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Batesville looking to regain form under new coach

The Pioneers promoted assistant Ryan Morrow to take over for legendary longtime head coach Dave King.

SBLive is previewing the Arkansas high school football teams from the three largest classifications. Today, we feature the Batesville Pioneers from the 5A-East Conference.

By Jeff Halpern

BATESVILLE PIONEERS 

HEAD COACH

Ryan Morrow, first year

2021 AT A GLANCE

Overall record: 3-7

Conference record: 3-4

Playoffs: Did not qualify

KEY DEPARTURES

Sam Gates, nose guard

Dayshawn Brown, running back and defensive back, all-state

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Senior quarterback Rhett McDonald - The 6-0, 170-pound senior started the last two games after Eli Livingston was hurt. He filled in a sophomore when Jay Storlie was injured.

Junior running back Gabe Witt - The 5-10, 190-pound junior runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds and rushed for 600 yards and 5 touchdowns a year ago.

Senior fullback Keaton Douglas - The 5-11, 180-pound senior started as a junior and started three games as a sophomore before a knee injury stopped him. Morrow describes him as a glorified offensive lineman.

Senior tight end Boston Hall - The 6-2, 225-pound senior is a glorified offensive lineman according to Morrow.

Senior guard Alvaro Garcia - The 6-0, 210-pound senior started as a junior and rotated as a junior.

Senior center Allen Nguyen - The 6-2, 250-pound senior is a 3-year starter and bench presses 300 pounds.

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Senior wide receiver Ethan Price - The 6-4, 195-pound senior is coming off a torn ACL and has been cleared to return. He had 800 yards in receptions and scored 8 touchdowns. He has a 26-inch vertical jump.

Senior defensive tackle Jarrett Greeson - The 6-2, 230-pound senior moves from defensive end to tackle.

Senior nose tackle Gentry Moody - The 5-10, 210-pound senior was part of the team’s rotation on the defensive line last year.

Junior middle linebacker Mike Townsley - The 5-11, 180-pound junior started every game last year.

Junior linebacker Beau Baxter - The 5-11, 180-pound junior played in eight games last year.

OUTLOOK

The Pioneers went 3-7 and missed the playoffs after reaching the playoffs in the 2019 and 2020. Ryan Morrow, a former player at Batesville, who was the offensive line coach and helped with the running game, was promoted after Dave King stepped down after 26 seasons with 207 victories, 23 playoff appearances, 9 conference titles, nine trips to the state semifinals, four trips to the state finals and a state championship in 2003.

“The good thing is, I have a lot of help in the office and know what it’s like to be a Pioneer,” said Morrow.

Batesville has tradition and while the Pioneers had a season that was not up to standard, Morrow believes his team has a chance to return to success. He lists an offensive line that has three returning starters as its strength along with a senior class that has 13 players listed as starters.

He is a little concerned about the skill positions on offense where McDonald played in two games last year and has newcomers in Jeremian Strickland and Collyn Wentz, who are projected to start at one wide receiver position.

“We have a good group of players who know what making the playoffs and having a home playoff game is all about” said Morrow. “We want to see where the chips fall and understand that 3-7 is now what our program is all about.”

Confidence is not in short supply as Morrow expects his team to contend for the conference title and be in the top 10 in Class 5A.

“The main thing is to stay away from injuries. We have great kids and they’ll play hard and give great effort,” said Morrow.

COACH SAID

“The good thing is we have kids who know what being a Pioneer is. Coach King laid a great foundation and the buy-in is here. They come in at 6:30 a.m. and lift and run and then we do a lot of our football work.”

Ryan Morrow