Coach: Stephen Neal, 1st year at Pea Ridge
2015 Record: 11-3
Returning Offensive Starters: 9
Returning Defensive Starters: 7
Key Players: SR Zaine Holley RB/LB, SR Beau German OG
PEA RIDGE (KFSM)--In three of the past four seasons, Pea Ridge has won at least ten games. Newly hired head coach Stephen Neal aims to continue success at the 4A school. Neal comes from Oklahoma power Tulsa Union, where he served as associate head coach and defensive coordinator for five seasons. Many new coaches have to deal with player turnover and the possibility of a rebuild. With Pea Ridge, Neal is handed one of the better situations in Northwest Arkansas.
Junior Jakota Sainsbury returns at quarterback and Senior Zaine Holley was honored as an all-state running back.
"That’s the base of the offense, those guys. Zaine did a whole lot last year, obviously when Coach Travis was here, Zaine did a whole lot and helped lead the team. Jakota got a whole lot of reps at quarterback last year," Neal said.
Sainsbury threw for over 200 yards and three touchdowns while splitting snaps. Holley rushed for 1800 yards and found the end zone 26 times.
Holley is confident in his new coach.
"He's brought a lot more energy, a lot more effort. He's getting more out of all of us and we're all getting better every day," Holley said. The senior is also excited to have a full season with Sainsbury. "It’s very important because that chemistry is there and we all know our timing and how we click very good together and we all know how to get it done."
The x-factor for Neal and the Blackhawks could be their linemen.
"Offense or defense, as every coach can tell you, the most important part is what's up front. Guys like Beau German and Seth Trammell (both seniors). Guys who are gonna be leading us where we want to go," Neal said.
Pea Ridge lost to Nashville in the Class 4A semifinals last season, but return fifteen starters this fall (8 on offense and 7 on defense). With all that experience back, Neal's goal of continuity from Coach Tony Travis's regime doesn't seem so daunting.
Pea Ridge hosts Booneville on September 2nd in a 4A conference crossover game.