The lights will shine brightly at Hackett's Bill Mills Field today.

But don't let the stadium lights fool you; these teams have been eager to play for weeks.

Mansfield and Hackett open the 2018 season today as part of Arkansas' first-ever Zero Week.

"We have to play like seniors, and cut down on the first-game jitters that can cause mistakes early on in the season," Hackett coach Lonnie Hester said. "On paper it looks like it should be a good, hard-fought game. But once you’re out there, that means nothing.

"It may boil down to whichever team wants it more."

The Hornets return a number of key seniors, including Hester's son, quarterback Brady Hester, as well as Cooper Shipman, Pacy McBride and Matthew Carter.

Hester threw for 16 touchdowns and ran for 13 more last season.

"We're pretty excited about it," Mansfield coach Craig Bentley said. "No. 1, it gives us a chance to play Hackett, and I don't know if we could have played without it. And No. 2, taking a bye week before conference is big. We had a ton of injuries last year."

It's been a long, yet fruitful nine months for Bentley's Tigers. The team was on the threshold of breaking through in 2017. Some tough losses and an endless stream of injuries curtailed what might have been the team's first playoff team in six years.

"There are no more moral victories," Bentley said. "We're excited; we're returning the majority of our starters on both sides of the ball."

The Tigers' biggest strength may be their offense, which begins with quarterback Ethan Stovall.

But Bentley expects a stronger defensive stand this year, too.

"We have to do a better job of getting off the field," he said.

Stovall, who missed significant time last season after injuring his knee in the team's third conference game, put in a ton of off-season work, Bentley said.

"He would come in at 6:30 and go straight to work," the coach said. "He's been he's been really impressive. Last year, when he was pressure, he might have taken off and run with the ball.

"But this year he's more relaxed."

Stovall and an array of offensive weapons give the Tigers a chance to put up some serious offensive numbers. "We have a chance to be pretty explosive on offense this year," Bentley said.

Along with Stovall, who still managed to light up the scoreboard last season, despite injuries, Mansfield also returns a healthy Zach Woolbright. The fullback has good vision.

"He's not the biggest kid," Bentley said. "He's not going to carry the ball 20 times a game. But he can help us. He was hurt in the third game last year."

Hunter Willsey, Layton Howard and Tyler Holmes are primed for big seasons, Bentley said.

The same may be true of Colton Stipins. The team's left tackle a year ago, the Tigers have penciled him in at tight end.

"The biggest thing for us is to control both sides of the line of scrimmage," Bentley said. "I think that's huge for us going into Thursday. We have to limit the big play defensively. Hackett, their players do a great job of not giving up on the play."

"They have a pretty good team," Hester said. "Their kids have bought in to coach Bentley’s program and as a result they have a dedicated group of kids."