Pryor, Yellow Jackets ready to bounce back

by Levi Gilbert

The Clinton Yellow Jackets are hopeful heading into the 2016 season. Injuries left Clinton with a disappointing season in 2015. After nine wins in 2014, the Yellow Jackets fell to just two wins last fall.

Last year’s injuries gave way to a ton of playing time for underclassmen, and with a move back down to class 3A, this experienced squad is primed for a successful year.

“I believe I speak for our entire team when I say we plan to go even farther than we did two years ago,” said senior center Josh Pryor. “Our ultimate goal is state.”

Pryor was selected to this year’s 501 Football Team — 26 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team, sponsored by First Service Bank and First Security Bank, boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Pryor was nominated by his head coach, Chris Dufrene.

“On the field, Josh is a hard worker,” Dufrene said. “Off the field, he’s a great teammate who works hard in the weight room and practice. He has some of the best sportsmanship that I have ever coached.”

Pryor started playing football in the fourth grade, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother before him.

“My favorite football memory occurred during my sophomore year,” Pryor said. “We beat the No. 1 ranked team in state, Pine Bluff Dollarway, in the second round of the playoffs and made it further than any other Clinton team has made it before. It was a great moment to be a part of.

“My personal goals for this season are simply to play every down to my best ability and to fight alongside my teammates to win one game at a time.”

Pryor was a contributor on the offensive line last season, but this year he takes over the starting job at center.

“This year for me is honestly a whole new world,” Pryor said. “As long as I’ve been playing this game, I’ve been a center. The previous years however, there’s always been a bigger, more experienced center that has played above me. I’ve learned that things like that cannot keep you down. There’s always a chance for you to show your worth. You have to make every practice, every drill, every sprint count.”

With the starting role comes an added layer of stress for Pryor, and it’s an area where he has a level of self-awareness that most people his age don’t.

“Stress management is a big issue of mine,” Pryor said. “That sounds kind of funny coming from a 17-year-old boy, but it’s the truth. I am the type who can stay awake at night stressing about things that I have no control over. I’ve had to learn to just simply take one day at a time.

“You alone cannot fix every little issue, and you have to stay calm, cool and collected. This very thing carries over to the football field. There are many instances when football can be stressful, but you have to take it one play at a time and finish the game. It’s never OK to fill your mind with the stress.”

Off the field, Pryor is involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Business Leaders of America, Student Council, Beta Club and Drama Club.

On the field, Pryor gives his all to a position on the offensive line, which isn’t the most glamorous spot on the field. But he doesn’t shy away from the spotlight away from the pigskin. “When I’m not playing football, the majority of my time is devoted to theater,” Pryor said. “I’ve been on the stage longer than I’ve been playing football. It’s always been a fun hobby of mine, and when I get the chance to work on a show and entertain, I take it in a heartbeat. I also help lead worship at Friendship Baptist Church.”

Pryor is the sixth Clinton Yellow Jacket to be selected to the 501 Football Team. He was in middle school when the first team was announced in 2011.

“It’s a great honor,” Pryor said. “It really is! I’ve always admired the guys who were selected from my school in the years past, and I never would’ve thought that in just a small amount of time, I’d be in the same place they were. There is no better way to explain it.”

Pryor and the Yellow Jackets kick off the season at home Friday, Sept. 2, playing host to rival Heber Springs.

“Ever since I started peewee football in the fourth grade, Heber Springs has always been our rival,” Pryor said. “My peers and I have grown up together with the intense rivalry. This will be the last time we get the chance to play them, and it’s going to be exciting!”