Experienced Benton ready to make waves in 1-5A

By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports

It’s not common for a high school football team to see a three-year starter at quarterback, a two-year starter at running back, a record-breaking wide receiver and a reigning defensive MVP all return for another season.

There’s the reason Benton head coach Reynolds Moore can’t wait for the 2022 campaign to begin. 

If the Tigers can parlay a little luck filling a couple of holes along the line and their experience – as individuals and a program after three years in the state’s highest classification (Class 5A) – they could find themselves as a contender in District 1-5A.

“There is a lot of reason to be optimistic,” said Moore, whose bunch is coming off an eight-win season, including a first-round playoff victory against Hahnville.

Gray Walters returns for a third year under center. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound senior tossed 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions during the 2021 regular season.

Although Moore has witnessed every pass Walters has thrown for the Purple and Gold, his eyes were recently opened when a Walters highlight reel was produced.

“Sometimes when you’re around it every day, you don’t realize how good these guys are,” Moore said. “In 2022, I don’t want to take it for granted. I want to soak it up and enjoy this.”

Walters’ main weapon, Pearce Russell, broke a school record with more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2021 and posted double-digit touchdowns. If you think the 6-foot, 170-pounder Russell’s stats are hollow, think again.

“He may be the best football player I’ve ever coached,” Moore said. “He’s unbelievable.”

The running game, led by Greg Manning (13 TDs during the regular season), isn’t too shabby, either.

However, the offense isn’t without question marks. Moore admits losing a pair of guys – who combined for seven years of experience – on the right side of the line will be a challenge.

“As (the replacements) come along, we’re going to be a lot better than we can imagine,” Moore said.

Linebacker Zach Halbert, the Bossier Press Tribune’s reigning Defensive MVP, returns after a season where he amassed 73 tackles (including 13 for a loss and 4 ½ sacks), an interception return for a TD, two fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks.

By the end of the Tigers’ Class 4A era, Moore believed the program was “as good as anyone” other than perennial powerhouses Edna Karr and Warren Easton.

Over the past three seasons, Moore has again seen the Tigers progress. In 2021, Benton captured its first wins (as a member of District 1-5A) against Airline and Haughton.

“We’re seeing the hope,” Moore said. “We can compete, but we’re still a bit away. We don’t feel really good about our depth (against the best).”

However, the star power the Tigers possess has the potential to mask any weaknesses.

They’ll be tested right away in one of the best Week 1 area matchups as they face highly-touted Northwood, a former 1-4A foe.

Contact Roy at RoyLangIII@yahoo.com