Former rivals form special bond at UA
FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayetteville-Bentonville High matchup is arguably the most anticipated of the high school football season statewide, as it delivers memorable moments on an annual basis.
Ten combined state championships since 2001 and tradition on both sides speak for themselves. And, more often than not, over the last decade the schools have battled one another for conference and state supremacy.
But from the state’s most fierce rivalry bloomed an unexpected friendship in the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, tight ends room. Former Tiger Jack Kraus and former Fayetteville star Cheyenne O’Grady are among those battling for playing time at the position this season. But they always take time out to bring up memories from their prep days.
“He’ll always make a smart comment like, ‘Yeah, that was when my team won a state championship,’ or something like that, and I’ll do the same thing,” said O’Grady, a fourstar recruit out of high school. “That comes up all the time.”
Neither can say they foresaw a conventional connection on the horizon when they joined the program, but their bond extends beyond practice and football responsibilities. It isn’t uncommon for the two to hang out on weekends, Kraus said. They also got the opportunity to speak to more than 100 children at Bentonville’s Tigers in Training program in July.
Razorbacks tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., who coached Kraus alongside his father, Barry Lunney Sr., at Bentonville, says the former rivals have a unique relationship.
“They’re big buddies now. I’m not so sure they’re not the closest in the group,” he said. “They seemed to have formed a special bond with each other. Jack has been a really good influence on C.J. overall with work ethic and just being a tight end here.
“And of course there’s (high school) banter back and forth. It’s all in fun. It rears its head every now and then, but it’s good to see their relationship.”
As a senior in 2013, Kraus played a role in Bentonville’s fourth state championship, a 39-28 win against Cabot. The following year, the Tigers repeated as state champions. In his career, Kraus’ squad was 3-2 against Fayetteville and 36-4 overall.
“The best part was that I got there my sophomore year and lost to Fayetteville twice in a row, but my senior year we were able to win it against Cabot,” he said. “That was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
O’Grady got an early taste of victory against the Tigers in 2012 as Fayetteville got the better of Bentonville 31-20 in the state championship behind stars Austin Allen and former Razorback Brooks Ellis. But in 2014, O’Grady and the Bulldogs fell to Bentonville in Little Rock.
Kraus and O’Grady both vividly remember the excitement and uproar surrounding the rivalry. Nothing compared to the days leading up to the teams meeting on Friday night with bragging rights on the line, they said.
“Every week when you play Fayetteville its definitely intense,” said Kraus, who committed to Arkansas following his junior season. “It was chaos that week because we hated each other in high school. It was a big rivalry. The whole week was crazy and there was so much buildup.”
“We prepped all year for them,” O’Grady added. “That was like the most important game for us to win because it seems like it’s always those playing for a state championship. It always goes back and forth and it’s always been a very important game.”
Fayetteville and Bentonville are two of the more storied programs in Arkansas in recent history, and neither Kraus nor O’Grady will allow the other to forget. Enduring moments from the schools’ meetings are likely in the coming months, and without question will be discussed flippantly in Arkansas’ tight ends room.
“The last two years we’ve gotten really close,” said O’Grady, a sophomore. “(The friendship) is something you wouldn’t really expect coming out of high school and how we thought of each other. But we’re really good friends now.”
Razorback tight ends Jack Kraus (left) of Bentonville and Cheyenne O’Grady of Fayetteville have developed a bond after playing on opposite sides in a storied high school rivalry.