At least two Web sites dedicated to high school football in the state aren't counting out Harding Academy as the new season approaches.
The Wildcats lost nearly half their starters -- including all-state quarterback Caleb Keese and wide receiver Heath Adams from last year's 15-0 team that beat Danville 29-26 in the Class AA state championship game.
Rich Sanders, who oversees the Web site, Arkansaspreps.com, and Mike Bonds, who runs the Web site, Fearlessfriday.com, have both picked the Wildcats as the top Class AA team in the state. Danville was fourth in both polls and both list the same teams in spots 1-9, though in a different order.
Harding Academy coach Tommy Shoemaker, 69-11 in six seasons, isn't ready to clear shelf space for another trophy based on preseason predictions.
"I guess it makes for interesting talk, but it doesn't mean much. It means about as much as it did at this time last year," Shoemaker said. "It's nice to be recognized as being one of the better programs and it gives our kids something to shoot at, but I don't think our kids will play any differently because of it."
Known for its high-powered offense -- the Wildcats have scored 28 or more points in 32 of their last 34 games, Harding Academy will be starting over at the skill positions. Kreg Kell, who scored on a sweep to clinch the team's win over Danville, is the only returning starter at runner or receiver. The Wildcats will be going with a sophomore, Zach Tribble, at quarterback.
"I think picking the best team in the best conference is the right way to go," Sanders said. "And, I don't see how anyone can say the 6AA is not the best conference. As long as Harding isn't worn down by going through that conference, they will be very prepared for the playoffs.
"I put a lot of faith in Coach Shoemaker and I think he does such a great job," he said. "He took them from the 18th century into the 21st century and I mean that with all the respect in the world for Coach [Bill] Barden. Shoemaker's style is today's style, with the wide-open offense."
Sanders knows a thing or two about Class AA football. He picks every game in the state each Friday night, relying on his home-grown power ratings. Through 17 seasons, he's been right on 82.2 percent.
Fearlessfriday.com Top 10
1. Harding Academy
7. Mineral Springs
9. Junction City
10. Mountain Pine
ArkansasPreps.com Top 10
1. Harding Academy
5. Mineral Springs
7. Junction City