Red-hot Cardinals eye new season with ambition

by Mark Oliver

Less than a decade ago, when it came to high school football, the Benton Harmony Grove Cardinals weren’t even on the map.


However, with the team fresh off consecutive playoff appearances and featuring one of the top running back talents in the state, the Cardinals have proven that in five short years, they are no longer the team that their opponents overlook each week — they’ve become a force to be reckoned with.

Senior running back Jon Johnson leads the way for the Cardinals’ rushing attack after scoring 20 touchdowns, including three kickoff returns for touchdowns, a year ago.

“Jon led the state in the regular season with 194 carries for 1,916 yards and averaging 9.9 yards per carry,” said Richard Moore, a Cardinal assistant coach. “He is well-liked by all of our opponents and has gained respect from each coach in our conference.”

Johnson is a member of the 2015 501 Football Team — 27 players representing all 11 counties of the 501. The team boasts the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the field. Johnson was nominated by Moore.

“Jon has a strong character and is a really good person,” Moore said. “He has worked tremendously hard this off-season and is a positive role model for our younger players. He leads by example, is totally unselfish and wants to make his team better every day. He also helps with the Future Cardinal peewee football program.”

Inspiration comes easy to Johnson, who says that his drive to succeed comes from watching his favorite team, the Arkansas Razorbacks.

“Growing up watching the Razorbacks and seeing players like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones take it back to the house every Saturday — it made me want to be just like them,” Johnson said. “Seeing players like that gets me pumped up.”

Last year, the Cardinals fell in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs to Fouke, 26-7. For Johnson, who missed the game due to injury, the loss was even more painful.

“[In week 10 against Horatio] I was running the ball downfield and was hit twice,” Johnson said. “When I fell, I landed on the football and broke a rib and collapsed a lung. I spent a couple of days in the hospital and couldn’t be out there with my team when the playoffs began. It was a painful experience in more ways than one. But I have overcome the pain of my injuries, and I’m back and ready to try again this year.”

As a new season dawns, simply making the playoffs is no longer enough for Johnson and the Cardinals. This year, the team is eyeing a much larger prize.

“We’re thinking about a state championship this season,” Johnson said. “It’s every senior’s goal to cement themselves into history. I want to perform to the best of my ability and be among the best in the state.”

“Jon will be a better football player than he was last year,” Moore said. “One of his best qualities is his mindset that he is going to score every time he touches the ball. He will be asked to carry the load on offense and to anchor the secondary on defense. It would be difficult to find a better person or player anywhere in the United States.”