For the first time since 1983, the Conway High football team opened camp without coach Chuck Jordan blowing its first whistle.
In body, the Tigers’ longtime head man was nowhere near the practice field. If you ask players, however, his presence was still felt loud and clear.
“No walking! We don’t walk on the practice field!,” yelled Conway interim football coach Carlton Terry, before the team went through a round of “up-downs.”
Not your typical stand-in, Terry is tasked with keeping the Tiger gridiron machine rolling after a solid 2016 season — and an offseason just as notable.
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Following a May 26 incident involving Jordan and a Conway High student, the head coach was placed on administrative leave and later arrested. The football coach was charged with third-degree assault, and released on a recognizance bond.
Jordan is currently awaiting a jury trial.
In the meantime, the Tigers have placed the keys to the program in reliable hands, Terry serving as an assistant under Jordan for the past 25 years.
According to senior defensive back Keith Autry Benton, the familiarity with him has made the transition rather seamless.
“He’s played here, he’s coached here … we know him,” Benton said. “That makes it easier, we’ve been around him. It’s been an easy transition.”
Said quarterback Darren Grainger: “It’s a coach we’ve known since we were freshmen. It really isn’t a change … he uses the same philosophy as Coach Jordan, so nothing really changes.”
Such has made it easy for Terry and other coaches to get players to buy into a simple notion: “Do Your Job.”
We don’t really talk (about coach Chuck Jordan’s legal matters). We just let them handle that and we focus on football.
Conway senior quarterback Darren Grainger
“With all the issues we have (getting back on the practice field) kind of takes care of itself,” Terry said. “The kids have been great. They’ve come to work and done their job. That’s one of our mottoes this year, ‘Do Your Job.’ They’ve worked hard in the offseason, weight training and it is showing.”
After winning nine games and advancing to the Lower State semifinal round last season, expectations are high for this year’s group of Tigers, despite the distractions.
Two players have already committed to schools at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level in Gunner Britton (Western Kentucky) and Juwan Moody (East Carolina). Top prospect Raiqwon O’Neal will announce his college intentions Aug. 16, with several other talents capable of landing their share of offers as well.
In the belief of Benton, such talent and possessing a veteran locker room can only help the team — particularly with the cloud surrounding its leader.
“We have a lot of veterans on this team, a lot of guys that have played three or four years on varsity. We know how this is,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is taking things day by day, practice by practice, game by game … taking things one day at a time.”
More importantly, the group’s sole focus is on taking care of the only business they can — their own.
“We don’t really talk (about coach Chuck Jordan’s legal matters),” Grainger said. “We just let them handle that and we focus on football.”