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story.lead_photo.caption FILE PHOTO Prairie Grove head football coach Danny Abshier has been named the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association Southwest Section Coach of the Year. Abshier led the Tigers to a 12-1 record, 2016 conference championship, and second consecutive appearance in the State 4A semifinals.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- Danny Abshier is quick to attribute his success to those around him, mentioning assistant coaches and various playmakers, who have worn a Tiger jersey over the last 20 years.

He is modest, yet, last week, Abshier was named the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association's Southwest Section Coach of the Year.

"I don't think he's told two people about it," said Prairie Grove athletic director Tommy Roy. "He's not tooting his own horn. He made a comment to me that it's as much a players and assistant coaches award as it is his. He's always very complimentary of assistant coaches Craig Laird, John Elder, Nic Paroubek and Mason Pinkley. It's a heckuva an honor, for sure."

The flip side of that coin is -- Abshier has become a good leader by taking input from those around him. Examples of how that has translated into on-the-field success are abundant.

Abshier broke into the coaching ranks as an assistant on Tommy Tice's staff at Harrison where he learned the Wing-T offense, which would become a staple of his career. Abshier has accumulated a 178-100-2 record since taking over as Prairie Grove head coach in 1993. The Tigers have made the state playoffs every year except one since 1996 and have won conference championships in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Taking Input

Abshier's willingness to adapt a passing attack out of the Wing-T has made the Tigers a dangerous team with a constant big-play threat.

During a 2012 playoff game, Prairie Grove trailed Pottsville, 28-12, entering the fourth quarter. Knowing the Tigers needed something more than the usual grind-out of a lengthy, time-consuming drive on the ground, assistant coach John Elder persuaded Abshier to go vertical. Speedster Colby Elkins ran under a perfect rainbow thrown by quarterback Cooper Winters and in a flash Prairie Grove scored a touchdown on their way to a dramatic, 34-28, comeback win.

According to Laird, Abshier listened to Sol Walker, who was playing wide receiver in a junior high game. At halftime, Sol Walker told Abshier if they would throw the football to the other side, they would score.

"Coach Abshier listened to him and he called a touchdown," Laird said.

Wing-T Passing

Facing his mentor, Tice, in a battle of Wing-T teams Sept. 25, 2015, Prairie Grove's passing game ignited a second-half offensive explosion as the Tigers beat Huntsville, 48-21. Huntsville tied the contest at 8-all in the second quarter and then Abshier unleashed the passing game.

Tiger quarterback Sam Dodd sprinted to his left, then stopped on a dime and threw back across the field to a wide-open Gavin Heltemes near the right sideline. The pass arrived before Huntsville defenders could react and Heltemes sailed into the end zone scoring a 41-yard touchdown. Huntsville again tied the game, at 14-14 on the next play from scrimmage, but Prairie Grove hadn't opened up their bag of tricks yet.

Dodd threw a 17-yard touchdown to 6-feet-7, 275 pound tight end Dylan Soehner, who accepted a scholarship to Iowa State, giving the Tigers a 20-14 halftime lead. Prairie Grove struck from the air again on the first play of the third quarter on a 73-yard double pass with Soehner, a former quarterback, taking a throw behind the line of scrimmage, then chucking the pigskin downfield to a wide-open Isaac Disney.

The irony of all this was earlier in the week, Abshier admitted a reluctance to put the ball in the air as much as Pinkley, a strong advocate for the passing game, and other assistants would like him to.

"To me, that's almost speaking Greek cause what I want to do is run the ball," Abshier said on a Wednesday before the game.

Filling Roles

Abshier has been successful at motivating players to fill roles -- Cole Walker began his senior 2015 season as a utility player, switching jerseys depending upon whether he was needed on the offensive line wearing No. 54 or at fullback (No. 42).

Injuries to teammates and a growth spurt may have prompted Abshier to capitalize on Cole Walker's versatility. When Cole Walker told his coach, "I want to win, whatever it takes, I want to make it happen," Abshier took him at his word. Before long the 5-foot-9, 215-pound senior was backing up the starting five on the offensive line, or lining up at fullback in short-yardage situations. On defense, his flexiblity allowed the Tigers to use him at either defensive tackle or linebacker.

An injury to starting fullback Reed Orr put Cole Walker into full-time fullback duty on the way to playing for the 2015 state championship. His statistics revealed his activity, 78 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 1 forced fumble going into the state finals. Cole Walker contributed a rushing touchdown run and was a key lead blocker helping teammate Blake Faulk rush for 141 yards and three touchdowns in a 61-42 semifinal win over Arkadelphia.

In 2016, the Tigers switched Sol Walker from defensive back to defensive end where he became a force at rushing the passer. This enabled them to move Jack Stone inside where he was needed at tackle and made a key interception during a 42-21 win over Pea Ridge for the conference lead.

What happens next, remains to be seen, but Abshier is probably planning to exercise his faith in something that is yet to be revealed -- until the defense has very little time to react.

Sports on 04/19/2017

Print Headline: Abshier Named NFHS Southwest Coach Of The Year

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