Photographs by John Sykes Jr.
Joe T. Robinson Coach Todd Eskola instructs his players on the finer points of pass catching during practice Monday at the school. The Senators are looking to rebound after losing 35-28 in overtime to Warren in the Class 4A semifinals last season.
Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Joe T. Robinson Coach Todd Eskola was looking for a motivational edge for his team in the offseason.
He didn't have to look too hard to find it.
Eskola pointed to the final score of the Senators' 2017 Class 4A semifinal loss: Warren 35, Joe T. Robinson 28 in overtime.
Robinson saw its season end for the second consecutive season at the hands of the Lumberjacks, who lost in the Class 4A state title game 28-27 to Arkadelphia at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
The 35-28 score was used by Eskola and his staff as a motivational tool, as they had players wear orange shirts with the score in black letters during offseason workouts.
Eskola, who is entering his 14th season as Robinson's head coach, said his players were disappointed with the loss, which ended when Warren's Treylon Burks -- who orally committed to the University of Arkansas on Monday -- stopped Robinson running back Ceazar Warren on a fourth and goal at the 2 in overtime.
"They made the play and we didn't," Eskola said. "Then, the next week, seeing Arkadelphia win, our kids realized we beat them earlier in the year and not played well. It showed them how close we were as a program.
"The shirts were a daily reminder. The last play we ran, we didn't execute it. We pounded home to our kids, you can't take a play off.
Robinson returns 15 starters -- 7 on offense and 8 on defense -- from its 12-1 squad from a year ago, including seniors Greyson Tackett (quarterback) and Zach Williams (defensive lineman).
Tackett completed 74 of 122 passes for 1,431 yards with 21 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
"He's looking good," Eskola said. "The thing we're hammering home with our quarterbacks is decision-making. Everything we're doing is all about the decisions those guys make. If they make good decisions throughout the game, we're going to win."
Williams, who announced his commitment to Arkansas on July 5 and a son of former Razorback Rickey Williams, leads a Senators defense that allowed 12.4 points last season. He had 65 tackles, including 28 for a loss, 11 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries in 2018.
Eskola said he's excited about his defense this season.
"We have a chance to be better than last year," Eskola said. "We're going to come at you."
Robinson beefed up its nonconference schedule for 2018 with two games against 7A-West Conference opponents and a Class 5A squad. The Senators open their season Aug. 23 at Springdale, then host Rogers on Aug. 31. After a week off, Robinson then travels to Class 5A Camden Fairview, led by one of the state's top recruits in senior offensive lineman Stacey Wilkins.
It's all part of Eskola's plan to get his team ready for the 7-4A Conference schedule and for the state playoffs. It remains to be seen if the Senators will get a third crack at Warren in the playoffs, but Eskola said his team will be prepared for anyone in November and early December.
"We've had some talented kids, but we haven't put it altogether, whether it's turnovers or injuries," Eskola said. "You have to have some luck. I've been in it a long time. Every coach knows you have to have some luck to win a state championship. The best team doesn't always win. You can't have any injuries and you have to have some luck.
"We're getting closer. We've gotten farther in the playoffs. They're not wide-eyed anymore. The expectation here is that we're supposed to be playing for championships."
Sports on 07/31/2018
Senators at a glance
COACH Todd Eskola
2017 RECORD 12-1, 7-0 (lost Class 4A semifinals to Warren)
KEY RETURNERS QB Greyson Tackett (Sr., 6-3, 211), RB Zaytron Waits (Sr., 6-1, 215), WR/SS Mekel Kentle (Sr., 5-10, 175), OL Elliott Harris (Sr., 6-4, 305), DL Zach Williams (Sr., 6-4, 225)
Aug. 23;at Springdale (Thu.)
Sept. 14;at Camden Fairview
Sept. 21;Fountain Lake*
Sept. 28;at Arkadelphia*
Oct. 5;at Nashville*
Oct. 19;at Bauxite*
Nov. 1;at Benton Harmony Grove*
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