Harding Academy football coach Neil Evans said his team can compete again for a state championship during the 2021 season.

The Wildcats are the two-time defending Class 3A state champions. A year ago, they beat McGehee 71-44 in the state-title game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The Wildcats finished the season 12-0.

“I think it is,” Evans said, referring to being able to compete for the playoffs, a conference title and a state title. “I think we have a very good football team. We have youth in some spots. We’ve seen that youth show up at team camp. I feel good about the character of those young guys. When you have a young guy with high character and has a desire to do very well and allow for himself to be in vulnerable spots, it was very refreshing to see those guys step up.

“I do feel like we have a good team and can compete for a conference championship. Certainly, our league has some very good teams in it. But we’re a good team as well. That’s what makes it fun, to go out and play in meaningful games, especially late in the year.”

Evans said summer workouts have gone well.

“I’m sure that’s the answer everyone gives,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who has a bad summer. We’ve got the Shootout of the South 7-on-7 and a couple of team camps at Vilonia. We’ve probably done less this summer than we have in previous summers. I think some of the reason for that is the longer than I coach, the more than I understand that everything I do in June and July potentially takes away from the freshness in November and December.

“I’ve really tried to be cognizant of the balance of the pushing of the requisite amount of work in the summer while being conscience of our guys psyche and the staff’s psyche.”

Evans said he was a little nervous heading into the summer.

“We had backed off a little of the competition portion of it,” he said. “But I think it’s been good. I’ve seen a hunger. I’ve seen a lot more excitement and less dread from our staff and our players. That part has been refreshing to see.”

A year ago, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harding Academy, along with every high school team in Arkansas, did not have a normal summer schedule.

“It’s been really good for the players to have some consistency, to have some stability,” Evans said, referring to having a.normal summer. “Last year, we could have our player, but it was in a limited role. There were a lot of days you felt like you were working in vain. You didn’t know if you were going to get to play or what would this look like. There were a lot of unknowns this time last year.

“I think moving into this summer, as it sits right now, we’ll obviously be able to play. I just think COVID offers perspective on things. This being the first summer coming out of the 2020 summer, it is refreshing and is humbling to be able to be back together after having lost what we did.”

Harding Academy opens the 2021 season at Bald Knob on Aug. 27.

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