The Van Buren Pointers have bigger and better expectations in their final year in the 7A-West.

It will start on defense, especially in the trenches on the line.

“I’ve been saying for awhile that the D-line is going to have to be the strength of our team,” Van Buren head coach Crosby Tuck said. “They certainly have the ability to be that. I expect as big of things out of the D-line as anybody on this team. It is very good and they have to show proof ever single week.”

Tuck takes over the program after Casey Dick left for Fayetteville in April. Tuck was lured to Van Buren from Georgia last year to be Dick’s offensive coordinator. Mere moments after Dick announced his resignation, Tuck was hired to be the new head coach.

He hit the ground running, hiring a new offensive coordinator, Jon Brooks, and a new defensive coordinator, Moe Henry.

Tuck, Brooks and Henry will have a lot of returning experience from last year’s team, which earned a Class 7A playoff berth and even went into the final regular-season game with a shot at earning a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

If last week’s Green-and-White scrimmage is any indication, the Pointers will be exciting to watch in 2019.

“The main thing that I liked was that we came out focused from the beginning,” Tuck said. “We were pretty sharp the whole time. That’s what I wanted to see. I didn’t want us to come out and drag in a different environment like this. I wanted to see us come out crisp from the get-go. I felt like we did.”

Junior Gary Phillips (6-0, 180), who completed 41 of 95 passes last year for 668 yards and seven touchdowns passing to go along with 444 yards and three more touchdowns on the ground as a backup mostly, will trigger the offense.

Phillips threw two touchdown passes in the scripted part of the scrimmage and completed his first seven passes before a drop.

“He looked good,” Tuck said. “That’s how he’s looked all through fall camp. I’m very happy with where Gary is at.”

Phillips will work with a talented receiving corps led by senior Jude Bartholomew (6-1, 165), who led the team in receiving last year with 51 catches for 821 yards and six scores.

Seniors Isaac Nason (6-0, 170) and Mauri Newton (6-1, 184) are promising receivers as well. Juniors Jaiden Henry (5-10, 155) and Haden Roark (5-9, 150) will also log plenty of playing time.

Henry moved in from Shiloh Christian. Nason returned to Van Buren from Charleston.

Nason turned a short pass into an 80-yard touchdown in the scrimmage, and Henry also had catches of 32 and 36 yards.

“Both of those guys ran with the ball really well,” Tuck said. “Isaac showed me some very positive things. Jude Bartholomew ran really well with the football as well. We had some receivers catch the ball well and do some damage when they had the ball in their hands. We have a lot of seniors playing receivers and some good senior leadership leading that group. We’re going to need some real play makers out of that group.”

Returning starter Brayden Rivas (5-6, 162) fuels the running game.

Rivas ran for 519 yards and six touchdowns a year ago, including 20 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win over rival Alma.

Seniors David Evans (5-9, 164) and Chris Phung (5-8, 180) and junior T.J. Dyer (6-1, 210) also figure in to carry the ball this season.

Eight players have been working on the offensive line for the Pointers under line coach Mike Lowrey.

Senior Stephen Young (6-1, 220) has been working at left tackle, senior Jackson Hurst (6-0, 195) at left guard, junior Jeiden Safonov (5-11, 230) at center, junior Easton Mongold (6-3, 280) at right guard and junior Doug Giron (5-11, 220) at right tackle.

Senior Cha’Raun Page (5-11, 255), a returning starter and the stalwart on the defensive line, will also work some at the guard spots with R.J. Riley (6-0, 225), another returning starter on the defensive line, working at tackle. Senior Jacob Hamilton (6-0, 225) can play all of the positions on the line, including center.

“That’s our top eight up front right now,” Tuck said. “I feel like they’ve made tremendous progress. Coach Lowrey has done a great job from last season through spring ball, some of the extra stuff they’ve done this summer. Coach Lowrey has done an excellent job going through film work with them and how he breaks things down and how he teaches them. I think it’s very efficient and I’m starting to see some very positive results.”

While they’re not massive, they will hold their own in the 7A-West.

“I believe they are capable of that,” Tuck said. “They’re going to be a big part of our success. They’re going to have to be good for us to be good.”

Page and Riley pace the defensive line, Page in the middle and Riley at an edge.

Senior Miles Kuykendall (6-3, 240) fills the other end position.

A lot is expected from them this year if the Pointers are to improve on giving up 35 points per game over last year.

“I’ve been saying for awhile that the D-line is going to have to be the strength of our team,” Tuck said. “They certainly have the ability to be that. I expect as big of things out of the D-line as anybody on this team. It is very good and they have to show proof ever single week.”

Giron, Hurst and Mongold will also play on the defensive line as the Pointers develop depth along both lines.

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Tuck said. “We’re worked hard intentionally to try to build some depth. We don’t want to get in a spot where we’re so thin that we have five and three. It’s important to have some depth up there. I feel like we’re starting to get that.”

Seniors Devin Swearingen (5-11, 180) and Giovany Alas (5-9, 191), and Dyer return after starting last year except Dyer moves from end to linebacker.

“All three are kind of returning starters,” Tuck said. “T.J. was kind of a rush end last year. We’ve moved him back to linebacker. It’s nice to have those returning starters. Swearingen led us in tackles last year. He’s a team captain. We rely on him for a quite a bit. Everything you can rely on someone for we rely on him for.”

Swearingen led the Pointers in tackles last year with 90 with nine of those for losses.

Seniors Drew King (6-0, 181), Eric Marcos (5-10, 175) and Phung add depth to the unit. Phung returned an interception for a touchdown in the scrimmage.

In the secondary, Evans returns at a corner after leading the team with three interceptions a year ago, and senior Trent Ball (5-9, 160) returns at safety.

Junior Kaleb Kovitch (5-8, 160), Roark and Henry are working at the other corner with junior Baylor Shook (6-1, 175), senior Conrad Walter (5-9, 160), junior Hunter Laxson (5-9, 145), Bartholomew, Rivas and Nason all figuring in at safety.

“We’re just trying to figure a lot out there,” Tuck said. “We’ve carried over some of the coverages that we had last year but we’re also doing some new stuff. We’re really trying to piece a lot together.”

Senior Chris Flores (5-10, 165) returns to kick and Rivas provides experience at punter.

The Pointers will travel to Farmington for a pre-season scrimmage on Aug. 22 before opening the season at Siloam Springs on Aug. 30. Van Buren plays its home opener against Alma the next week and opens 7A-West play at home against Rogers on Sept. 27.