But the Buckaroos will also enter the season with the added pressure of being the No. 1 team in Class 3A according to Hooten’s Arkansas Football.
“That is what they are saying, but we lost a lot of talent next season and we have a lot of questions to get answered in practice and through the non-conference season,” Strickland said. “But I am sure we will as we go along because we have a lot of hard workers who want to have success.”
Smackover (13-2) lost its first game last season to Junction City, won the next 13 outings and then lost in the state championship game to Charleston and current Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey.
Storey rallied Charleston from a 20-13 deficit to a 33-26 win with 17 seconds left before a crowd of 9,861 fans at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
“It really was a great year and we just came up short to a great team led by a great quarterback,” Strickland said. “It has pushed us to work harder this off-season.”
Jones had 31 catches for 779 yards (23.8 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns last season, including four catches for 137 yards and a touchdown in the championship game.
That included a 77-yard catch and run for a score.
“He didn’t have the big numbers that you might expect of a player of his caliber, but that was because he was double-teamed from the first game and first play of the season on,” Strickland said.
“The defenses made sure he wasn’t going to beat them deep by sending two guys with him, but that allowed for our other kids a chance to make plays.
“He still got deep by catching the ball in front of them and outrunning them, but he was the consummate team player.”
He will also play safety on defense.
"Jordan doesn't necessarily want to play defense, but we need him back there," Strickland sad. "No one gets behind him with that speed."
Jones committed to Arkansas on June 14, 2014 - just a few hours after getting an offer from the Razorbacks - and has remained committed even as Alabama and Ole Miss also offered.
“He is all about the Razorbacks,” Strickland said.
Smackover lost senior quarterback Logan Clark to graduation and all five starting offensive lineman from an offense that averaged 43 points and over 400 yards of total offense last season.
The Buckaroos, who have won 25 of their last 29 games, will likely start junior Beau Burson at quarterback this season while also using Jones in that role.
“He got snaps in a lot of games last season and got a little battle-tested,” Strickland said. “But we are also going to use Jordan back there in some packages. He was the starting quarterback all through junior high so it is nothing new to him.
“In all honesty, we are going to line him up all over the field and get the ball to him in as many ways as you can. You have to do that with a talent like his.”
Smackover will open the season with Warren on Monday, Aug. 31 in Pine Bluff in the Hooten’s Kickoff Classic.
The Buckaroos will then face Class 2A Junction City the following Saturday.
“We have three games in 12 days, which is certainly not ideal, but it was a great opportunity to be chosen to play by Hooten’s,” Strickland said. “We are going to play two great teams right off the bat and just deal with it and try to get better.”
Jordan Jones, Brian Strickland