Carmikle charged with leading Heber Springs football program

New Heber Springs football coach Caleb Carmikle is all smiles as he introduces his family at a meet-and-greet for the coach Saturday at Panther Gymnasium. Carmikle replaces Van Paschal, who took a job at Cross County following his lone season at Heber Springs. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

The Heber Springs High School football team celebrated “Homecoming” early this year.

Though there was no queen and her court, there was a coronation as Caleb Carmikle was introduced as the 40th head football coach in school history at a meet-and-greet event held at the Panther Den on the campus of Heber Springs High School on Saturday.

Carmikle was hired in early March to replace Van Paschal, who took a job at Cross County in January.

The 2011 graduate of Heber Springs High School was head coach at Rison last season and told the 100 plus gathered for the event, including several former teammates, that becoming the head coach of the Panthers was the only job he would leave Rison for.

“Honestly up until the time I accepted the job was on the fence about it,” Carmikle said afterward. “It was my first year at Rison and I didn’t want to leave with that job being unfinished.

“But it’s home, and so when it came down to it, it just felt like God was leading us to come home and serve this community.”

In 103 seasons of Heber Springs High School football, Carmikle becomes the seventh former Panther charged with leading the program, but the first since Dale Cresswell, who was head coach for three seasons starting in 2003.

Carmikle joins Cresswell, Dennis DeBusk (the winningest coach in school history), Cecil Alexander, Bob Fisher, Henry Clay Kelley and Neill Reed as Heber Springs High School graduates to serve as head coach.

“You know, this is my fourth head coaching job now, and each of the other three were a special opportunity to be a head coach,” Carmikle said, “but to be able to do it where I grew up and coach guys that were just like me and sat in the same chair that I did, it means that much more, so it’s a special feeling.”

Carmikle played for the Panthers during the 2008 through 2010 seasons and was named to the all-decade team for the 2010s, but did he ever think about wanting to come back and be coach here while he was still playing?

“Yeah, I knew, once I decided I wanted to be a coach, I knew at some point in my career I would want to come home,” he said. “I wasn’t sure when. I knew everything had to align perfectly, and it has, and so I think this is a great time to come home.”

The 2015 graduate of Arkansas Tech played under former Panther coach Steve Janski.

“The nuts and bolts of the program will be similar to the way it was when I was in school, but I told the interview committee and everybody else in the audience (today), I’m not Steve Janski,” Carmikle said. “Obviously there is things that he did that I’ve molded my program around and put my own twist to it.

“But I learned early on in my career that you can’t try to be a Steve Janski or (former Panther head coach and new athletic director) Darren Gowen or (former Panther assistant coach) Scott Davenport, I can be Caleb Carmikle, but there’s pieces from all the places that I’ve been that have blended into the style.”

Prior to coaching Rison in 2023. Carmikle was the head coach at Magnet Cove, where he compiled a 39-30 record in six seasons winning three conference titles. Before that, Carmikle spent two seasons at the head coach at Glenbrook, a private school in Minden, Louisiana. His first team in 2015 went 1-9 but his second went 5-5 earning him parish coach of the year honors by the Minden Press-Herald. His overall record as a head coach is 48-52.

Carmikle will inherit a coaching staff that includes assistants Hunter Davis, Micah Dew, Curtis Shannon, Easton Seidl, and Kevin Youngblood. He said he likes the makeup of the coaching staff, calling it “balanced with a mix of older experienced guys and some young, fiery guys.”

In taking the job at Heber Springs, it will allow Carmikle an opportunity to work with someone he was wanted to work since his days at Magnet Cove, Panther defensive coordinator Kevin Youngblood, who’s defensive pitched the most shutouts in season in 2023 since 2009 with three — Carmikle was a junior on that 2009 team.

“I first met him when we coached against each other when I was at Magnet Cove and he was Quitman,” he said. “They had the best defense in the conference that year and that was maybe one of the best teams I had at Magnet Cove, we won 11 games that year, and he shut us down.”

Carmikle said he tried to hire Youngblood at Rison to be his defensive coordinator, but the timing wasn’t right.

“When all this started happening, I thought, well, if I can’t get him to come work with me somewhere else, I’ll just go where he’s at,” he said. “So that made it even more special to get a chance to work with him.”

Carmikle, who will also work at the middle school, officially starts at Heber Springs on Monday.

HSHS All-Decade Team: 1940s

The 1940s era of Heber Springs football was one of uncertainty at both home and abroad.

The start of the decade saw the Panthers struggle to keep the program afloat because of financial reasons. A late push to raise the monies needed allowed the team to have a 1940 season, but without a dedicated coach, school superintendent Ben Lincoln stepped into the role of head coach. Fortunately for the Panthers, Lincoln had previously served as the head coach at Blytheville and was a former standout at what is now Ouachita Baptist University. Lincoln’s Panthers set a school record with six wins in 1940 with two wins over Bald Knob and wins over Cotton Plant, Clinton, England and Dardanelle. The Panthers started that season with losses to Cabot, Morrilton and Lonoke before winning six out of their last eight, falling to Conway and Batesville.

Lincoln would take a job in the Pocahontas district following the 1940-1941 school and principal R.A James would guide the team for the next two seasons. With World War II consuming most of the countries resources, high school football was put on the backburner by 1943, though the Panthers did manage to break out the pads for a Senior/Freshman versus the Juniors/Sophomores contest in 1943.

By 1944, the Panthers resumed playing other teams across the state, but still without the services of a coach. First Baptist Church pastor J. Paul Palmer stepped into the role for the 1944 and 45 seasons as the Panthers would go 2-11-2 over that span with victories over Morrilton and Dardanelle and ties with Pocahontas and Clinton.

For the 1946 season, recent HSHS graduate Henry Clay Kelley filled out the role as head coach managing a pair of wins over Cabot before the program was shuttered for the 1947 and 1948 seasons for financial reasons.

By 1949, the Panthers were ready to hit the field again and by now the Arkansas Activities Association had set-up conferences and Heber Springs played a conference schedule for the first time as a member of the 2B conference with Augusta and Cotton Plant under coach Bob Wilkinson. The Panthers would go 2-7-1 in their first season back with wins over Ola and Cotton Plant and a tie with Clinton.

The 1940s HSHS All-Decade Football Team

1945 – Eugene Cain

1942 – Robert Fisher

1940 – Hubert Holland

1944 – Tom Holland

1941 – Virlon James

1940 – Pete Jenkerson

1949 – Bob Jenkins

1943 – Henry Clay Kelley

1946 – Maurice Love

1943 – Leon McAnear

1941 – Ed Olmstead

1942 – Eugene Pate

1942 – Lee Roy Plummer

1941 – Dwain Smith


The 1930s HSHS All-Decade Team

The 1910s/20s HSHS All-Decade Team