McJunkins, Panthers fighting for another 5-2A title

by Levi Gilbert

After a string of successes early in this decade, the Magnet Cove Panthers hit a bit of an uncommon lull in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, the Panthers made a comeback, finishing 7-5 overall and earning a share of the 5-2A title. And this year, Magnet Cove (2-3, 1-1) is right back in the mix again. 

With players like senior Tyler McJunkins leading the way, it’s easy to see why the Panthers were able to get back to their winning ways. 

McJunkins, a linebacker and offensive lineman for Magnet Cove, was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 28 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by Conway Ortho and Sports Medicine Center, Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. McJunkins was nominated by his head coach, Caleb Carmikle.

“On the field, Tyler is the vocal leader of this football team,” Carmikle wrote in his nomination. “He plays with so much passion, enthusiasm and aggression. Our coaching staff knows that we are going to get the most out of Tyler every single snap. Tyler was a two-way starter for us last year and was voted team captain as a junior, which is very uncommon. Our entire team has a ton of respect for Tyler and the way he works every day.

“Off the field, Tyler is one of the most respectful, polite kids in our program. He’s the kind of young man that you would want your son to model himself after.”

After opening 5-2A play two weeks ago with a tough 12-10 loss against England, Magnet Cove bounced back last week with a 35-6 win over Poyen. McJunkins racked up seven tackles. 

Magnet Cove High School’s Tyler McJunkins is a member of this year’s 501 Football Team, sponsored by Conway Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Center, Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank. (Mike Kemp photo)

“Poyen is a big rival for us, and that was the perfect time for one of those games because all we were focused on was beating them and not thinking about the previous week,” McJunkins said. 

This week, the Panthers play host to the Quitman Bulldogs.

“To beat Quitman, we have to fly to the ball on defense and make tackles, and on offense we have to block well enough to make creases for our backs,” McJunkins said. “All the teams in our conference are good, so every week is going to be a challenge. We just have to play like we know we can.”

As important as McJunkins has been for the Panthers on the field, it’s his contributions off the field in the classroom and in the community that are leaving a lasting impact. 

“Tyler is extremely involved in our community,” Carmikle said. “He’s very active in his church youth group at Butterfield Missionary Baptist Church. Tyler also helps with our pee wee football program. If there’s a Magnet Cove athletic event going on, you can expect to see Tyler McJunkins there helping out in some role. He can be found doing anything from grilling burgers for baseball and softball games, working in the concession stand at various events or helping coach his brother’s pee wee football team.”

McJunkins is involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Beta Club and Student Council. After high school, he plans to attend college and major in biology. For now, the focus is on finishing out his final season of football alongside his Panther brothers, hoping to take home another 5-2A title and make some noise in the playoffs. 

“You learn in football that you don’t need to listen to the outside world when you play,” McJunkins said. “You just need to play for the guys next to you.” 

The Panthers host Quitman at 7 p.m. Friday.

Levi GIlbert
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