Vilonia kicks off the high school football season for Faulkner County teams Tuesday night with a game at the place the Eagles hope to end up.
The Eagles take on Sylvan Hills in the First Security Kickoff Classic at 5 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, the site of the state championship games in December. The game, co-hosted by ArkansasSports 360.com and 103.7, The Buzz, is the first game of a doubleheader. Little Rock Christian and Maumelle High (formerly Oak Grove) will follow at 7:30 p.m.
The Eagles, who finished 7-4 last season, took a dominating 42-14 victory over the Class 6A Bears in the game last year.
Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow thinks the Bears are more experienced to be more competitive this year.
"We were very young last year and played with a lot of guys who haven’t played before," Withrow said. "Actually, this time around, we’re kind of rebuilding it the right way. We’re going to start a lot of sophomores and juniors. In time, I think we’ll be fine. It’s a maturation process you’ve got to go through. We do have some guys who can run and some guys who can make some plays.
"We feel good about it, but we just think we’re gonna take some bumps and bruises along the way."
"Sylvan Hills has a lot of team speed," Vilonia coach Jim Stanley said. "We’re going to have to be very aware of that. We’re young. We’ll have about five sophomores starting, but we have some good seniors though. James Sax (running back) and Chris Calhoun (lineman) are three years starters. Last year, we had a lot of seniors. This year, it’s more of a young group. But we’re looking forward to a good year."
Sax will be the focal point of the Eagles’ double-wing offense.
"James had a great spring and a great summer and he’s working really hard and doing really well," Stanley said. "You hate to say that, but we’re going to rely on James a lot. If he has a good year, we’re gonna have a good year."
Withrow and his staff got a glimpse of Sax in a preseason scrimmage against Marion.
"Watching him in a scrimmage, he took off in a sweep a couple of times, and we’d say, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s fast,’" Withrow said. "He’s the kind of back I like to have. He’s fast and he’s a great runner, but he also likes to block."
The Sylvan Hills coach hopes he can attack the Eagles with more numbers.
"We’re starting to keep more of our younger (junior high) guys around and they are coming back out for football and I think that’s gonna help us in the long run," Withrow said. "We have 71 players out for football and that’s the most we’ve had at Sylvan Hills in as long time."
After Tuesday’s game, Vilonia has several days off before it plays at Wynne on Sept. 9.