Celebrating Athletic Excellence: Pulaski County’s Anthony Lucas

By Dr. Robert Reising

“The University of Arkansas (U of A) stayed with me,” Anthony Lucas recently and proudly recalled. Thirty years ago, when other institutions were “cooling” on him because of questionable ACT scores, Lucas opted for the Fayetteville institution, its long-interested football recruiters having promised that a year of football ineligibility would improve both his chances for a baccalaureate and, through “learning by watching,” his skills as a pass receiver. Although reluctant, he was impressed and grateful, and requested and received a release from an existing commitment to Louisiana Tech. 

Photo by Mike Kemp

Everything that was promised became reality, and in 2024—three decades later–Anthony Lucas stands as an invaluable education professional as well as one of Arkansas’s most able and admirable high school football coaches. Pulaski County and the whole of the 501 are enriched by his persevering presence. 

Born in Tallulah, La., in 1976, he was the second child of Gerald and Rena Lucas, both elementary school educators. His sister, Latasha, he calls “his best friend.” She and his parents together formed the loving home that Anthony enjoyed during his childhood and throughout twelve years of public school education. Always a talented schoolyard athlete, three times in senior high school he catapulted to All-State honors in the two sports—basketball and football—in which he starred. Unfortunately, his grades paled in comparison to his play, and the horde of recruiters initially coveting his attendance dwindled as spring slouched toward summer.

Yet Anthony’s delight with the U of A never wavered. He persevered and threw himself into classroom assignments and “learning by watching” football practices and films, and in his first fall of intercollegiate play, he was nothing short of brilliant. He averaged 19.5 yards per catch, earned All-SEC accolades as a freshman, broke the existing U of A record for receiving, and concluded a winning season with a Razorback appearance in the Carquest Bowl. First-game injuries, however, ruined 1996, and he was forced to wait until the 11th game of 1997, in which he posted an 18.3-yard average per catch, to replicate his initial performance.

Anthony Lucas was on the receiving end of Clint Stoerner’s 27-yard game-winning touchdown pass against the defending National Champions, Tennessee Volunteers in 1999. This play is referred to as one of many “The Catch” in Arkansas Razorback football. He was drafted in 2000 by the Green Bay Packers and released the next year. The Dallas Cowboys signed him in August 2001 as No. 15. He spent two years with the Cowboys before several knee injuries forced him to retire. He went back to U of A and received his Master’s in December 2004.

The appointment of Houston Nutt as Razorback Head Coach harbingered even brighter seasons for Lucas. In 1998, while scoring 10 touchdowns, he recorded 43 catches for 1,034 receiving yards and a 23.3 yard receiving average. A second bowl appearance—the Citrus Bowl—and election to the All-SEC Second Team were additional highlights. His final season proved no less successful. Named a preseason All-American, he captured 37 passes for 822 yards and a 22.2 receiving yard average. Not only was he named All-SEC First Team, but the Associated Press also placed him on its All-American Third Team.  He also contributed to a Razorback victory in the Cotton Bowl in the final game of his record-breaking University football career.

Collectively, Anthony’s years at the flagship institution of his adopted state prove him to be a nationally significant record holder. For example, his 1995 receiving average of 19.5 ranks No. 8 in the NCAA, and his 23.3 average three seasons later elevates him to No. 2 with the same organization. Similarly, his 1999 receiving average of 22.2 yards per catch places him not only at No. 1 in the SEC, but at No. 5 in the NCAA. He was also a nationally respected genius at running pass routes, one of his most memorable occurring in 1999 in Fayetteville when he snared a 23-yard touchdown toss with fewer than four minutes remaining to seal a 28-24 upset victory over No. 3 nationally ranked Tennessee. Thanks to Anthony’s heroics, Dickson Street hosted an unscheduled parade featuring the Hogs’ goalposts that evening.

Photo by Mike Kemp

Small wonder, then, that in 2000, the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) drafted the 6’ 3,” 190 lb. pass-catching whiz. But injuries returned to hobble him for three of three NFL seasons, the last two as a Dallas Cowboy. Major surgery followed each of the trio, and success in the sport that he loved was ended—but only temporarily. Again he persevered.  Armed with two degrees from the U of A and a decade of enriching experiences with Tyson Foods human relations, the Brandon Burleson Foundation, Life CHAMPS Youth Sports, and D1 Sports Training and Therapy, Anthony spent nine victorious years as an Assistant Coach to the popular Kevin Kelley. Kelly, Head Football Coach at Pulaski Academy for 17 years, was “probably the top high school coach in the country,” according to Bill Belichick, famous leader of the NFL’s Boston Patriots. Upon Kelley’s 2021 departure for the head football coaching post at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Pulaski Academy named—who else?—Anthony to succeed him.

Again Anthony proved equal to the challenge. In his three seasons at the helm, he has compiled a 35-and-5 win-loss record and claimed two state titles, the first in Classification 5A and the second in Classification 6A. In 2023, he settled for a 6A semi-final finish and a handsome 10-and-3 win-loss record. Unquestionably, he will continue the excellence introduced by Kelley and mirrored in his own climb from challenges with standardized testing to record-setting victories over bone-crushing intercollegiate foes. Pulaski County has every reason to celebrate Anthony Lucas—the man as well as the coach. 

Bob Reising