Ex-Hog loving Razorbacks' revival

PHOTOS BY STEPHEN B. THORNTON .Pulaski Academy's head coach Anthony Lucas during the first half of their football game Friday Nov. 12, 2021 in Little Rock. .More photos at www.arkansasonline.com/1113pahar/.

While continuing to add talent from both the NCAA transfer portal, the 2023 recruiting class, 2022 preferred walk ons and the assistant coaching ranks, Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman has also been traveling the state visiting high school coaches.

One of his multiple stops was last week at Pulaski Academy, where he found a happy Anthony Lucas, the Bruins first-year head coach and former Razorback wide receiver great.

"I love what he is doing," Lucas said of Pittman, whose Razorbacks finished 9-4 in 2021 with a 24-10 win over Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

"He has come in and turned this program around and will continue to have success. I had never really met him before, but I really enjoyed being around him. We talked a little bit football and a little about life. It meant a lot to me and to our staff for him to come by and spend some time with us.

"I just love and am excited for the energy that he is bringing and will continue to bring to our Razorback program. Coach Pittman and his staff have the state on fire about football. We are the NFL team of the state and that's what makes Arkansas so special. That can be good or bad, but right now it is really good."

One of the 2022 preferred walk ons Arkansas is adding is Pulaski Academy linebacker Mason Schueck (6-2, 220), who had 75 tackles, 19 solo stops, 10 tackles for lost yardage with a pass break up and a fumble as a senior.

The Hogs also have added preferred walk ons in Joe T. Robinson tailback Darryl Searcy, Jr., (6-0, 210), offensive linemen Brock Burns (6-4, 305) of Ozark, Brooks Edmonson (6-4, 295) of Bryant and Kai Hamilton (6-4, 308) of Hope and receivers John Paul Pickens of Jonesboro and Kamron Bibby (6-2, 180) of El Dorado, Alpharetta (Ga.) fullback/linebacker Ethan Jospeh (6-1, 210), Loganville (Ga.) Archer defensive lineman Randall Dennis (6-3, 285), Bryant defensive tackle Bryan Edmonson (6-4, 295), Aledo, Texas defensive lineman Kyle "Boogie" Thompson (6-34, 255), Georgetown, Texas deep snapper Briggs Magee (6-2, 220) and Siloam Springs quarterback/tight end Hunter Talley (6-4, 210).

"Guys like Mason want to play for Coach Pittman and I think that is going to continue to push the program forward," Lucas said. "That is a big key in getting a program where you want it to go."

Lucas won a state championship in his first year coaching the Bruins. The former PA assistant took over for Kevin Kelley, whose teams won nine state title in 18 seasons.

The Bruins were 13-1 under Lucas and defeated White Hall 51-19 in the Class 5A state title game.

"We had a really good year," Lucas said. "We ended up accomplishing what we set to do at the start of the year....Even with all the changes our goal was to win the state championship."

Lucas has been at PA since 2012.

"There is a lot more pressure, a lot more pressure," Lucas said of being the head coach. "I mean I'm like following the Nick Saban of high school football. But I am grateful to Coach Kelley and the foundation he laid and had a great staff around me.

"One of the great things about it was that I already had a great relationship with the players. They knew what kind of person I am and what I stood for and they just came out and played hard and competed."

The importance of the coach-player relationship was something Lucas learned under Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and assistant Fitz Hill while playing for the Razorbacks from 1995-99.

Lucas is one of the Razorbacks' all-time leading receivers, second in both yards (2,879) and touchdowns (23).

"I learned that from Coach Nutt and Fitz Hill and all those guys on his staff," Lucas said. "They really cared about us and I make sure our kids know that I care about them, too. You can tell that is also what Coach Pittman is doing by how hard they play for him and care about him."

Pulaski Academy will be moving to the Class 6A-West Conference this year, arguably the state's toughest year in and year out.

"We are excited about being up to 6A," Lucas said. "We are not going to complain. We are just going to work hard and work harder and be a step above because there will be bigger kids, faster kids and we will just take it one game at a time."

Lucas, an Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, believes playing tough nonconference teams in the past has helped prepare his program for a challenge.

Pulaski Academy will open the 2022 season against Arkansas Class 4A champion Joe T. Robinson and travel to Madison (Miss.) Ridgeland Academy before opening conference action at Russellville.

"We are moving up a step in competition, but we have been doing that when we have traveled out of state to play," Lucas said. "We have played some of the best to get us ready for conference play. It helped us.

"We are going to try and do the same this year, but we only have two non-conference games as opposed to having three because of more teams in our 6A conference."