WARREN — It’s not often a team has a better chance of winning a state title than winning its first game of the season, but that might be the case for the Warren Lumberjacks.
Warren, a 4A school, will kick off the season against two-time defending 7A state champion Fayetteville Sept. 2 at Razorback Stadium.
“It’s going to be tough, we understand that,” coach Bo Hembree said. “It’s a good game for our guys, (plus) they get to go play in Razorback Stadium.
“And they have over a hundred kids (on the football team) and we have right at 40, so the numbers don’t really add up, but we’ll get better from it.”
A tough non-conference schedule is nothing new for Warren. Last season, the Lumberjacks three non-conference games were against 5A schools, including semifinalist Pulaski Academy and state champion Camden Fairview.
“I thought we got better last year playing the teams we played, I think we will this year too,” Hembree said. “We understand we’ve got to have a few breaks and I think we can be in the ball game
“Our biggest concern is how conditioned we’re going to be going into that game playing so many guys on special teams where they won’t have to and having to have a few guys go both ways.”
The Bulldogs may have won state titles back-to-back years, but the Lumberjacks are the team entering the game with a preseason No. 1 ranking in Hooten’s Arkansas Football magazine.
“Preseason means nothing,” senior right guard Jhamahl Bell said. “No games have been played.
“We’re kind of thankful for the No. 1 rating, but it still means nothing because you can be ranked No. 1 and still fall off.”
“I think they understand that the preseason doesn’t mean anything,” Hembree said, “and it don’t really start mattering until conference time and that’s still a long time away.
“We’ve just got to have a steady incline all the way until that point and that’s what we did last year, and I thought we got pretty good towards the end of the year and that’s what we want to do this year but be even better.”
Junior running back Kilay Cox will be a key to Warren’s success. Cox finished last year with 1,635 yards on the ground and 22 rushing touchdowns on his way to becoming the first sophomore running back at Warren to earn all-state honors.
“This year we’re trying to get him more involved in the passing game coming out of the backfield,” Hembree said, “and that’s going to be something new for him.
“He’s going to have a lot on his plate this year where we didn’t have as much last year.”
Another returning all-state selection is senior wide receiver Von Eric Gonder, who had 1,002 yards and nine touchdowns on 51 receptions last season.
“He’s got great hands and he’s kind of our leader out there,” Hembree said.
Gonder may be the leader but he is far from the only solid receiver on the Lumberjacks. Senior Kalell Thomas and juniors Darvion Brown, Jaylon Marshall and Terrez Hampton will look to contribute.
“I think we’ve got a chance to have a good mixture of guys who are possession-type guys and we’ve got some guys who are deep-ball guys,” Hembree said. “And when you have that you got a chance to be a really good offense.”
With 10 starters back on offense and nine back on defense, the Lumberjacks’ starting lineup has a lot of experience.
“My class has been playing since we were in ninth grade,” Bell said. “We moved up the last three games of the 2010 season, so we’ve been playing for quite a while.
“So, the time is now.”