Belcher, Benton eye another deep playoff run

by Levi Gilbert

After seemingly endless summer days and 10 weeks of regular season football, the real season begins Friday — the playoffs. For senior Beau Belcher and the rest of the Benton Panthers, only one goal remains. 

“Every year, our team tries to make it to Thanksgiving week of the playoffs, which is the semifinals,” Belcher said. “It’s 13 weeks from the beginning of the season to then, and Coach [Brad] Harris really tries to motivate us to try to get there. We have gotten there the past four years in a row, and it is a major team goal this year.

“I have been in the playoffs every year I have been on the high school team, and it really means a lot to be a competitive team for playoff runs each year. As a senior, I want as many games as I can get, and being back in the playoffs for the third time gives me that extra drive to go to practice every day and work harder than I have the day before.”

Belcher, a senior offensive/defensive lineman for Benton, was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 25 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by Conway Ortho and Sports Medicine, Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Belcher was nominated by his head coach, Brad Harris.

“Beau was a second-string defensive lineman to start the season in 2016,” Harris said. “We had a need for an offensive lineman and moved Beau, and he immediately became a starter for us on the offensive line. He’s an impact player for us on both sides of the football.”

Belcher has battled through significant injuries this year on his way to what could be an all-state campaign. From rolled ankles and sprained wrists to a torn meniscus, Belcher has worked hard each week to get on the field. Off the field, he’s performed just as hard to maintain a high level of academic excellence. 

“I have always tried to excel in the classroom,” Belcher said. “I took five Advanced Placement classes this year, and I have really had to work to maintain my grades at a level that I would accept.”

As the Panthers prepare for another deep playoff run, it all begins this week with Jacksonville. 

“Jacksonville is a very athletic team, and we are going to have to bring our all this week both in practice and at the game to advance to another week,” Belcher said. “Their defense is strong, and they have some very talented defensive linemen. But if we play like we can and do what we do best, we should have another win this Friday night.”

Regardless of how the playoffs unfold, Belcher says there’s a surprising aspect of football that he’ll remember above all else. 

“My offensive line coach, Coach Gentry, always tells us that practice is what you are going to remember the most in a few years after you haven’t laced up the cleats in a while,” Belcher said. “I truly believe him. I have practiced every day for three years, and looking back, I remember my friends that I have made and hitting each other in practice more than any of the games.”

At Benton High School, Belcher participates in BHS Serve, a group “devoted to helping students and faculty within our school.” Belcher helped start the group his sophomore year and now serves as president. The senior attends First Baptist Church of Benton, where he’s involved in the Pure Energy Youth Choir. After graduation, he plans to pursue a medical program. 

“I am very interested in being an orthopedic surgeon or maybe even being a team physician for a college team someday,” Belcher said.

Belcher and the Panthers play host to Jacksonville in the first round of the 6A state playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday.