Arkansas’ top high school football players: Meet the state’s best linebackers

By Buck Ringgold | Photo by Leon Neuschwander  

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a position-by-position look at some of the top players in Arkansas high school football. This list focuses on the linebackers.

There are hundreds of standout football players in Arkansas and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Use the comments section to discuss the other linebackers worthy of fans’ attention in 2021.

Beau Wright, 6-0, 195, Sr., Benton

Through the Panthers’ first six ballgames, Wright has recorded 63 tackles, including 25 solo stops and 10 tackles for loss. He also has three sacks, five hurries and two forced fumbles. “Beau is one of our defensive leaders,” Benton coach Brad Harris said. “He’s got really good speed to the ball and is a very strong guy; he power cleaned 350 pounds at the state (weightlifting meet) this past spring.”

Ashton Waller, 6-1, 190, Sr., Conway

Waller has recorded 79 tackles, 52 of those solo stops, through the Wampus Cats’ first six ballgames. He also had three tackles for loss and a sack along with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. “Ashton is one of our leaders on defense and is a very versatile player that can play multiple positions,” Conway assistant coach Mark Kelley said.

Maurice Freeman, 6-4, 180, Sr., Conway

Freeman was in on 45 tackles through his team’s opening six games, 29 of those solo and two for loss. He broke up four passes and intercepted another. “Maurice is an extremely rangy player at outside linebacker that can cover a lot of ground,” Conway assistant coach Mark Kelley said.

Nate Henderson, 5-10, 165, Sr., Paris

Henderson recorded 51 tackles, 10 for loss and two sacks to help the Eagles win their first six ballgames on the season. He has caused two fumbles and picked off a pass as well. “He makes every check and is the backbone of a defense that averages giving up 122 yards and 6.5 points per game,” Paris coach Jeff Weaver said.

Eli Wallis, 5-10, 200, Sr., Harding Academy

Wallis is the team’s leader in tackles with 43, and also has eight for loss. He is a three-year starter and has helped lead the Wildcat defense through two championship seasons. “Eli is everything a coach would want in a linebacker,” Harding Academy coach Neil Evans said. “He has started every game since he was a sophomore and received all-state honors last year as a junior. Eli played in 27 games before his senior season and it shows by how comfortable he is versus multiple schemes.”

Jason Patrick, 6-1, 207, Sr., Prescott

This outside linebacker has recorded 117 total tackles and 11 tackles for loss for the undefeated Curley Wolves. In a game in October against Genoa Central, Patrick had a season-high 27 tackles along with a sack. He has had seven games where he has recorded at least 10 tackles.

Jace Benesch, 6-1, 215, Sr., Hoxie

Benesch has recorded 61 tackles thus far, including six for loss, along with forcing two fumbles. He has committed to Central Arkansas and will enroll after Christmas. “Jace’s dedication to the weight room and his development as a player has been as good as anyone I’ve ever had,” Hoxie coach Tom Sears said. “The transformation of himself from his sophomore year to his senior year has been tremendous.”

Ransom Merechka, 5-10, 190, Sr., Charleston

Merechka was the Tigers’ leading tackler last season and is again leading the team’s defense, having recorded 58 total tackles. He also has one interception, one fumble recovery and two pass deflections. “Ransom is a great young man as well as weekly, he goes to the elementary school and reads to younger students as well as coaches a (kindergarten through second grade) flag football team,” Charleston coach Ricky May said. “He currently has a 3.2 GPA.”

Landon Kuhn, 6-2, 220, Sr., Arkadelphia

Kuhn plays middle linebacker for a highly regarded Badgers squad. He has recorded 41 stops thus far on the season, including four tackles for loss. He has one pass breakup, three pass knockdowns and one fumble recovery. “He is the prototypical middle linebacker that never misses a tackle,” Arkadelphia coach Trey Schucker said. “He is our most physical football player on defense.”

Hayden Partain, 6-1, 220, Sr., Cedarville

Partain has recorded 84 tackles on the year so far for the Pirates. He also has 14 tackles for loss along with two sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Ross Haney, 5-7, 155, Jr., Springdale Har-Ber

Haney has 106 total tackles, half of those solo stops and the other half assisted stops. He also has four tackles for loss, three sacks and two hurries.

Braden Bullington, 6-1, 215, Sr., Farmington

Through the midway point of the regular season, Bullington had 50 tackles, 30 of those solo. He also had seven sacks, 10 tackles for loss and caused five fumbles. “Braden Bullington has one of the best motors that I have ever coached,” Farmington coach J.R. Eldridge said. “He plays as hard as he can in practice and in games. He has the stats to show for it.”

Denzel Watkins, 6-0, 215, Sr., Crossett

Watkins led the team last season with 114 tackles and had two games in which he recorded 20 stops. This season, he is on the verge of breaking the school record for tackles as Watkins has 56 tackles through five games. He also has three tackles for loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. “Denzel is a football player that would have been great in any era,” Crossett coach Shawn Jackson said.

Landon Burkhart, 5-10, 170, Sr., Alma

Through five ballgames, Burkhart had 49 tackles and six tackles for loss for the Airedales. “Landon has a great nose for the ball and has been playing hurt the last couple of weeks,” Alma coach Rusty Bush said.

Zimri Anderson, 6-0, 215, Sr., Searcy

This middle linebacker has 124 total tackles, 55 of those solo. He also has recovered three fumbles and knocked down two passes while forcing one fumble. He has had double-digit tackles in each game played for the Lions, including 20 in a win against Batesville.

Mason Schueck, 6-3, 220, Sr., Pulaski Academy

Schueck has primarily played offensive line his entire career at PA but decided to move to defense and play linebacker for his senior season. He has four solo tackles and 22 assisted tackles through the Bruins’ first six games, along with three tackles for loss. Schueck has accepted a preferred walk-on offer to play linebacker at Arkansas. “Mason is a hard worker on the field and in the weight room,” PA coach Anthony Lucas said. “The kids look up to him because of his work ethic.”

Timmy Watson, 5-10, 200, Sr., Wynne

Watson is averaging 10 tackles per game for the Yellowjackets. “He was all-conference as a sophomore and was hurt for much of last year, but has picked up this year where he left off as a sophomore,” Wynne coach Van Paschal said.

Nick Huett, 5-11, 210, Sr., Greenbrier

Huett has 36 tackles on the season, including a 10 1/2 tackle performance in a recent game against Clarksville. He also has one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. “Nick is the leader of our team,” Greenbrier coach Randy Tribble said. “He handles all the defensive checks pre snap and is a great student. He has a 33 on the ACT.”

Jaden Wells, 6-1, 229, Sr., Valley View

Wells has 50 solo tackles and 51 assists so far, along with 14 tackles for loss. He has had six games with 10 or more tackles, with a season-high of 16 against Wynne. In that same game against Wynne, he also caused a fumble, recovered a fumble and blocked two punts.

Rodrico Bowens, 5-9, 185, Sr., White Hall

Bowens plays outside linebacker for the Bulldogs, and is a three-year starter at that position. Through the team’s first six games, he led the team in tackles with 48 total. “He is a big reason our defense is rolling,” White Hall defensive coordinator Blake Johnson said.

T.K. Walker, 5-10, 185, Sr., White Hall

Walker is another three-year starter at linebacker for the Bulldogs. He has 47 tackles through the team’s first six games with 19 solo stops. Walker has three interceptions as well. “Along with Rodrico Bowens, those guys are a big reason our defense is rolling; only giving up 23 total points in six games, with four of those games being shutouts,” White Hall defensive coordinator Blake Johnson said.

Preston Davis, 5-10, 190, So., Little Rock Christian

Davis has recorded 78 tackles on the year with eight for loss. He also has one sack, one fumble recovery and three pass breakups. “Preston is one of the state’s leading tacklers and is making his presence known every week,” Little Rock Christian coach Eric Cohu said. “As a sophomore, it’s very difficult to dominate the box as he has done.”

Kaden Henley, 6-3, 225, Sr., Shiloh Christian

Henley has 84 total tackles, 55 of those solo, along with 15 tackles for loss. He had 16 tackles against Sand Springs, Okla., as well as 15 stops against another Oklahoma school, Poteau. Henley also has two sacks, a fumble recovery and a pass deflection.

Patrick Sixbey, 6-1, 238, Sr., El Dorado

Through his team’s first five games, Sixbey has made 35 total tackles, 29 of those solo stops, and seven tackles for loss. He also has three sacks and four quarterback hurries. “Patrick brings energy every Friday night from start to finish,” El Dorado coach Steven Jones said. “He’s a physical player that leads the defense both vocally and by example.”

Ethan Cash, 6-0, 215, Sr., Vilonia

Cash has 43 tackles on the season so far this season, including 11 solo stops. He has eight tackles for loss along with a sack through the Eagles’ first five ballgames.

Blake Brown, 6-1, 185, Jr., Nettleton

Through his team’s first five games, Brown has recorded 56 total tackles, 25 of those solo. He also has three sacks and five tackles for loss. “Blake is the leader of our defense,” Nettleton coach Steven Hampton said. “He leads our team in tackles and plays with a great motor.”

Andre Reed, 5-10, 192, Sr., Jonesboro

Reed has amassed 36 tackles, 24 solo, on the season so far. He also has nine tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions, including a pick-six. “Andre is the perfect outside linebacker,” Jonesboro coach Randy Coleman said. “He’s a great tackler, and is as effective in coverage as he is blitzing. He has made several big plays for us, including a pick-six versus (Little Rock) Catholic and a four-sack night against El Dorado in a big conference game.”

Raef Stalls, 6-2, 200, Jr., Bentonville

Stalls has recorded 55 total tackles on the season for the Tigers, along with four sacks, three tackles for loss and three pass breakups. “Raef is a two-way starter for us,” Bentonville coach Jody Grant said. “He has been great for us on defense this year as an outside linebacker. He makes big-time plays when we need them the most, and he is most definitely one of our leaders on defense.”

Kenyon Carr, 5-10, 210, Sr., Pine Bluff Dollarway

Carr has 79 total tackles, 53 of those solo, along with five tackles for loss. In a game against Smackover, he had 14 total tackles, including 11 solo, and two for loss. He also has six sacks.

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