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Paris Eagles primed for turnaround season

Jamie Varnell
Eli Fore takes advantage of his big offensive line to break a long run against Magazine in the season opening scrimmage.

Tyler Clark's second season as the head football coach for the Paris Eagles has shown significant improvement over the previous campaign.

Last year, the 3-7 season saw the offense begin to show life under quarterback Chase Watts. Returning for his junior season and the third year in Clark's system will show just how much work Watts and these Eagles have put in.

Paris should be able to push people around a lot more in the trenches this season.

Adam Chandler and Jimmy Dikeman will anchor an offensive line as seniors, but have significant talent in underclassmen Ryan Post, Mequeil Ellingberg, with others strengthening the rotation. Speed at the skill positions runs deep, led by senior wideout Keller Keen. He, along with several of the receivers, are not big in stature but possess solid hands and quickness off the line to create separation. Caleb Yarnell and Mason Whitley are going to add more weapons to the mix as the season goes.

In the backfield, Paris will be dangerous. Eli Fore is back and already shows more field vision to help him find alleys to run. He is joined by a new face, Duke Walker, who moved to play for the team where his family roots run deep. He may prove to be one of the best overall athletes in the conference, but has solid hands and speed to pull away from most secondary defenders. The one-two punch of Fore and Walker will be as good as anyone in conference play.

Defensively, Paris will use the new faces and the deeper rotation to bolster a defense that gave up a lot of late points a year ago. The defensive ends and outside linebackers will have both size and speed to move, but the guys' footwork in the trenches could be a difference-maker if the edges can slow things down. The secondary is covered with speed from side to side. They may lack a little size, especially at the corner, but this group can run with any.

Clark was quick to mention the work of Caleb Yarnell, Eli Fore, and Nate Henderson on the defensive side of the ball.

"They have really stepped up and made a difference," the head coach said.

When asked about what group has made the most improvement from a year ago, there was no hesitation, "Linebackers have made the biggest progression from a year ago. They are playing well right now. All of our coaches have been talking and we are impressed with how well they are doing right now."

The Schedule

The schedule looks favorable on paper. Paris will open up against Lavaca, a team that went 1-9 a year ago. Week two will see them play Johnson County Westside, who was the lone victory for Lavaca last season. The final matchup of the non-conference will be when the Eagles travel to West Fork to take on the Tigers. In Clark's first season, the Eagles ended their season on a blocked punt out of the endzone as time expired. Last year that all changed as the Eagles scored at will, leading 32-0 at the half before winning 45-6. Paris should be able to get experience and reps for many young players through their preseason games.

The conference slate should be better for the Eagles as well, as realignment has them facing many new teams. The Eagles will open against Mayflower, who was 2-8 a year ago and whose only conference win was at Two Rivers and lost to a common opponent with Paris when they fell to Perryville 47-22. Week two in conference play will see the Eagles host Two Rivers, a team that has faced a lot of adversity recently. Coming off of a 1-9 season, the Gators will have their work cut out for them, slowing down the Paris offense. Two Rivers gave up 35 or more points in their nine losses and more than 42 in 8 of those. Paris will next travel to Atkins, a playoff team a year ago, with a 9-3 record overall. Atkins will test the Paris defense. Last season they put up big numbers in all of their games except the conference loss at Glen Rose and their second-round playoff loss to McGehee.

Baptist Prep is one of the new additions, and the Eagles will travel to their place in Little Rock this season. Coming off of a 3-8 season, Baptist Prep will have some work to do. They gave up a lot of points a year ago, though they made the playoffs before a first-round exit. Their signature win a year ago was an overtime win against Danville. Paris will next travel to Perryville, a place where they secured a come from behind victory a year ago in the non-conference slate. Perryville was 6-4 last season before seeing their season end in the first round of the playoffs. This game could progress more toward a new rivalry as the two seem to find each other often and in close contests.

The Eagles' final home game will be significant, as the Booneville Bearcats will drive to the north part of the county for what many believe could be for a conference title. Paris will have a lot of work to make the game that significant, but the Bearcats will likely be favored in all of their conference matchups. It didn't end well for the Eagles a year ago at Booneville, with the game out of reach before halftime. This year, the Eagles must use their dominant linemen on both sides of the ball to limit the wing-T offense they know is coming. Paris hit a deep strike a year ago, and those chunk plays will need to happen more often this season for the Eagles to contend.

Paris will finish out their regular season against Danville. The Little Johns were a 4-6 team a year ago and didn't make the playoffs. They will be under a new head coach this season and will need to shore up a defense that averaged giving up over 41 points per game in their losses. They had one common opponent with the Eagles last season, and Perryville beat the Little Johns 47-21.

Paris has now played their scrimmage game against Magazine, and we have seen some of the athletes perform. Clark kept it very vanilla for the scrimmage and Paris played without their starting quarterback who was out sick. Jude Simmons filled in admirably, including a deep touchdown on the Eagles' second opportunity in the controlled scrimmage. The first touch of the Eagle offense's game saw Eli Fore jab step at the tackle gap and then bust a long, 50-yard score down the right side to set the tone. The linemen recorder numerous pancake blocks, clearing running lanes for whoever carried the ball.

Defensively, the most significant improvement was evident. Paris forced turnovers and hit the sizable backfield of Magazine for a loss several times. Jimmy Dikeman, Adam Chandler and Duke Walker all had big hits defensively.

Paris should make a run to the playoffs in Clark's third season. The additions of Ellingberg and Walker will pay massive dividends for a team that needs depth.

Coach Clark has done a superb job of developing culture and establishing an expectation of excellence in his short time. Expect the Eagles to show significant improvement and to continue that trend for years to come.