by Chris Bahn
Posted 5/1/2012 01:45 pm
Updated 7 months ago
Don’t bother looking for a Wal-Mart in the south Arkansas town of Warren. To find one of those you have to drive 20 or so miles east to Monticello.
Same thing with a local movie theater. Warren doesn’t have one of those either.
Know what the South Arkansas town of 6,000 does have? A history of producing great college wide receivers and two of the top 150 picks in the recent NFL Draft.
Former Arkansas Razorbacks and Warren teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs were fourth-round picks by the Minnesota Vikings, further establishing Warren’s tradition as a hotbed for wide receiver talent in Arkansas.
Wright and Childs are the most recent and most successful college products from Warren. They’re hardly the only college prospects produced in Bradley County.
Lumberjacks Coach Bo Hembree has sent 26 wide receivers to play college football in 12 seasons. Those numbers include 11 NCAA Division-I signees, including Wright and Childs, a pair of recent draft picks. Don’t forget former Warren teammate Chris Gragg, who redshirted in 2009 and figures to be one of the best tight end prospects in the country for the 2013 draft.
So what’s the secret?
It helps having so little to distract players in town. That means they’re more than willing to put in the time on the field and do all that coaches ask of them, Hembree said.
Coaches are more than willing to put in the work with the players. It helps that the town is fully behind football.
Warren, unlike some colleges in the state, has an indoor practice facility. That means the players can work on football skills every day if they want. It’s accessible just about every day of the week, whenever players want to work on their game.
“Come up here Monday afternoon at 4 p.m and you’ll see a bunch of kids catching a football off a JUGS machine. That's in the 'off-season.' It’s year-round,” Hembree said. “They don’t have a lot more else to do. It’s a good thing for a high school football coach. You want to know where your kids are. And they’re pretty much staying there, working on their game until we close up.”
Training starts early at Warren.
From the seventh grade on, they are taught the same offensive system and run it in games. A premium is put on route running and catching footballs, so a guy like Wright gets to the college level ready to contribute.
Hembree has two state championships and has averaged double-digit victories over his career. Those victories and titles are sources of pride for him, but he seems just as proud that the Lumberjacks program is producing players capable of playing as college freshmen. Wright, Childs and Gragg all started and contributed key plays in their first season at Arkansas.
Wright said there was a learning curve in college, but he felt better prepared than some of his teammates as a first-year player.
“They didn’t have to teach us how to catch when we got here,” Wright said. “They didn’t have to teach us how to run a route. We worked and got better, but we had a strong base.”
Bret Smith was the first highly regarded receiver to take what he learned at Warren to the college level. He played at Tennessee and spent some time at varying levels of pro football. Rashaun Fellows played receiver at Warren and converted to defensive back with the Vols.
Hembree recalls thinking at the time he’d never see a player like Smith. Now he’s got two former receivers drafted in the fourth round.
There might be more on the way.
In a chat with Hembree in the hours after Wright and Childs were drafted, he can’t help but point out what’s on the way. There’s a group waiting in the wings that could continue the legacy set by Smith, Fellows, Wright, Childs and Gragg.
College coaches have already made their way to Warren to catch a glimpse of the guys in the pipeline.
Darveon Brown became the first freshman wide receiver to ever start for the Lumberjacks. He’s 5-foot-11, 175 pounds with 4.5 speed. Von Eric Gonder is a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore with 4.6 speed. Then there’s Chris Oliver, a 5-9, 150-poudner with 4.4 speed that Hembree calls a “carbon copy” of Wright.
“Jarius comes to work out with them and just shakes his head,” Hembree said.
Wright, Childs and Gragg have been regulars around the football facilities even after they left for college. Gragg spent a week after the Cotton Bowl working out with the Lumberjacks. Wright and Childs were back home for their draft parties.
Getting those guys back in Warren gives current Lumberjacks players an in-person glimpse of what they’re working towards.
“It makes it a lot easier for me,” Hembree said. “Our players go home on Saturdays and watch Arkansas play and see three of them out there being successful. And they’re so good about coming back to our school and helping our players. That just keeps paying off for our guys.”