PEA RIDGE (KFSM)--A stacked offensive core returns from Pea Ridge's state runner up squad. Quarterback Jakota Sainsbury, running back Drew Winn and receiver Hayden Holtgrewe all step into roles as senior leaders. But the story for the Blackhawks is about the underclassmen.
"They push us every day in practice and it's really tough to go against them sometimes. They're gonna be big on special teams and even have some young starters," said wide receiver Jordan Witcher, a recent transfer from Bryant.
"There's just a lot of underclassmen that haven't made a name for themselves yet that will this year," senior Denver Yates said.
Yates is the lone returner on offensive line and will play center for the second straight year. Even with a young front, head coach Stephen Neal isn't phased.
"You can probably have a little more confidence if you got Drew Winn or Hayden or Jakota, you know and Jordan or those guys back behind you," Neal said.
But the biggest changes come on defense, where just two starters return. Pea Ridge switches to a 3-4 defense to best accommodate their personnel. The shallowest position on defense is the line, according to Neal.
"Just the amount of competitiveness they have. I was a little worried about it at first, but they've brought their A-game since day one and I've been really proud of them since," senior safety Robbie Pickthall said.
Neal added, "They practice well, again their work ethic is tremendous. And they're picking up a new defensive scheme we're kind of running this year."
The Blackhawks open the season in historic fashion, playing two games in week one. Pea Ridge faces Hamburg on Monday, August 28 at 5:30 p.m. at Estes Stadium on the campus of UCA in the Hootens Kickoff Classic.
Four days later, Pea Ridge travels to Booneville for its normal Friday night game at 7 p.m. The Blackhawks are off in week two.