Picking the best players of all-time a daunting task

By: Clay Henry
Published: Sunday, November 17, 2019

The assignment was simple: pick the best players of all-time in Arkansas high school football.

That’s an impossible task, but a group of sportswriters – leaning on all of their credible sources – came up with a pretty good list of players.

There was no limit put on the team. If they deserved it, they made it.

The list of running backs (51) is the longest on the 212-man team. It’s easy to come up with those players. Stats sort of point you to some of them.

There were tough aspects, like a great college player who might not have been all-world in high school. Believe it or not, some blossom after high school when their body matures – or a coach finds a better way to utilize their skills.

For example, Bobby Tiner might not have been at his peak as the Morrilton quarterback, but he was all-worldly by the time he finished at State College (now Central Arkansas). He still made our team.

Dan Hampton was probably better in college and the NFL than he was at Jacksonville High School, but he was still an easy choice for this team. He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

No question, it’s tough to pick the players from the 1920s than later, but we tried our best to research the old timers, too. Some were probably missed, but there is not a player on the team that doesn’t belong.

Here’s the list of veterans – and there were no arguments, just agreements — who picked the team over a period of two months:

Henry Apple, reporter, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Leland Barclay, author, Almanac of Arkansas High School Football

Rick Fires, reporter/columnist, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Clay Henry, publisher, Hawgs Illustrated

Matt Jones, online sports director, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Chip Souza, sports editor, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Walter Woodie, former reporter, Southwest Times Record

Jones deserves a big thank you. He coordinated this awesome and massive work. The book is titled "Prep Rally: The History of Arkansas High School Football." It’s 176 glossy pages, a wide picture format with glossy pages with First Security as sponsor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette book.

Jones worked countless hours and helped with those mentioned above in the writing of the 10 chapters: Memorable games, memorable coaches, memorable players, barrier breakers, greatest teams, dynasties, rivalries, hometown traditions, Little Rock Central, and football towns (a deeper look at Fort Smith, Pine Bluff and Springdale).

As for the all-time team, the way I came up with my list was complex. I talked to many veteran coaches from both the high school and college ranks. And, I found players from the 1950s to sit with, like Mike McGibbony of Hot Springs, an all-state center for Wilson Matthews at Little Rock High.

McGibbony, who later coached at Little Rock Hall for C.W. Keopple, produced a long list of suggestions from across the state.

For instance, McGibbony pointed to several who were not on my radar, like defensive lineman Fletcher Baugh of Pine Bluff. McGibbony told stories about trying to block him. He said he didn’t.

A call to Pat Jones, a Little Rock native and former assistant with Keopple, produced a few names, too. All were researched and deserved placement on the team.

Harold Horton gave me some names, too. He coached high school football at Bald Knob and Forrest City before Frank Broyles called him to his alma mater to coach defense for the Razorbacks.

Sometimes I asked too late. A visit with Ken Turner at the 50-year reunion for the 1969 Arkansas team uncovered running back Terry McFarland. Turner coached him at West Memphis.

“You got Terry on it?” said Turner, as I was telling Cliff Powell that he’d made the team as a Eudora linebacker, along with teammate Jimmy Fryer.

No, McFarland wasn’t included. Turner snapped, “Then, you missed one.” Probably so.

It’s almost impossible to compare eras and avoid missing some that are deserving. You can find holes, but I don’t argue with anyone picked.

There was no attempt to pick a first team, or the best out of the best. It would be fun to try it.

How about this offense: QB Matt Jones, HB Darren McFadden, HB Jerry Eckwood, TE Hunter Henry, OL Willie Roaf, OL Leotis Harris, OL Jim Barnes, OL Freddie Childress, OL Shawn Andrews, WR Bobby Mitchell, WR Don Hutson.

And, the defense: DL Dan Hampton, DL Wayne Martin, DL Cortez Kennedy, DL Billy Ray Smith Sr., LB Wayne Harris, LB Keith Traylor, LB Cliff Powell, DB Cliff Harris, DB Ken Hatfield, DB Monte Coleman, DB Greg Lasker.

Yes, I left off a few. Some say Basil Shabazz is the best running back to ever play in the state. I never saw him. It’s hard to pick someone you never saw play.

A few I didn’t see did make it like Mitchell, the Hall of Famer from Hot Springs Langston. He set records with the Washington Redskins.

Who is to say a great passer should be picked ahead of Jones at quarterback? How about Lamar McHan? A 1949 graduate of Lake Village, McHan was the second overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Former Malvern coach David Alpe was one of my sources on my picks for the all-time team. Another Lake Village grad, Alpe told me about seeing McHan workout in the Lake Village gym in the offseason during his NFL time.

“I’ve never seen the kind of passing he demonstrated and I’ve seen a lot of great college quarterbacks throw it, including Joe Ferguson at Arkansas,” Alpe said. “Lamar had the strongest and most accurate arm of all.

“We were in the gym working out in basketball and Lamar wanted to throw some. He stood on one end of the court and fired to the goal on the other end. He put them through the basket, one after another. Line drives with just enough dip on the end to go through the basket. Amazing.”

Alpe told me stories of the great Lake Village teams, at both the public school and the Catholic school.

“It was Italian immigrants who were doing the farming in Lake Village and there was great football talent among them,” he said. “My mother was part of that heritage of Italians.

“You look at the four from the Mazzanti family who played at Lake Village, all great players. All should be on your team. All four lettered at Arkansas - three brothers and a cousin.”

That would be Francis, Geno, Jerry and Paul. For the record, Geno, a running back, was picked for the team. The other three were probably just as deserving.

You should listen when someone like Alpe speaks. There’s no one in Arkansas high school football I respect more. When he says Traylor was the best player to ever suit up for him at Malvern, that’s saying something.

Consider that he also coached Gerald Skinner, Madre Hill, Isaac Davis, Harold Harris and Vince Bradford. All were great high school players who later started at Arkansas.

All but Harris and Bradford made our team. If and when it’s revised, I might argue strongly for Bradford, who played pro baseball before playing at Arkansas. Harris was a great tailback in high school, then converted to a great corner at Arkansas.

Check out the list here. And, you will want to see the photos. It’s like the all-time team, just fantastic.


To order PREP RALLY: THE HISTORY OF ARKANSAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL, visit AR-HSFOOTBALL.PICTORIALBOOK.COM. The cost of the 176-page that details the complete history of Arkansas high school football is $39.95.


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