After winning its first undisputed conference championship since 1963 last season, Fayetteville (10-3, 7-0 in Class 7A West action) came within a touchdown of winning it all.
Bryant rallied for a late touchdown to down Fayetteville 42-38 and win its fourth straight Class 7A title, but it was still quite a turnaround from a 4-6 record the previous season for the Purple Bulldogs.
Although a ton of seniors graduated, including a trio of Power 5 defensive signees, the Purple Bulldogs are not interested in taking a step back according to head coach and former Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick.
“We did a lot of things last year that when you kind of step back and take a look at things, there were some things we wanted to take care of within our house and we did,” Dick said. “But now we can’t be satisfied with who you are, you have to be hungry and keep pushing forward and establishing something better.
“Moving forward, we tell these kids this is their team. Last year was a very senior-heavy team that we didn’t have to push, we just had to put them in the right direction.
“I think the young ones saw that moving forward and they can take from that, the leadership and the want to. I feel good about where our program is headed.”
One of the many positives of the playoff run was extra practices that Fayetteville got in during November and early December.
“For sure,” Dick said. “We referred to our playoffs as kind of like our bowl prep. Those young guys got in there during practice, got a lot of valuable reps and kind of grew up.
“The off-season was a little shorter because it got pushed back because of the playoffs, but those four or five weeks were really invaluable for those kids.”
A pair of Arkansas signees in wide receiver Isaiah Sategna and linebacker Mani Powell and Indiana linebacker signee Kaiden Turner are among those that have moved on.
“Mani called me the other day and he had just squated 500 pounds straight off of ACL surgery,” Dick said. “Those guys are just big-time competitors and great football players, but even better people I look for those guys to be impactful whether it is on the field or in the locker room.”
Fayetteville was one of 21 teams that participated in the 13th annual Southwest Elite 7 on 7 Showcase at Shiloh Christian this past Thursday and Friday.
Shiloh Christian won the event with a 24-14 win over Rogers in the championship game, the second 7 on 7 title head coach Jeff Conaway’s Saints squad has won this summer along with a tournament in Benton.
Dick’s squad got valuable experience, something needed when you have such a young squad.
“It’s just our youth,” Dick said of his team’s biggest question mark entering the season. “You look at us where we are now from where we were last year and we are just really young. That’s not a bad thing, it is just the truth and we are constantly working to catch those guys up.”
While some coaches down play 7 on 7, Dick is not one of those.
“We are not going to do anything different than we are during the regular year,” Dick said. “We are going to run the same offense, the same defense and just try compete and get better all the time at what we do. So I think it helps.”
Fayetteville opens the 2022 season on Sept. 2 with a home game against North Little Rock and Arkansas defensive end pledge Quincy Rhodes (6-4, 240).
The Purple Bulldogs will then travel to Fort Smith Northside on Sept. 9 before opening conference play against visiting Bentonville West on Sept. 23.
“It’s going to be another tough schedule for us, but the key is just to keep getting better each day and pushing to the best we can,” Dick said. “That’s the goal and I think these kids will be able to do that.”
Photo by John D. James