CONWAY: Expectations high for Wampus Cats

But the Wampus Cats were resilient. Senior quarterback Xavier Acklin put Conway ahead for good with a 52-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left on the clock.

“That was when our kids really showed their character,” Conway coach Clint Ashcraft said. “It would have been really easy to give up there at the end when we tipped that pass and they scored. But our guys found a way in the last minute and a half to put the ball in the end zone. Their work ethic was never more evident than at Fayetteville.”

The Fayetteville game marked the peak of Conway’s 2009 season. The Wampus Cats got off to a rough start, falling at Bentonville, 42-0, to open the season and begin Ashcraft’s history at Conway.

“We knew that was going to be tough, going to the No. 1 team in the state to start the year,” Ashcraft said. “There we were still learning a new scheme on both sides of the ball. We knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, and it really took half the season to get kids in the right spot and put the pieces of the puzzle together for the best fit.”

Conway lost at Cabot in Week 4, 38-21, but Ashcraft says that’s the game when the Wampus Cats started to put things together – especially for Acklin, who had never played quarterback prior to that season.

“Xavier really came into his own at Cabot,” Ashcraft said. “He put the team on his back and carried us. It was a competitive ball game, and we made a run in the second half. We just couldn’t get over the hump, but that was against one of the top teams in the state. We were young and still trying to figure it out, but I felt like that’s when we turned the corner.”

The Wampus Cats took another tough loss in Week 5, falling 35-7 at home against North Little Rock, but Conway won three of its last five games to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed out of the 7A-Central.

“In the North Little Rock game, we had a ton of mental breakdowns,” Ashcraft said. “I don’t know what happened. We just didn’t do a good job that week as coaches, getting them mentally ready. We asked too much of them. After that game, we came together as coaches and tried from that point on to keep our game plan down to something that we knew our kids could handle. We revamped everything so that the kids would just be reacting and playing football on the field instead of always thinking about what they had to do.”

Expectations are higher this fall than a year ago, but the Wampus Cats have some big questions to answer – namely at quarterback. Acklin graduated in May.

“We’re going to miss Xavier off the field as much as we will on the field,” Ashcraft said. “He was a good leader in the locker room and in film study. On the field, he accounted for almost 3,000 yards of offense – that’s hard to replace. Truth be told, he was probably the best receiver on our team last year, but we felt like he gave us the best opportunity to win with him at quarterback.”
Junior Tyler Langley (6-1, 170) appears poised to take over for the Wampus Cats at quarterback. Senior Micah Delph (5-10, 160) is also in the mix.

“Langley is a great two-sport athlete,” Ashcraft said. “He’s a great baseball player as well as a great football player. In our two 7-on-7 tournaments this summer, we made it to the finals in one and went 7-1 in the other. I think that gave Tyler a lot of confidence.

“Micah is also another great athlete. He led the basketball team to a championship this past season, and he gives us a different look at quarterback. We could see a situation where we see both guys playing. Delph is such a great running threat. We could have packages for him on a week-to-week basis. It will really depend on who we’re playing that week. Sophomore Tim Boyd is another great athlete at quarterback. Whoever it is at quarterback, they will have several guys that are seniors at wide receiver that will be making it easy for them.”

Seniors Jalen Jones (5-10, 160), Desmond Cox (5-10, 170), Tristan Eddings (5-7, 140), Jalen Windom (5-11, 180) and Kameron Taylor (5-11, 150) lead a group of upperclassmen-laden receivers. Senior Trevor Maltbia (6-0, 200) returns at H-back.
Jamarcus Harmon (5-7, 155) returns at tailback after averaging more than seven yards per carry last year. Juniors Colin Fluesmeier and Cordarius Irby (5-11, 180) round out the backfield.

The backfield will be protected by an experienced offensive line. Senior Alex Chambliss (6-1, 250) returns at tackle. Classmate Dillon Earnhart (5-11, 220) returns at guard. Seniors Dylan Polk (6-3, 260) and Ben Stegemann (6-3, 280) will battle for time at center. Senior Hal Hoggard (6-1, 280) was a backup last year and will be in the mix on the line this year, and Ashcraft says senior Taylor Bacon (6-0, 225) will add depth.

“Sophomore Brandon Kotch (6-1, 240) has been really impressive in spring and summer workouts,” Ashcraft said. “This kid is going to be really solid on the offensive line.”

The strength of the Wampus Cats is built upon the team’s defensive line. Seniors Terrance Cartwright (5-11, 230) and Marquez Massey (5-11, 250) return at the end positions, and juniors E.J. Robinson (5-9, 290) and Marquis Rogers (5-10, 235) shore up the middle at the tackle spots. Senior Patrick Mann (6-0, 190) will see time at defensive end in addition to his tight end responsibilities. Bacon will also help some on the defensive line, Ashcraft says.
Last year’s leading tackler, senior Darian Hill (5-10, 220) returns at middle linebacker. Junior Ben Tusson (6-0, 180) returns at one of the outside linebacker spots.

“Hill is our spark plug,” Ashcraft said. “He’s a ‘never quit’ guy. He’s something really special, and Tusson played with a broken hand last year. That should tell you a lot about his character right there. We’re still trying to figure out who will take the weak side linebacker spot. Reid Blaylock, Hayden Strickland and Jonathan Spears – all juniors – can all three play any of the linebacker spots. We need to go two-deep all the way across, and the depth chart will sort itself out in fall practices.”

Ashcraft said senior Hunter Moix (5-11, 160) was impressive in 7-on-7 this summer, as he prepared to move from cornerback to safety. Senior Elliot Collins (6-0, 175) returns at the other safety spot after starting there last year.
Seniors Tramaine Ervin (5-8, 160), Jordan Cagle (5-11, 160), Teshawn Sims (5-10, 160) and Windom and juniors Corven Alexander (5-7, 140) and Kipley Powell will also see time in the secondary.

“We feel like all eight of those guys will play every Friday night,” Ashcraft said. “We’ll just play whoever has the hot hand in practice that week.”

After a 5-7 finish last year, there’s plenty of room for more success for the Wampus Cats during Ashcraft’s second year at the helm.

“Expectations will be higher,” Ashcraft said. “I don’t think the press or anybody else will make them any higher than our kids will make it. They’re expecting to have a great year. As coaches, we feel like now we have a grasp about who every kid is and what they can do. Last year, there were too many unknowns.

Having these guys for a solid year and an off-season, we are better prepared going into this fall.”

5 Players to Watch:

Marquez Massey (Sr. DE)
Desmond Cox (Sr. WR)
Jalen Jones (Sr. WR)
Hunter Moix (Sr. DB)
Tyler Langely (Jr. QB) 


Sept. 3    FS Southside
Sept. 10    at Jonesboro
Sept. 17    at Heritage
Sept. 24    Cabot*
Oct. 1    at North LR*
Oct. 8    LR Central*
Oct. 15    at Bryant*
Oct. 22    Van Buren*
Oct. 29    at Russellville*
Nov. 4    LR Catholic*
* 7A-Central conference game