In blistering heat, the Charleston community was treated to scrimmages of all Tigers football teams including youth teams and school teams from 7th grade through senior high school. The scrimmages were attended by many fans who braved the heat to support their Tigers.
Before the scrimmage, this reporter had the opportunity to sit down with Coach May and get his thoughts on the upcoming Tigers program. When the Charleston Tigers take the field August 31 to play the 2018 Class 3A playoff Melbourne Bearkatz, the modern-day Charleston coaching dynasty will pass the torch to new head football coach Ricky May. May was hired in February succeeding Greg Kendrick who resigned to assume offensive coordinator duties at Alma high school.
According to Max Preps, May takes over a program that is 171-26-1 since 2004. After a first-round playoff appearance in 2018, the Tigers are anxious to return to its state title contending ways of the past. May has a track record of success at nearby Booneville as well as rebuilding Waldron’s program to a competitive level. “Coming into that is nice [Charleston’s past success], of course the pressure is a little greater because they have been so good. They have hired really good assistant coaches that are just top notch. The head coaches that have preceded me have been awesome. Obviously, Greg [Kendrick] was like 67-12, won two state championships, and before that he was a part of one. When I came in I didn’t want to change much; why would you want to change it?”
When asked if Coach May felt any additional pressure of being at Charleston with their long history of success at the state level he responded “Not really. Of course, it’s not Friday night yet. I’m sure when it gets here, I will feel the pressure a little bit more. But the support in this community is so great, and everybody I have talked to has been so supportive. As far as pressure goes, I feel that as a coach I put more pressure on myself than anybody can put on me. I feel that if I am not doing that, I am not a very good coach.”
Coach May is humbled to be leading a program with such a rich tradition of success. “When they called me, I was very humbled. I was ready to get back in and work with the players.”
May’s first year will be a challenging one as this year’s 3A-1 conference may be the best in class 3A. Several teams, including Charleston, are pre-season ranked in the top twenty-five statewide in class 3A. In the Max Preps statewide, class 3A pre-season rankings, Booneville is ranked #1, Lamar #8, Mansfield #10, Charleston #14, and Greenland #22.
Tigers fans will have the opportunity to see Charleston host important conference games at home this season. The Tigers play at home vs. Greenland on September 27, Mansfield on October 11, Booneville on October 25, and Lamar on November 11. “Like you said before, it’s Title Town, our kids are thinking every year that they are going to win, so, that part of it is really good. Because they know the expectation of where they are at. As far as the conference goes, man, it is loaded. I think the conference will put five good teams in the playoffs, five good teams that have a chance to beat somebody. I think we have as good of a shot as anybody. I think it is going to come down to who is healthy in November.”
The Tigers first game of the year will be played on a neutral site at Hendrix College in Conway. The Tigers will play the Melbourne Bearkatz who finished last season as a number three seed in their conference and lost a first-round state playoff game to Mansfield. The Bearkatz enter the 2019 with a pre-season ranking of #17 in class 3A according to Max Preps. Charleston enters 2019 ranked 14th. We asked why the game will be played at Hendrix College, Coach May stated that previously the schools had decided to play at the college to create a special atmosphere and event for the players. “We are working now to create something for next year, perhaps at Harding University or Arkansas Tech.”
When asked about his team, May replied, “we’ve got some dudes that can go. But we have had some underclassmen that have moved, and that has hurt us for the future, as well as our depth for this year.” The Tigers have several key players this year that they will be counting on to lead them back to the playoffs.
“Jonathan Williams is our right guard, and he’s as solid as they get. He leads by example; he leads by mouth; he leads by any way possible you could lead. A senior, will be a three-year starter this year.”
“We have a receiver, Kaden Benge, really, really solid kid, works hard, and he plays receiver, slot back, and plays corner on defense. Just a really solid kid. You can count on him. We’ve got a center that is maybe 155 lbs., but thinks he is the baddest dude on the planet, his name is Devin Donberger, and he works really hard and will play some nose man for us too. He’s a little bit crazy, but we need a little crazy!
And then we have an H-back, named Brett Ward, he’s as solid as you get. He’s going to play linebacker for us too. Really good leader, very good, high-character guy. Just awesome, awesome kid. We have Geoffrey Scott, he plays a little bit everywhere. Very talented athlete. Then we have Dalton Curtis who is our backup quarterback and will play receiver and is probably our best defensive back, really steady. Smart, heady kid, has done really good in the spring.
Brayden Ross is going to be our quarterback. So far, I have seen nothing but good things from him. A senior, a very heady kid, who will have a lot of freedom in our offense to audible or do things like that. On the defensive side of the ball, we have Shane Turner, and he is actually in the National Guard, and he has been at basic all summer, but he is going to play defensive tackle for us this year.”
But May knows all too well that expectations are different at Charleston, and this is no rebuilding project. The Tigers are reloading and ready for a march to the state playoffs to contend for another state title. And that was apparent Saturday when the Tigers held their intra-squad scrimmages in Charleston. Teams worked in a controlled scrimmage in 30 minutes periods. In heat-advisory temperatures, the players showed focus and concentration as they continued their pre-season preparation.
It was quickly apparent by watching the large numbers of students who are participating in the Charleston football program, at all levels from 4th grade through senior high school, that the future of Tigers football is bright and will continue to be so for many years to come. The Tigers are re-loading this season and for future seasons.
The Tigers will play Hackett on August 20 at 7 p.m. The game will be the final tune-up for the upcoming season. The game is a benefit game for the Arkansas Activities Association. Proceeds from the game benefit the Association’s catastrophic injury fund.
With Ricky May as the new head coach, and with his track record of making successful men both on the field and off the field, there is plenty of reason for Tigers fans to be excited about the upcoming season that is now just a little more than two weeks away. In the words of Coach May, “It is a great day to be a Tiger!”