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White Hall football comes together in face of tragedy | Preps on 11

After an unimaginably tragic season, the White Hall Bulldogs are ready to play football and hope to turn a tragedy into a triumph.

WHITE HALL, Ark. — Towards the end of one of White Hall’s final practices of fall camp, interim head coach Jason Mitchell decided to switch things up. 

Every player has to pick a side, as the JV offense takes on the JV defense, with some conditioning on the line. The result? Whoops, hollers, and a celebratory mass of jumping, happy bodies after a final sack.

Though it’s not the stop that matters. It’s the pure excitement and joy that bursts forth from the team.

“It’s something the whole coaching staff strives for,” said Mitchell, smiling. “Just to have them running around today with those guys competing, it was a good thing.”

It’s a feeling that would have been unthinkable just months ago.

Just before graduation, the Bulldogs lost teammate Ben Redix in a tragic accident. Weeks later, their head coach, Ryan Mallett, drowned off the Florida coast. 

The team could have fallen apart. Instead, they came together.

“Counselors would come and say, do you need any help? And we would say, this is our family, and we wanted to be around each other,” Mitchell remembered.

“They really comforted me. We really got a deeper bond. Some of these guys really comforted me. Some of these guys I barely talked to, now I’m talking to on the daily,” said senior Kyen Weston.

The team is ready to get back to what Redix and Mallett loved— playing football.

“They’re back in their element,” said Mitchell. “Most of them have been playing football since they were 6 or 7. For them to be a kid, which they need to be with all the turmoil, for them to be a kid and play the game they love, I can’t wait to watch it.”

When the team takes the field, they walk past a letter from Ryan’s mom, and a sign commemorating Ben. 

The Bulldog's friend and coach will be right there with them, on their helmets.

“We got the Bulldog on the right side, and then ‘Be a Dawg’ Ryan Mallett on the left because it’s closer to the heart, and we have a 5 on the back for Ben Redick,” explained Mitchell. 

Senior running back Jayden Smith said he thinks the helmets are motivating.

“When I look at my teammate, I see his helmet, I know what we’re representing, and I have to step it up for these guys on the side of my helmet and back of my helmet.” Weston agreed. “I think it helps the team too. Every time I think about them, I keep going.”

The Bulldogs are looking to harness that energy to rebound from a tough season last year, and get back to where they were two years ago: War Memorial Stadium in December

“It ain't the same team from last year,” laughed Weston.

“We want to go back up there and win this time,” said Smith. “We’re a lot hungrier than we were last year, after everything that happened.”

Weston also said that as far as the Bulldogs go, they know who’s right there with them—on their helmets and in their hearts.

“This whole season is for them. Every time we do something good, it’s for Ben and Coach Mallett," Weston added.

White Hall will host Sheridan to start the season on Friday, August 25th.

Credit: KTHV

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