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Editor’s note: Over the coming days, we will honor the best and brightest individual performers from the 2021 Arkansas high school football season, culminating with the unveiling of the inaugural SBLive all-state team on Monday, January 24.

By Kyle Sutherland | Photo by Jimmy Jones

After leading El Dorado to its first state championship in eight years, Steven Jones is the 2021 SBLive Arkansas Coach of the Year. The Wildcats won four titles between 2009-13, including three in a row from 2009-11, but since that time had only advanced past the second round of the playoffs once until Jones led them back to prominence in December.

Following a 2-2 start having played a tough nonconference schedule that included a 41-35 shootout loss to Cabot and a 31-20 conference-opening defeat to Jonesboro, the Wildcats got things figured out, winning nine straight while averaging 51 points per game. 

“The 2-2 start really motivated us to play better down the stretch and was definitely a wake-up call,” Jones said. “During the nine-game win streak we knew if we set our goals high this season, which we always do, and once we got on a roll, players started to play more confident, we played fast, and it just continued to get better and better.”

After the Week 2 loss at Cabot, head coach Scott Reed, who coached El Dorado to the previously mentioned four state titles between 2009-13, mentioned that “nobody in the state has guys like that” referring to El Dorado’s skill players. 

The Wildcats backed that up throughout the season and the final results were two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher in junior Shadarious Plummer, who was named the Most Valuable Player in the Class 6A state title game. Senior quarterback Sharmon Rester came on as one of the state’s top players, amassing 4,480 total yards and 51 touchdowns. 

Coming into his third year at El Dorado, Jones had not yet achieved a winning season at the tradition-rich program. After finishing 5-5 last season, there was plenty to build on and look forward to with a strong senior class returning that the coaching staff had mentored their entire high school career. 

“(In terms of success) it certainly does not hurt to have good players,” Jones said. “We’ve got a super-talented team with a lot coming back next season, so we are looking forward to try and do it again.”

The Wildcats will continue to compete for the next two years in the revamped 6A-East Conference with previous foes Marion, Searcy, Sheridan and West Memphis, but the league will add 2021 6A West champion Benton, Little Rock Catholic moving down from 7A and Jacksonville moving up from 5A.

“Not trying to sound negative, but we do not really care (where we play),” Jones said. “We know we will have to travel.”

Along with Plummer at running back, who amassed 1,293 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, Jones mentioned linebacker Danquez Shelton and wide receiver DeAndra Burns as some key players to keep an eye on for the Wildcats next season. Burns already possesses offers from Power 5 universities Arkansas and Pittsburgh.

Jones was recently named a participant for the 2022 35 Under 35 Coaches Leadership Institute, one of just two high school coaches in the entire country honored. Though his name is on that list, he knows one of the best turnarounds in the state from last year did not happen overnight, nor did he do it by himself. 

“I’m just fortunate to have worked with some great coaches and great people,” Jones said. “We have a great staff here at El Dorado, a lot of guys that I learn from every day.”

A native of Junction City, Jones played quarterback for legendary head coach David Carpenter from 2003-05 and was head coach of the Dragons for two seasons. His teams there went 25-3, including a state runner-up finish in 2017 while leading the state in both total offense and defense, and then won the 2A state championship in 2018. Other coaching stops include DeWitt, where he was head coach for baseball and football, along with serving as offensive coordinator at Searcy from 2015-17.