Eagles using summer to refine offense, defense on field

The 2018 Huntsville Eagles warm up during spring practice.

The Huntsville Eagles football team will use this summer to refine both its offense and defense, and look for players who can provide quality playing time this fall, according to head coach Randy Barnhill.

All Arkansas schools are in what is called a “dead period,” during which coaches can’t work with athletes. That ends on July 9 when the Eagles will take part their first 7-on-7 passing competition of the summer in Lincoln. Barnhill, who is entering his third year at Huntsville, said six or seven teams will compete at 6 p.m. each Monday in Lincoln. Last year, the weekly event was held in Siloam Springs.

The games provide a chance for the team to work on its passing game, as well as its passing defense, Barnhill said.

On July 12, the Eagles will venture to Branson, Mo., for another 7-on-7 tournament. Huntsville will take part in a team camp July 25 and 26 in Branson.

“Defensively, we spend a lot of time this time of the year with 7-on-7, just getting all their coverages and all that stuff down,” Barnhill said.

The Eagles finished 2-8 overall last year and 1-6 in conference. Huntsville opened with a 27-3 win over Green Forest, and ended the year beating Berryville 26-7.

On too many Friday nights last season, the Eagles simply couldn’t keep the opponents from scoring, losing 41-18 to Farmington, 41-14 to Prairie Grove, 56-20 to Shiloh Christian, 42-28 to Gentry, 56-28 to Pea Ridge and 62-28 to Gravette.

He stressed that issues with the defense last year were not in just one area of the team. Many players, he said, had to play both offense and defense.

“It was all over. That’s what we ran into was depth,” he said. “That’s our biggest enemy right now.  We had a lot of people that hadn’t played much step up. We’re going to need people to come in there and give us some quality minutes.”

The most experienced players returning for 2018 will be the skill players, led by senior quarterback Sean McCone. Receivers and running backs will include Cyrus Crow, Levi St. Clair, Devin Swarthout, Tyler Welch and Blake Whittington, all seniors.

“A lot of our skill guys will be seniors,” Barnhill said. “They’re going to be contributing for us right off the bat. We’ve got good guys out. They’re going to be able to help us on a lot of stuff.”

Barnhill is excited about a crop of young linemen for both sides of the ball.

“The good thing is, up front we have a lot of young linemen,” he said. The only senior starter likely will be Darius Savarro, who did not play last year. Other starters are expected to be Bubba Roden and Colby Shepherd.

“The rest are going to be kind of open – whoever wants it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young linemen. They’re going to do a lot of good things for us.

“Our skill guys are older, so they’re all competing. They’re getting after it in the weight room and doing what they’re supposed to do and getting stronger.

Barnhill said the foundations for the 2018 team are in place.

“We have most of our defense in for the year, just like we have all of our offense in,” he said. “[In the] summertime, we’re just using that time to refine it ... [to] get our timing right.”

Barnhill said this year’s team has worked hard this summer and appears to be “hungry” for good things.

“You can tell in the offseason. They’ve put the time in,” he said. “We’ve had better attendance this summer than we’ve ever had. They’re doing everything you ask them to do and then some. That’s what you look for. Hopefully we’ll have big things happen.”

The Arkansas Activities Association last year announced that Huntsville will move up to Class 5A this fall. Conference opponents will include Alma, Clarksville, Farmington, Greenbrier, Harrison, Morrilton and Vilonia.

Coaches in the 5A West were polled for this summer’s Hooten’s Arkansas Football magazine. Coaches picked Huntsville to finish last in the eight-team division. Coaches ranked Morrilton first, followed by Harrison, Greenbrier, Alma, Farmington, Clarksville, Vilonia and Huntsville. The magazine listed experience as a Huntsville strength in 2018, but said lack of depth and speed would be weaknesses.

“I know we’re moving up in classification, but we’ve got to put our big boy pants on and go play,” Barnhill said.

The Eagles will open the 2018 season on Aug. 31 by hosting Gentry. The Eagles will also host a junior high camp at 5 p.m. on July 17.

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