The 2021 season for Central Arkansas Christian did not end well with seven consecutive losses, but some talented sophomores and a new classification have sparked optimism for Mustangs head coach Tommy Shoemaker.

CAC returns three starters on offense and four on defense from that 2-8 squad, which means there’s opportunity to play for those sophomores as the Mustangs drop down from Class 5A to Class 4A. 

“I think just getting all the sophomores we have some experience is going to be big,” Shoemaker said. “We are probably going to start five or six sophomores on both sides of the ball. They have the ability, but it is different than playing junior high.”

Fall practice started Monday with the program looking to build on the momentum of the spring and summer. 

“We had a really good spring and got in good six days after everybody got done with soccer, baseball and all that stuff,” Shoemaker said. “We have got a young group, but they are talented and I thought we got better those six days. We also had a good summer.”

The Mustangs will scrimmage Des Arc a week ahead of opening the regular season with Lonoke on Aug. 26.

CAC joins a Class 4A-4 conference race that also includes Pottsville, Lamar, Clinton, Bauxite, Harmony Grove Haskell, Little Rock Hall, Mayflower and Dover.

“I think it is going to be one of those things where there is not a clear cut favorite,” Shoemaker said. “There are going to be a lot of us in the same boat, playing a lot of sophomores. I think it is going to be very competitive every Friday night. It may not get decided until week nine or ten more than likely.”

One of those sophomores is quarterback Grayson Wilson (6-3, 195), who moved up to the varsity for the last two games after his  junior high season ended.

Wilson (6-3, 185) started and completed 20 of 25 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns in a game against Bald Knob.

“We are starting a sophomore at quarterback and he is a really talented kid, but he is still a sophomore,” Shoemaker said. “We did get him a couple of starts at the end of the year last year, which I think will help him. 

‘He had a fantastic spring so I am looking forward to seeing what he is able to do for us.”

Shoemaker is happy about the revitalization of football  in Central Arkansas.

“For a time, the state championships were being won every year up in Northwest Arkansas and now it has kind of shifted back here to Central Arkansas,” Shoemaker said. “ There are just a lot more strong programs, a lot of athletes who are now playing football. 

“They have seen they give away a lot of football scholarships and they don’t give away as many as the other sports. It really has been an uptick and you can see that with the Razorbacks picking up kids from this part of the state.”