Michael Carter likes to give the Eagles a summer challenge.
Conway Christian, one of the smallest football-playing schools in the state, played in some 7-on-7 tournaments with teams two or three classifications higher.
"We got to these because we want to learn to compete," he said.
And the Eagles competed very well in 7-on-7. In the Southwest Elite Invitational at Springdale, the Eagles lost to state champions from Kansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Carter hopes that translates well to 11-on-11, especially with 16 starters returning from a 6-6 team that reached the second round of the 2A playoffs for the first time.
Jaycob Henry, who passed for three touchdowns against Mountain Pine in subbing for regular Chandler Ferrand, is a proven leader at quarterback. Senior Ancil Lea, who saw limited action last season because of a knee injury, hopes to give the Eagles a bigger threat in the running game.
Other top backs are junior Clayton Dent, a running and receiving threat, and Will Jackson.
The receiving corps is led by Casey Roark, who caught four of his five TD passes in the playoffs last season. John Mark Wood was a late bloomer at receiver last season.
Noah Bowman, a two-year starter, and junior Carter Bramlett are the leaders on the line. They’ll be supported by Carter Free, Chase Kehler and John Clay.
One of the Eagles’ biggest weapons is Josiah Smith, who has had three ACL surgeries and is still one of the top place-kickers in the state.
"He’s an unbelievable kicker, an unbelievable kid," Carter said.
Tackles Shawnell Gill and Zack Staley are the leaders up front. Kehler, an end, is a returning all-conference performer and will be joined by Bramlett at the other end.
Bowman is a returning all-conference selection at linebacker with 98 tackles last season. Roark returned two interceptions for touchdowns last year from his linebacker post. Dent and Robbie Hogue seem set at the other linebacker positions.
Will Callaway and Wood, who had four interceptions last season, are leaders in the secondary.
"Conditioning will be huge for us because we have so many players going both ways," said Carter. "We’ve got to be in the best shape we can be so we don’t have a dropoff in athleticism."
With a 28-man roster, depth is always a question at CCS. Can the defense hold up over the course of the season?
Oct. 10: England at home
Oct. 32: Magnet Cove at home
PLAYER ON THE RISE
Place-kicker Josiah Smith, who has fared well at a couple of camps this summer, is a college prospect.