STAR CITY — Several Star City players gained valuable experience last year as either sophomores or juniors, none more so than quarterback Tye Brown.
The junior, who also started four games as a freshman, led the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record and a spot in the 4A quarterfinals, but that’s when the clock struck midnight on the fairy-tale season.
Star City ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Dollarway Cardinals, who routed the Bulldogs, 36-0.
“Last season was a great experience for all of us,” Brown said, “but it really left a bad taste in all of our mouths with the way it ended.
“That’s just extra motivation to work hard this summer to get ready and go further this year.”
This year, Star City will get a chance for revenge as Dollarway rejoins the 8-4A Conference. The Cardinals replacing Lake Village Lakeside significantly raises the competition level in what was already a stacked conference featuring last year’s state runner-up Warren, Hamburg, Monticello and Dumas.
“I told them this is the SEC of Arkansas high school football,” Star City head coach Jett Furneaux said of the conference. “And we know that the SEC has somebody playing for the national championship every year. Why not us? Yeah, we have the No. 1 (Warren), No. 3 (Dollarway) and No. 9 team (Hamburg), but we’re sitting at No. 6, as well. So you know we’re a pretty good football team, and we feel like that.
“We’re ready to rise to the challenge.”
Senior defensive back/wide receiver Cory Hampton said he’s ready to embrace the difficult schedule.
“I think it puts a big chip on our shoulder to prove that we can be the best team in our conference and compete for championships,” he said.
Hampton’s brother, Cody, said he believes the Bulldogs can prove they belong among the best in the conference and state by drawing on the experience they gained last year.
“With the experience, it helps us know what to expect down the road in those difficult playoff games and situations like that,” the senior said.
Brown echoed the linebacker’s sentiments.
“A lot of the things we learned during the season last year,” Brown said, “we know those things now. So we can build on top of those things.
“Speaking for me, and I think I can speak for these guys too, but I feel a lot more comfortable on the football field with the experience from last season.”
Furneaux said he’s seen that comfort level rise in Brown during the summer. The former Star City quarterback said he’d like to see more vocal leadership out of Brown, but emphasized that the junior has made significant strides.
“His arm’s physically gotten stronger, that’s one thing,” Furneaux said. “… The thing’s I’ve seen him grow in and continue to grow in is being that coach on the field.
“As a quarterback, you’ve got a lot on your plate. You’ve got to know everybody’s position, you’ve got to know everybody’s assignment on every snap, and then you have to be able to recognize what the defenses are doing to you. He’s improved on that tremendously.”
Center Clay Lavigne said he’s noticed an increased comfort level in all his teammates. The senior, who will be starting for a third-straight year, said it likely has to do with cohesion.
“We’ve been playing with each other for so long,” Lavigne said, “going through Pee-Wee and everything. Being back-to-back years with so many returning starters, we are just so comfortable with each other.
“We aren’t awkward around each other. We’re not afraid to talk with each other. We’re not afraid to get on each other’s butt. But we respect each other and bond good together.”
Star City will face adversity just like every other team will this year, so the strength of that bond will go a long way in determining how successful the Bulldogs will be.
“You could finish second or third in this conference and still be competing for a state championship in December,” Furneaux said. “It’s just getting through the ups and downs of a season that everybody’s going to have.
“How we react to what happens to us is going to be more important than what happens to us.”