DE QUEEN, Ark. — De Queen has a few starters back on either side of the ball, but the Leopards have made some changes to put their players and team in position to be successful.
"We've got some returning starters in both sides of the ball," head coach Stephen Sloan said. "Every season's a new challenge with new opportunities, and we're excited to see where these guys start and where we end up going. We've got a good group of kids, and they work extremely hard for us.
"The determination is going to be a positive for us. Their hard work and attitudes has been good; it's been infectious with how hard they're wanting to work. We're trying some different things in practice, and they're responding well to it. Attitude goes along ways, and having a great one can only lead to good things."
The Leopards bring back 20 lettermen with three starters on offense and three on defense. De Queen was close in 5 of 10 games last season through three quarters, and Sloan and his staff have adjusted how the team is being set up to have a chance to win those close games.
"We want to be as competitive as possible," Sloan said. "We want to be able to get into the fourth quarter, like we did several times last year, and still be in the game. And then find a way to win. We're really preaching to win the fourth quarter."Gallery: Texarkana Gazette's 2019 Football Edition
Kade Martin, who led the team in tackles on defense, is back at fullback and running back, and Marquez Ester returns at tailback for the Leopards.
"Kade is an old-school player; he's tough, he can practice all day, and loves the weight room," Sloan said. "He's a head-nosed, physical, grind-it-out type of player. Marquez is a game-breaker; he gives us a home-run threat. We can put him in the backfield, and in spread sets move him out and get him the ball that way, as well."
Jesus Camacho will also add depth at running back. Manuel Ramirez also played some fullback last season, along with Gage Woods and Javian Hernandez.
Dylan Williamson is a sophomore taking over at quarterback, and Logan Williamson, Dylan's older brother, is a returning receiver.
"We've been throwing a lot at Dylan, and we'll start scaling it back once we get into he season," Sloan said. "He's handled it well. It's a good thing to have a returning receiver who is brothers with your new quarterback; that's helped the transition. Logan has great hands, runs great routes and gives us a chance to make plays in the passing game."
Ryan Vance will also play receiver, and Dayne Parsons and Edgar Ferretiz add depth at receiver.
Aaron Figuero is the biggest and strongest linemen returning for De Queen. Chase Cowley is also a returning starter at guard, and Julio Alvarez is back at tight end after playing mostly defense in 2018.
Oscar Fernandez will take over at a guard spot —possibly center — after starting on defense last fall. Dalton Saxour is another senior who saw playing time and is expecting to move into a starting role.
"Having guys in a little bit different positions, we're working on getting the offensive line to work together," Sloan said. "They're aggressiveness is good, coming off the ball. We'll use our early games to get those guys to mesh well."
Senior Sam Avalos will help at outside linebacker, with Martin at middle linebacker. Woods will also help at linebacker, as well as Jesus Marrufo.
"Sam is a big, strong kid," Sloan said. "He does a good job of setting the edge and forcing things back inside. We've also got some young kids up front who have the potential to be pretty good."
Jose Cortez on the defensive line is a returner, and Geovanny Felipe will move into a starting role at defensive end.
Chase Pearce is a returning cornerback, and Dale Barnett saw significant playing time at corner last fall. Newcomers at safety will be Diego Hernandez and Jorge Vega.
"The newcomers are getting better every day; the summer was good experience for those guys, playing 7-on-7s and team camp," Sloan said. "We're excited about the possibilities of the defense."
Instead of having so many guys play both sides of the ball, De Queen is limiting who will play ironman football and use more one-way players to be successful.
"One of the things we're getting away from is having so many guys playing both ways," Sloan said. "We're wanting kids to play one side of thee ball, and we think that will help us late in games as the season progresses. What that means is that we're going to have some guys who don't have a lot of game experience. The preseason and these first three games will be the time to get those guys some experience under their belts.
"We need to coach them up at their position and get them better at understanding their assignments and techniques. Last year, we were in a lot of games going into the fourth quarter, but we just ran out of gas. It's a change in philosophy, and we may sacrifice a little bit of experience. But it will make us a better team in the long run."
Aug. 30, at Mena
Sept. 6, at Ashdown
Sept. 13, Nashville
Sept. 20, Open date
Sept. 27, x-at Hope
Oct. 4, x-LR McClellan
Oct. 11, x-at Hot Springs
Oct. 18, x-Camden Fairview
Oct. 25, x-HS Lakeside
Nov. 1, x-at Magnolia
Nov. 8, x-Arkansas High
x-Denotes 5A-South conference game. All kickoffs 7 p.m.
— SCHOOL: De Queen
— 2018 RECORD: 1-9
— HEAD COACH: Stephen Sloan
— YEARS AT SCHOOL: 2
— COACHING STAFF: Richard Bell, def. coordinator; Joseph Parsons def. line; Jason Barker, secondary; Darren Horn, secondary; David Smith, def. line; Johnathan Lindsey, receivers; Beau McCastlain running backs; Payton Covington, quarterbacks.
— LETTERMEN LOST/BACK: 14/20
— STARTERS BACK: offense 3, defense 3
— PLAYERS TO WATCH: TB/DB Marquez Ester, FB/Lb Kade Martin, OT Aaron Figueroa, OG Chase Cowley, CB Chase Pearce, NG Jose Cortez, WR Logan Williamson, TE Julio Alvarez, FB Manuel Ramirez, LB Gage Woods, DE Geovanny Felipe.
— TOP NEWCOMERS: LB Sam Avalos, CB Dale Barnett, LB Jesus Marrufo, RB Jesus Camacho, S Diego Hernandez, QB Dylan Williamson.