Hernandez running strong for Leopards

by Levi Gilbert

With three weeks left in the season, there’s a logjam in the 7-4A. Five teams are tied atop the conference with a 3-1 record in 7-4A play — Arkadelphia, Mena, Nashville, Fountain Lake and Malvern. The latter two face off this week.

It’s shaping up to be quite the finish for Montae Hernandez, a senior running back for the Malvern Leopards.

Hernandez was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 24 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Hernandez was nominated by Malvern head coach, Mike Scarbrough.

“Montae works hard every play and is a positive role model on the field,” Scarbrough said. “He displays character all the time and is an awesome young man.”

In 2013, Hernandez ran 254 times for 1,777 yards and 15 scores. And his play on the field has helped put Malvern right in the mix yet again in the 7-4A.
Hernandez started playing football in the third grade.

“I just loved the game,” Hernandez said. “I would see the players out there being so physical. I remember watching games when I was in third grade. I fell in love with it then.”

His journey has taken him across the state and to Virginia. He settled in Malvern at the end of his eighth grade year after moving from Virginia.

Since moving to Malvern, Hernandez has had the opportunity to be on some really successful squads. His freshman year, Malvern made it all the way to the championship game.

“[My favorite memory], we were in the second round of the playoffs,” Hernandez said. “I ran right up the middle for a long touchdown. That was the year when we went to the championship game.”

The 7-4A has changed quite a bit this year. New teams coming in — like Fountain Lake — have added a new twist to the conference.

“It’s a whole lot different,” Hernandez said. “We want to go through and win a conference championship and work our way back to state.”

Hernandez has served as a captain for the Leopards the last two years, and he’s just as valuable off the field for Malvern.

“I volunteer at A Cup of Water down the street from my house,” Hernandez said. “We help the homeless. It’s a food pantry — the biggest one in our county.”

The last few years have been hard for Hernandez off the field as he’s dealt with the personal loss of his grandfather.

“My grandfather died about a year ago,” he said. “That was really, really hard for me. He didn’t get to come to my games. He had cancer. Now he’s in heaven, looking down on me, watching every game.”

The senior also performs on the track team and plans to play soccer this spring. When he’s not on a field or volunteering in the community, Hernandez can be found “out fishing.”

“I love to fish and bond with nature,” he said. “The country — I love it.”

Hernandez and the Leopards will look to improve their seeding in the conference as they play host to Fountain Lake tomorrow night.