PERRYVILLE: Tough realignment poses challenge for Mustangs

With realignment comes what some publications have called a “super conference.” The newly revamped 4-3A includes the top four teams from the old 1-3A (Charleston, Mansfield, Lavaca and Cedarville), as well as 4-3A returners Perryville, which won its second conference title in a row after a 47-year drought; Lamar, the second seed to the playoffs; Paris, No. 3; and Atkins, the heralded program that is bouncing back from a 2-8 finish in 2009.

Seven of the eight from the new conference made the playoffs last season.

“It’s going to be a dogfight for us to get to the playoffs, especially since we’re really young,” Clayton said.

But the Mustangs have recent tradition on their side. They finished 8-3 last year, falling to Mansfield, their new league foe, in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs, 23-16, after sweeping through the conference, 7-0.

But just five starters return on offense with four back on defense, so Clayton and his staff must plug some gaps after graduating a large senior class.

“Other than the starters, the experience we have back was just in mop-up roles,” Clayton said. “But that’s just part of football. You’ve got to be able to have people step into those positions and play, and that’s what we’re looking for now.”

On the eve of fall practice, several starting positions were up in the air for the Mustangs.

“We know we’ll have (senior) Keegan Belk (5-10, 215) at fullback and middle linebacker; (senior) Michael Quinalty (5-7, 200) at pulling guard and nose guard; and (senior) Kevin Payton (5-9, 240) at center and defensive tackle,” Clayton said. “(Senior) Justin Green (5-10, 160) started early at quarterback, but he’s injured at the moment. (Junior) Zach Everett (6-2, 235) started for us at (offensive left) tackle last year, and he’ll be a two-year starter this year.”
Green suffered a shoulder injury during 7-on-7 play. At press time, his prognosis wasn’t known.

“We hope he’s not out for the season,” Clayton said. “Our back-up quarterback (senior Dominic Meza) may be the starter. He played in the 7-on-7 tournament and did a really good job, but depth-wise, we need Justin.”

Senior Raymond Johnson (5-6, 140) started at cornerback last year. Clayton said he’d add tailback duties to his secondary work.

“Basically, that’s all the starters we’ve got returning,” he said.

The Mustangs are counting on a couple of sophomores, Dylan Wougamon (5-9, 180) and John Stidham (5-10, 175), to help right off the bat defensively.

They’ll also be available at fullback and tailback, respectively. Stidham is a transfer from Morrilton who has been out of football for a couple of years.
Clayton said junior William Thurber (5-6, 145) would be counted on to help at wingback. Jacob Koon (6-3, 315), a 300-plus pounder, will move to left tackle and Everett to right. Senior Caleb Moss (5-9, 235) will help at guard.

A team strength will be size on both lines. The running backs should be solid. A weakness will be the linebackers and secondary, at least until Clayton gets the puzzle pieces in order.

5 Players to Watch:

Tye Kibbons (Sr. MLB/OL)
Spencer Langston (Sr. QB)
Caleb Carter (Sr. TB/LB)
Justin Sutherland (Sr. WR/DB)
DeAndre Grider (Sr. FB)