number of people in east Arkansas followed Ole Miss football. Having one of the largest radio networks in the country united the state.

Broyles continued to make us proud on the national stage after retiring from coaching following the 1975 season. Broyles and play-by-play man Keith Jackson of ABC Sports became the best college football crew on television.

Broyles also proved to be as savvy as an athletic director as he had been as a football coach, raising millions of dollars to improve athletic facilities for multiple sports and moving Arkansas from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference in the early 1990s.

No wonder the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named him Arkansas’ most influential sports figure of the 20th century.

No wonder David Bazzel created the Broyles Award to honor the top college assistant coach in the country. Think of those who played and/or coached under Broyles — Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Gibbs, Johnny Majors and on and on.

Still, Broyles’ most important accomplishment was that he made us proud to be from Arkansas at a time when we most needed it.

Finally Winthrop Rockefeller became governor in January 1967 after 12 years of Faubus.

Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell hit it big on the national stage.

And Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks kept winning football games — lots of them.

Even though the end result was an excruciating 15-14 loss to the hated Longhorns, we were proud that what was known as the Game of the Century was played on Arkansas soil in 1969. I was 10 years old and still recall that gray December afternoon.

As a state at that time, we were just more than decade removed from the embarrassment of 1957. Arkansas also had lost the highest percentage of population of any state from 1940-60.

Frank Broyles helped us to believe in ourselves again.

I didn’t fully understand that at age 10.

I do now.

He was a giant in his field. Yes, he was born in Georgia. But he became one of us and was never ashamed to be known as an Arkansan.

Thank you, Coach Broyles. You were the right man at the right time for Arkansas.

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