Bryant comes into the 2021 season riding 30-game winning streak and hoping the win its fourth state championship in a row. The Hornets lost some key pieces on offense, in particular, highlighted by Arkansas baseball signee and Landers Award winner Austin Ledbetter, wide receiver Hayden Schrader, and running back Tanner Anderson but return five starters on offense.
Some would put last year’s team up there with the greatest all-time in the history of Arkansas high school football, but the Hornets cemented themselves in the argument becoming the first and only to 3-peat since the 7A classification was created (5A was the largest until the 2006-07 school year). North Little Rock last year’s state championship game close falling to Bryant 27-17, but other than that no other in-state team stayed within 25 points of the Hornets.
Having all-state tackles Will Diggins and Brooks Edmonson, along with all-league guard Jason Shifflet, should ease some of the growing pains for young but talented skill players. Edmonson committed to Princeton in July and Diggins currently has offers from Arkansas State, Baylor, Middle Tennessee State, among others.
Here are some of the other notable dynasties in the state’s largest classification:
Ask just about any fan over the age of 25 who the greatest high school football team to ever suit up in Arkansas is and most would say 2005 Springdale . In his final year before moving into the college ranks, Gus Malzahn and National Player of the Year Mitch Mustain led the Bulldogs to as high as a #2 finish in the final polls across the country. Springdale outscored its opponents 664-118, including three shutouts and nine games allowing eight points or less. They may not have a championship streak to their resume, but they certainly deserve eternal credit for all that was accomplished in one season.
Little Rock Central: 1907-09,14-15, 1917-21, 1952-57, 1980-81, 2003-04
Central handed the aforementioned Malzahn his final loss as a high school head coach at Springdale in the 2004 semifinals after Mustain had gone down with a broken arm early in the 2nd quarter. In its early days, Central won three of the first five ever recorded state championships from 1907-09, then won 10 titles between 1914-46. Under the legendary Earl Quigley, for whom the school’s stadium is named after, the Tigers went 149-56-11 during his 22 years as head coach. Bernie Cox won state his first year in 1975, then followed up first place finishes in ’78, ’80, ’81, ’86, ’03, and ’04.
One of the coaches in between Quigley and Cox led the Tigers to ten state titles including three of four (1946-47, ’49) and six straight from 1952-57: That being future Razorback assistant Wilson Matthews. Central was also named the national champion under Matthews in 1946 and ’57, respectively.
Pine Bluff: 1921-22, 1925-29, 1962-63, 1993-95
Pine Bluff high is second only to Central in terms of decorated programs within Arkansas. The Zebras have won a total of 23 state championships, including a national title in 1925. That ’25 squad under the direction of Foy Hammons went 16-0, still a state record for games won in a single season.
Fort Smith Southside: 1991-92
Barry Lunney Sr. took over at Southside in the late-80’s and quickly turned the Rebels (now Mavericks) into one of the state’s powerhouses of the nineties winning back-to-back in ’91 & ’92 and also taking the crown in 1997.
Fayetteville: 2011-12, 2015-16
Current Little Rock Southwest head coach Daryl Patton won four championships at Fayetteville including the school’s first in 2007, ’11-12, and his final season in 2015. Patton resigned in May of 2016, then former Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship came in and won the school’s second title in as many years before taking the vacant head coaching position at Owasso (OK) high school where he is currently employed.
Lunney capped a historic career winning two more titles before riding off into the sunset. Between Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville, his combined eight championships rank second for the big schools (tied overall with Barton legend Frank McClellan) to Wilson Matthews’ ten.
There are others that could be included in this argument, specifically certain single seasons, but we’ll leave that up to local diners to debate. Fort Smith Northside 1967-68, Parkview 1973-74, and Catholic 1984-85 are others who deserve to be mentioned.
One thing that is undebatable, the Hornets have an opportunity to be just the 3rd team in history to 4-peat in the state’s largest classification and cement themselves (in some views) as the greatest dynasty Arkansas has ever seen in high school football.
Published by Kyle Sutherland, @k_sutherlandHTP on Twitter