When Springdale Har-Ber's basketball team goes after the second-year school's first state championship Saturday against Fort Smith Northside in Hot Springs, the biggest Wildcat will be in the stands instead of on the court.
That's because junior Bryant Newell (6-7, 295, 5.3) - who is being recruited by the University of Arkansas and was a recent visitor to the Junior Day - not only is a outstanding football prospect, but doubles as one of the leaders of the student support group dubbed "The Blue Crew".
"We've had a great time cheering on the basketball team this season and there is a such a feeling of school pride in what they have been able to accomplish," Newell said. "We hope to be able to do the same thing in football next season."
Har-Ber was 2-8 in its initial season on the football field last year, a campaign highlighted by a win in the school's first game over a Missouri club, a 7A-West conference victory over Van Buren and being competitive in most of their games.
"It was a building year for us and we have got a lot of things we need to work on in the offseason," Newell said. "But while we have a lot of respect for all the teams in the 7A-West, we think we have a shot to really be a great team next season."
Newell is getting interest from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas State as well as others and had a chance to look over the Razorback program back on Feb. 24th during the Junior Day.
"I had a great time," Newell said. "I was obviously born here and grew up as a fan of the Razorbacks and have a lot of interest in their program. It was great to look over everything, both the athletic facilities and the academics and talk to all the coaches."
Obviously Razorback offensive line coach Mike Markuson was one of the guys Newell was interested to chat with during his trip over.
"I think he is one of – if not the – best offensive line coaches in America," Newell said. "I would love to work under him."
Newell was born in Fayetteville, lived there until he was three and eventually landed in Germantown (TN) when he was five. He stayed there until last season until his family moved back to Northwest Arkansas.
"Where I came from was a running school – all we did was run the ball," Newell said. "Now I am in more of a pass-mode offense and that is a huge benefit to my development."
Har-Ber head coach Chris Wood was obviously happy to welcome the big man into his program when he transferred.
"When Bryant moved in, he was coming from a place where they ran the wishbone and it was just three yards and a cloud of dust," Wood said. "He did a very good job adjusting. I think last year was a transitional year for him while getting used to the scheme, moving up in classification."
Wood says he believes that Newell will benefit greatly from working with former Arkansas and UCA offensive lineman Don Struebing, who is now the offensive line coach at Har-Ber after serving in the same capacity at Springdale High.
"He is working very hard to try and be the best he can be," Wood added. "He has been gifted with the size and he has the talent and to be able to work under Don Struebing – who is probably one of the best technical offensive line coaches in the South – is very important to him."
Newell said he has a few of things that he needs to work on.
"Technique and fundamentals are always things you need to continue to work on," Newell said. "I have got to get quicker feet and worked on my run blocking."
Wood agrees with that assessment.
"He is speaking the truth there," Wood said. ‘Don Struebing takes a lot of pride in his offensive line and making sure they understand their techniques. Don is up on everything that is going on at the Division I level and passes that along to his players. I think that has always benefited offensive linemen under Don Struebing."
Newell has plans to attend a few events this summer, including a combine in Kansas City, a team camp in Tulsa and at least one of Arkansas' two.
All that is building toward what Newell hopes is a state championship, something some of his teammates are already talking about doing.
"I feel the exact same way," Newell said. "I think everybody on the team does."
Wood says that is what he likes to hear.
"One thing about us is that we are part of Springdale and it has been a football community for a long time," Wood said. "Our basketball team is having a great run this year. That's how it is in our town – championship or bust. We need those expectations year in and year out. Our final goal will always be to get to Little Rock."
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