Things are looking up in the Spa City and the winners might no longer just be limited to the horse track at Oaklawn National Park.
Hot Springs head football coach Darrell Burnett whose team starts practice on August 1, is sensing this season could be the time that his Trojans take a big step forward in the Class 5A South race.
They are coming off a 5-6 campaign last season, including going 3-3 in conference action, have six offensive and seven defensive starters returning and Burnett believes have developed a winning mentality.
“We have a higher level of younger guys this year,” Burnett said of talent and athleticism. “They are eager, they are hungry to compete and they are even going to push the older guys and make them better.”
Hot Springs was 3-5 in 2020 and got out to a 4-2 start in 2021.
“We played a lot of kids last season and that was the biggest thing, they know what we want now,” Burnett said. “We were able to go into the spring and focus on the guys that we know can play and there were a lot of them. It is all about developing and it worked out good.”
Burnett is a former England prep standout, Henderson State player and Bryant defensive coordinator who took over Hot Springs in 2018 after the Trojans went went 1-9 during the previous season,.
He stressed discipline and positivity, but also having fun.
“We just challenged then to be a kid,” Barnett said. “So many times you have young kids trying to grow up too fast. That was our whole message to them. Enjoy this time.”
Hot Springs will open its season with a home game against Vilonia on Aug. 26, follow that with two more non-conference games at Arkadelphia (Sept. 2) and with Little Southwest (Sept. 16) and open conference play by hosting Little Rock Parkview.
Parkview, where head coach Brad Bolding has added his brother Buzz to his staff, has joined Camden Fairview, Hot Springs Lakeside, Magnolia, Texarkana, Hope and DeQueen in the Class 5A South.
“The biggest thing is having a plan and sticking with its and start chopping down some of those guys (teams) at the top,” Barnett said. “Camden Fairview is always going to be good, Lakeside has always been one of the most consistent teams in the league and you just added a juggernaut in Parkview and now you have both Bolding brothers spearheading things. That’s double trouble.
“I would also say that Magnolia is always – to me – one of the top teams in the state because they know what they are doing and they are real good at it.”
Hot Springs will take momentum from the spring and summer into the opening of official workouts.
“We are doing good,” Burnett said. “We had a big team camp at Hot Springs and we had Bryant, we had (Little Rock) Mills, some really good teams there and we competed really good.
“We also did really well at the 7 on 7 in Benton, competed really well and lost to Parkview right before they lost to Shiloh.”
One of the highlights of the summer according to Barnett was a trip to Fayetteville to attend some Razorback camps.
“We took our whole team to the University of Arkansas,” Burnett said. “Our O-lineman competed in the O-line/D-line camp and then we did the 7 on 7 part, which his fun, too. They had 18 teams there, teams from out of state. We are going to keep them active and see who wants to eventually get that number one spot.”