The Arkansas State Red Wolves first year head coach Hugh Freeze is looking to lead his team to a Sun Belt Championship. That journey begins Thursday morning at 9:30am when the Red Wolves hit the field for their first day of fall practice.
Freeze was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State last year under former head coach Steve Roberts. Following Roberts departure from Jonesboro, a short search ensued, but it was obvious who the man was for the job, and Freeze was promoted to head coach just days after Roberts departed.
As offensive coordinator, Freeze led the Red Wolves to a single-season school record for offensive yardage by gaining 4,841 yards on the season. 2,939 of those yards were passing yards put up by senior quarterback Ryan Aplin. Aplin also passed for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 477 yards and 11 touchdowns.
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The Red Wolves also expect to see quality play out of junior quarterback Phillip Butterfield as well. Butterfield played in 11 games last season, and added a new dimension to the Red Wolves offense which helped to keep opposing defenses off balance.
Arkansas State will have a solid offensive backfield with running backs Derek Lawson (SR), Sirgregory Thornton (SO), and Jermaine Robertson (SR) leading the way.
Redshirt freshman Frankie Jackson has the potential to earn playing time as well. Lawson led the team in 2010 with 500 yards on the ground, while Robertson gained 348 yards.
The Arkansas State receiving corps is the strength of the team, and despite being in the Sun Belt Conference, could be one of the top groups in America.
The group was led by senior Dwayne Frampton last year. Frampton gained 738 yards while scoring six touchdowns on 69 receptions. Senior receiver Allen Muse gained 635 yards and five scores on 42 receptions, while junior Taylor Stockemer picked up 560 yards on 34 catches with five touchdowns.
Despite having a good core group of receivers, the Red Wolves could look to underclassmen to fill some key roles. Look for incoming freshmen Artez Brown and Kyle Coleman to potentially get a shot at early playing time. Basmine Jones and junior college transfer Joshua Jarboe are two other receivers which could play a key role in fall camp, and ultimately later on during the season.
The biggest question on offense is going to be on the offensive line.
With the exception of senior Tom Castilaw at center, the Red Wolves will replace everyone up front. The team received a blessing when the NCAA granted Castilaw another year of eligibility following a season-ending injury early on in 2010.
Senior Delano Moore has game experience at the left tackle position, but other than Castilaw and Moore, Arkansas State will rely on several junior college transfers to fill the remaining three positions. Players expecting to earn reps in fall camp include senior Alex Kautai, redshirt freshman Alan Wright, junior Eric Allen, junior Zach McKnight, and senior James Williams.
Look for junior Kedrick Murry to lead the way at tight end, while junior Andre Smith looks to start picking up reps as a back-up to Murry.
Defensively, Arkansas State will have nearly an entirely new look. Veteran defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was hired by Freeze to help bring in a coordinator with invaluable experience.
"We are going to be very multiple on defense," Wommack told ArkansasVarsity.com earlier in the spring. "If you want to see a defense that is just going to sit there and let the offense come to them, then you will not want to come to our games. We are going to attack, and we are going to use players who give great effort with great attitudes to do that."
The Red Wolf defense is led by senior linebacker Demario Davis. Davis had 63 tackles and two interceptions in 2010, and had a great spring in the new defensive scheme. Junior Nathan Herrold led the team with 78 tackles, but is coming off of knee surgery.
Other linebackers to keep your eyes on include senior Najel Byrd, junior Nick Nelms, and redshirt freshman Qushaun Lee, who had a good spring according to Freeze.
The Red Wolves will have experience on the defensive line as well. Seniors Dorvus Woods, Brandon Joiner, Justin Robertson, and Jeremy Gibson all have countless experience, while sophomore Amos Draper had a huge season last year, earning All-American honors from College Football News.
Others to look for on the defensive line include junior Timothy Starson, senior Gregory McCall, junior Ronnell Wright, and senior Jeremy Gibson.
Arkansas State is also sitting pretty in the secondary. One of the most impressive athletes during spring camp was junior Don Jones who returned to the team after a year at junior college.
Others who impressed include senior safety Kelcie McCray, senior corner Darron Edwards, and junior safety Tausean Holmes. Others expected to see quality reps include seniors Jaquan Kilcrease, Adrian Hills, and Graham Bates at safety.
Freeze also placed a special emphasis on special teams during the spring. Senior punter Neely Sullivent had a great spring. Sophomores Bobby Zalud and Brian Davis had a healthy battle for placekicking duties in the spring which should carry over into the fall.
As with any coaching change, there are always staff shake ups. Several new coaches were brought in to include Chris Kiffin who will coach the defensive line, Tom Allen who will coach linebackers, Grant Heard who will coach quarterbacks, and as mentioned above, Dave Wommack who is the new defensive coordinator.
Coaches retained by Freeze include running backs coach David Gunn, offensive line coach Darren Hiller, defensive backs coach Corey Batoon, tight end coach Maurice Harris, and wide receivers coach Tyler Siskey.
The Red Wolves open up the 2011 season on the road against Illinois on September 3rd.
Red Wolf Fans: Keep your eyes out for RedWolfReport.com, coming to the Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports network on August 15, 2011! RedWolfReport.com will be your home for Arkansas State athletic and recruiting news!