All of the winter off season weight lifting and running has been completed. Spring practice and summer workouts in extreme heat is now behind them. The season is here, and now, it is game week. The Charleston Tigers will play Melbourne Friday at Hendrix College in week one of the high school football season. The game is the second in the recent series contract between the two schools. Charleston won last year’s game 37-14.
After a 2018 season that ended in a disappointing first round exit from the state playoffs, the Tigers are chomping at the bit to start the new season and begin the process of erasing the memories of last season.
The Tigers will play a tough schedule this year that begins with a Melbourne Bearkatz team that is ranked 17th in 3A according to Max Preps. The Bearkatz finished the 2018 season as the third seed in their conference before facing a first round defeat at the hands of Mansfield. Melbourne plays in the 3A-2 conference that includes Clinton, Cedar Ridge, Harding Academy, Marshall, Mountain View, Rose Bud, and Yellville-Summit.
In addition to Friday’s game with Melbourne in week one, the Tigers schedule will be followed by road trips to Dardanelle in week two, and Ozark in week three. The Tigers will find out a lot about themselves in the three-week non-conference schedule leading into conference play.
This year’s return match-up with Melbourne is an important game for Charleston for many reasons. The Tigers want to get off to a fast start against a ranked team to prove to everyone that their program is back to the level it expects for itself every year. It is also the first game for first year head coach Ricky May who follows in the tradition of highly successful Charleston football coaches. “The game is big for us, I think, because one of our goals is to start 1-0. That’s what you work for all year. The first game, you kind of live for six months, extra in the spring to just get to that first game. Everybody wants to get off to a hot start, I think that is the key. The key is for us to not do a lot of stuff to hurt ourselves. With it being my first game here, I would kind of like to make it a little bit special. The community, if we start off 1-0 that would be good for them. Overall, the consistency is what we want; the biggest jump in improvement is from week one to week two. We are hoping to do that from the scrimmage to this week’s game.”
Melbourne, ranked 17th in class 3A statewide, lost a tough first round playoff game to Mansfield in 2018. The Bearkatz feature an offense with talented position players that can score quickly and at anytime. In 2018, according to Max Preps, the Bearkatz averaged 223.9 yards per game receiving, and 165.5 yards per game rushing. They scored 46 touchdowns during the season. Defensively, Melbourne averaged 65.2 tackles per game and inflicted 13.5 sacks and 9 interceptions on their opponents.
“I think Melbourne is very talented. They are well-coached. They’ve got two or three really explosive players that are really good. Their quarterback is a two-time all conference selection and throws the ball really well. Their tailback was all-conference last year as well, and he’s a good football player on both sides of the ball. Then they have a slot receiver / utility man because he does everything. He’s been all state for two years; he’s a really good one, and probably the best defensive player on the field. So, that’s what we have in front of us. We have to slow their offense down, make it hard for them. Defensively, they are sound, what they do is good.”
Charleston will go into week one with its outstanding offensive / defensive lineman Jonathan Williams’s playing status listed as questionable. “He (Jonathan) kind of tweaked his knee in practice. He is supposed to see somebody today and we are holding our breath that he is fine. That will be the fifth guard we have tried there. We want to win the first game, but the big prize is winning in conference, so we don’t want to do anything to mess that chance up.”
Friday’s game will be played at Young-Wise Memorial Stadium on the campus of Hendrix College in Conway. Having opened in 2013, the stadium features an artificial playing surface with high quality seating for fans and for a high quality total fan experience.
After all of the hard work from the night of the loss to Clinton in last year’s first round state playoff game to this Friday night’s game, the 2019 Tigers begin the road back to getting the bad taste out of their mouths that has pushed them the entire off season. A lot is on the line for this year’s team, and I know Coach May and the entire Tigers football program wants your support in Conway on Friday night. Charleston has always traveled well, and your Tigers need your support to get this year’s season off to a good start.
So, Tiger fans, set your GPS for 1600 Washington Avenue, Conway, and make the trip to Hendrix in mass to support your Tigers!