By John R. Schirmer
In 1991, the Nashville Scrappers returned to the state football playoffs after being absent for several years. Their trip to Atkins, where they won 21-14, started what is now the longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances in Arkansas – 27 years.
With the team that season was an assistant coach who had joined the Scrappers in 1988. Years later, one of the players described him as “young, cocky and almost as good looking as I am.”
That coach is still with the Scrappers 27 years later – Brian Bearden.
The seniors on the 1991 team recognized Bearden during Nashville’s pep rally Friday, Nov. 9. Jason Horn told about Bearden’s influence on the team before presenting him with a football listing all 13 seniors. Gary Morgan and Urian Henry joined him for the presentation.
Horn was the one who said his former coach was “young, cocky ….”
The former Scrappers also recognized Bearden that night before the football game with Elkins. They were joined by several more of their teammates.
Seniors on the 1991 team include Brady Bennett, Allen Blakely, Trey Branch, Toby Craver, Urian Henry, Brandon Ho, Jason Horn, David Jefferson, Chuck Johnson, Dennis Jones, Aaron Kemp, Charles McGee and Gary Morgan.
The Scrappers defeated Atkins that season before losing at Fordyce.
Bearden described the
seniors as “a good bunch of kids. They’ve gone on to be successful in life. All of them made something of themselves. That’s the goal.”
Bearden’s journey to Nashville began in neighboring Dierks, where he played for the Outlaws. Richard Johnson, one of his coaches at Dierks, later became counselor at Nashville High, where he was on the faculty with his former player.
After high school, Bearden “tried to play football at Henderson State in the early ‘80s. It was a pretty good experience. I didn’t play a lot” and left the team after his sophomore year.
Along the way, Bearden met Amy McFarland, and the two were married between their junior and senior years at Henderson.
Bearden did his student teaching at Nashville with Coach Don Derfler before graduating from HSU in December 1986. He spent the spring semester working at the plywood mill at Dierks while Amy worked at Walmart.
Scrapper Coach Gary Segrest knew the coach at Fordyce and helped Bearden get a job there. When Derfler left Nashville in 1988, the job went to Bearden. Amy taught at Delight two or three years under Randy Hughes and Lewis Diggs. She now teaches at NHS.
Bearden says he’s “never been a big person to change. My dad told me to get a degree, get a job and be a good employee. Take care of your family; have a good job, go to church.”
Although he’s been offered other coaching positions, Bearden decided to remain at Nashville. “It’s been for the best. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve been at the right place for a long time and had a lot of good experiences.”
Towns like Nashville “have football tradition,” Bearden said in discussing his time here and the 27 years of consecutive playoff appearances. The Scrappers “expected to be in the playoffs. A team with our tradition should make it. It’s an accomplishment that we haven’t had an off-year.”
Bearden said that the “community, school and kids still have a lot of pride in a lot of areas, not just football. We have good coaches. It’s the right place.”
The state championship games are highlights for Bearden. “You don’t forget those. We made it to the 1993 finals. After we beat Atkins in round two, I sat in the locker room and cried. This was the first time I’d gone past the second round.”
During Some of the Scrappers’ playoff runs, they took charter buses on away games. “I remember the kind of feeling I had after a game on the road and we had beaten somebody. I got kind of warm and fuzzy and asked myself, ‘How did we do that?’ I had that feeling a bunch of times.”
During the 27 years, “There have been some heartbreakers, but there have been more good feelings. I try to share that with the kids now. I want them to experience it.”
The Scrappers played Dollarway in the 1993 title game. “When Coach [Billy] Laird came here, he told the players his goal was to win state. The second year, he made it to the finals and lit things on fire.”
The Scrappers won state in 1996 against Osceola and star running back Jonathan Adams. “I came in on a Sunday, and Coach Laird said, ‘I think we’re going to get us one.’ He was right. We played so well.”
Bearden’s son Jesse played in the 2005 championship game, which the Scrappers won. “He had a big game after being out with a messed up knee. That was a satisfying game on another level.”
The 2015 championship “was special because I shared it with Brad [Chesshir], whom I had coached and helped raise. He and Jessie were friends. He was at our house a lot like another son.” Chesshir was the Scrappers’ defensive coordinator then.
Bearden remembers “finding my family in the stands and running up in the stands to see them” after the games were over. After one of the games at Atkins, “i was looking for my parents and saw a white-headed man in the stands who I thought was my dad. I threw my arms around him, but he wasn’t my dad. My parents had already gone to the car.”
The first few years of Bearden’s coaching career, “Football was about like it was when I was in high school. You ran the ball and threw when you had to. If you won by two or three touchdowns, it was a blowout. Now, it’s more wide open.”
Football is “a little more year-round” than it used to be, Bearden said.
The Spread offense means teams are “throwing the ball around. It’s more exciting to watch. When I started coaching the secondary back in the day, it was pretty boring” because of the low number of passes. “Now, it’s the job nobody wants. Everybody is throwing the ball around.”
Last week’s 36-0 playoff win against Elkins is a highlight for Bearden. “The guys held up really well. I’m proud of them.” Elkins was averaging 45 points per game before the shutout at Nashville.
“We’re having a good defensive year. It’s primarily the speed of our kids. They’re tiny but fast.”
Bearden said it is easy for coaches “to think that this stuff is more important than it is. As a young coach, I couldn’t breathe before a game. Now, I just pray to play well and not get anybody hurt. I still get nervous before every game, but it’s not a panic attack. I still have butterflies.”
Bearden doesn’t know how much longer he will coach. A personal goal “when we had five or six championship game appearances was to get to 10. We’ve been there nine times” with five titles during his tenure.
“I don’t want to be seen as a guy just hanging on. I’ve probably watched more film this season. I feel that sense of urgency,” Bearden said. At the same time, “I like to watch football that I don’t have to be anxious about.”
He adds that his “grandsons might be playing one day.”
Bearden recalled a few other highlights as he reflected on the 27 years. One came at Pocahontas, which was 10-0 when the Scrappers defeated them during the 1993 playoffs. “I remember that charter bus ride up there. We left early. I was nervous. We dominated them that night. It was like a catapult win for us. It showed we can compete on a state level.”