Photo: Richey Miller, clearchoicephoto.com
A certain degree of talent is necessary to succeed on any level of football, but often what separates a productive player from an even more productive player is experience.
Experience is one of the key ingredients Jake Hornibrook brings to the field when he lines up at safety for the Fayetteville Bulldogs. Hornibrook started at cornerback for the Bulldogs last year in their march to a second consecutive state title, and his leadership has been key for a Fayetteville squad that returned relatively few starters from a year ago.
“His experience for us has been huge,” Fayetteville coach Daryl Patton said. “Jake’s is giving us great leadership and just his experience on the field has meant a lot. There are not too many things he’s not witnessed before on the football field. So when a team lines up a certain way, he can already have it deciphered that this is what they like to do in a certain set.”
The safeties in Fayetteville’s defense, which is coordinated by Keith Fimple, set the defense prior to the snap based on the formation in which the opponent lines up.
“Before the snap, our safeties set the defense,” Hornibrook said. “We make the call and it needs to be the right one. It’s on our shoulders a lot. The big key is just getting lined up correctly and everyone focusing on doing your job. If you do your job and trust everyone else to do their job, our scheme will work.
“I love the pressure of setting the defense. It helps me to keep focused, knowing that it’s on me to help get everyone in the right spots. I love it.”
Moving from cornerback to safety presents a new challenge, which Hornibrook willingly embraced.
Fayetteville (7-0, 4-0) at Siloam Springs (1-5-1, 0-4)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25
Location: Glenn W. Black Stadium, Siloam Springs
“There’s a lot of difference,” Hornibrook said. “I’ve had to learn some new techniques and how to read the defense more. Usually at corner, you’re out on an island. At safety, you’re making the calls for our defense and reading their alignments before the snap. After the snap, I have to read the linemen to know if it’s going to be a pass or a run. Any key and how quick I get it can make a difference.”
Patton felt Hornibrook’s experience, intensity and drive would allow him to excel at safety.
“He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid,” Patton said. “He has a knack for being at the right place at the right time. He’s had a really good senior year.
“He had a big pick against Springdale that kind of turned the tide. He came up and made some big hits against Heritage and Rogers the last couple of weeks. He’s just got to keep on playing that way and giving us that leadership on defense.”
Hornibrook, who enjoys hunting, fishing and fantasy football, likes the defensive scheme deployed by the Bulldogs and the aggressive attitude Fimple demands from his troops.
“The big thing is to run to the football,” Hornibrook said. “If we have all 11 guys running to the football, good things are going to happen. You never know what is going to happen. If we pull the ball free, we could recover a fumble and scoop and score. You can’t make thing happen if you aren’t around the football. We always want to keep that intensity up.”
Fayetteville (7-0, 4-0) travels to Siloam Springs to face the Panthers (1-5-1, 0-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The game directly precedes showdowns at Har-Ber on Nov. 1 and with Bentonville on Nov. 8. Those two games will be pivotal in determining seeding in the state playoffs and deciding who will be the Class 7/6A-West champion. But Hornibrook said the Bulldogs could take nothing for granted this week.
“Our goal is to win the state championship, but to do that we have to stay focused week to week and take those baby steps,” said Hornibrook, who plans to study business at the University of Arkansas next year. “We’ve done a good job so far, but we’ve got to keep pushing to get better. We can’t overlook anything or anybody.
“Siloam Springs really impressed me against Har-Ber. We know they have a lot of confidence and play with a lot of intensity. But we just have to go out and tackle, make sure we wrap up and stay focused on the play at hand.”