WARREN — The Warren Lumberjacks return several starters from their 2013 squad and most of those players probably still have a sour taste in their mouth.
That’s because the last time they played in a competitive football game they walked off the field at War Memorial Stadium having lost the 4A state championship game 14-12 to Booneville.
“That should hurt anybody,” said senior running back Kilay Cox. “Two points. I mean, you know you were right there. Two points. I mean, maybe you did something wrong on defense, one thing to change the ballgame. Maybe you did something wrong on offense, the difference and changed the ballgame.
“We are fueled up. We know how close we were. We know where we need to get to to get back to state. We’re just trying to work and get there, and this time not be state runner-up and bring the trophy the home.”
If Warren is going to avenge last year’s loss and live up to its second-straight No. 1 ranking in Hooten’s Arkansas Football magazine, the quarterback position will be key.
The Lumberjacks lost several talented players to graduation, including offensive lineman Jhamal Bell, linebacker Kendrick Newton and wide receiver Von Eric Gonder, but the toughest one for them to replace is quarterback Drake Jones.
The Farm Bureau Award winner for 4A offensive player of the year capped his career with an incredible senior year. Jones threw for 2,438 yards with 26 passing touchdowns, while rushing for 458 yards and 13 TDs.
Senior Justin Gorman is tasked with trying to live up to that nearly impossible standard, but luckily for him the Lumberjacks have plenty of talented playmakers surrounding him.
“It makes it easier (on Gorman),” said Warren coach Bo Hembree. “The two wideouts we have in Jaylon Marshall and Darveon Brown, who’ve both came back, and Terrez Hampton, who played a lot last year. So we got three experienced receivers, and a four-year starter at running back (Cox). So we got experience all around him.
“(Gorman’s) had a great camp, so far, so we’re excited about him, and we just got to keep getting better.”
Another thing that’s likely helping to ease Gorman’s transition is an offensive line that returns four starters. Bell is in Jonesboro playing for Arkansas State, but the rest of the O-line returns.
Senior left tackle Wesley Cornish, who returns for his third year as a starter, thinks the experienced, cohesive group will be a real strength.
“All four of us have three years of experience,” Cornish said. “It’s going to help us out really well. Like I said not a whole lot of teams can get four offensive lineman back, and the experience we’ve got right now is unbelievable.”
Warren returns a lot of experience on defense, too. However, Hembree said there are some question marks in the secondary, a troubling prospect for a coach who preaches that turnovers and big plays decide ballgames.
Hembree’s goal is to have a solid secondary; at least by the time 8-4A Conference play begins.
“It’s a concern, because we’re trying to keep from having to play guys both ways,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll step up and continue to get better.
“And then, hopefully, by the time it cools down and we’re in conference season, we’ll be able to play some guys both ways.”
One player who won’t be asked to play both ways is Cox, who scored both of Warren’s touchdowns in the state championship game.
Cox said he has a goal to “get back to 100 percent” after missing a chunk of last season with a leg injury. Cox has a bigger goal, though, too. One that would make sure his high school career ends with a sweet taste in his mouth.
“My goal is I want to win a state championship with my team,” Cox said. “I’ve been working since the ninth grade. I want a ring. I want a ring. We want a ring.
“That’s the goal: Get a ring.”