For the fourth time in the last eight seasons, Van Buren finds itself in a new conference.
However, for the first time in years, the Pointers will be in a conference where they think they can be competitive — the refurbished 7A/6A-Central.
Besides the three 7A opponents (Bryant, Conway, Little Rock Catholic), Van Buren will play four schools including local rivals Alma and Greenwood, teams that were once conference foes for the Pointers until the early 1990s.
"I think the 7A/6A-Central will be a great thing for area schools," Van Buren coach Brooks Coatney said. "By playing teams like Alma, Greenwood, Siloam Springs and Russellville in our conference, that will be good for local rivalries. In the future, it will be great to also have Northside and Southside in the conference as well."
Because the Pointers have hovered between 7A and 6A along with being assigned to either the West or Central conference since 2008, Coatney said conference stability is needed.
"I am not a believer that you will have perfect parity in a conference in terms of school size and modest travel distances unless something changes (within the 7A and 6A)," Coatney said. "For now, though, I think we are in a good position to play teams from around the area. This is the best situation for us because our fans like the idea of having Greenwood and Alma as a conference game."
Van Buren had 92 players go through offseason workouts and spring practice, which started last week and will continue through the Green-White Game on June 5.
"Right now we’ve got nine scheduled practice days. We had good weather last week," Coatney said. "We spend three days in pads and we tried to get everyone equal reps. Overall, I believe we’ve had a good first week."
Right now the Pointers have to replace several starters on both sides of the ball. Still, Coatney said it was nothing compared to rebuilding an offense in 2013 that had nine new starters.
"When you only have to replace four to five starters on one side of the ball instead of eight or nine, it is much easier," Coatney said. "Not only did we replace nine starters last year, several had never played any varsity games."
Offensively, Van Buren will be starting a new quarterback and Coatney said it is a three-way battle between two seniors (Tobin Johnson, Jordan Barlow) and a sophomore (Kyan Rose). Johnson has played in a limited role for the Pointers at quarterback while Rose was the starter for the Pointer freshman team. Barlow is a transfer from Southside, where he was the Rebels second leading receiver in 2013 with 31 catches for 600 yards and 6 touchdowns.
"Our quarterback spot is up for grabs. It’s wide open," Coatney said. "All three guys that are competing for the job have done well, but none have separated themselves enough to be named the starter. I want to see how they respond to the pressure of a scrimmage. I do not expect to name a starter there after spring. We will make that decision until well into fall practice. The guy that performs the best is the one who will play."
One player Coatney said will be expected to play both ways is running back/defensive back Ethan Hudspeth.
"Ethan is a guy we are looking at as a two-way player next year," Coatney said. "We want him to step in and play corner but also contribute at running back. He can help us on both sides on the ball."
Coatney added that the Pointers would have leadership from several players as well as playing experience.
"We have some guys like Braden Osman and Jake Simmons that are good leaders," Coatney said. "We have some guys with some experience on the offensive line. Mack Stamps is a three-year starter and Hayden Cole is back with some experience."