If it's true there's no substitute for experience, things are truly looking up for Arkansas State as the Red Wolves enter the 2009 season.
The Wolves, 6-6 last year (4-3 in the Sun Belt), list a depth chart that has only one underclassman, with 15 seniors mixed into the opening 22.
Offensively, Arkansas State broke a 57-year-old school record for total offense last year, and coach Steve Roberts thinks his team should be even better on that side of the ball in '09.
"I definitely think we can be better," Roberts said during the conference's media conference hookup. "We broke a 57-year-old school record last year for total offense. We were able to achieve offensively last year most of the time. With those players coming back and the skill players coming back, we feel like we are going to have an opportunity to make plays. … We have a chance to have a good year offensively."
That starts with quarterback Corey Leonard, the Sun Belt's preseason co-Offensive Player of the Year, and running back Reggie Arnold. Both are on the verge of record-setting senior seasons. Kicker Josh Arauco is also considered the Sun Belt's best.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Alex Carrington is shooting to become the first player ever to be named league Defensive Player of the Year two straight years.
The Red Wolves, bowl eligible for three of the last four years (and a bowl team in 2005), were picked to finish second in the conference by the league coaches, behind only Troy.
• Arkansas State was picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference in the poll of the league's nine coaches, ASU's highest preseason league ranking.
• QB Corey Leonard and DE Alex Carrington were named Sun Belt Conference Offense and Defensive preseason Players of the Year, respectively, with Leonard sharing his honor with Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith.
• RB Reggie Arnold, OG Drew Hilton and K Josh Arauco were also picked first-team in the league's preseason selections.
• Arkansas State has added a 2011 game at Virginia Tech.
Key Game: Sept. 12 at Nebraska-The Red Wolves broke a 15-game losing streak against Big 12 teams and scored the program's first victory over a BCS conference school with a win at Texas A&M in last year's opener. They'd love to make another statement against the Huskers.
Quote To Note: "I'm excited that we have the expectations of our program. But, I don't put a lot of stock in preseason polls. I think they're more for the fans and for generating the excitement for football season."
-Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts after the Sun Belt coaches picked his team to finish second in the conference in 2009.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
COACH: Steve Roberts, eighth season, 37-47 (49-33-1 overall in 15 seasons).
Critical Camp Focus: The Red Wolves went 6-6 last year and have to build on that. The experience factor with this team should be huge, as Roberts has veterans everywhere he looks. The coaches will look for a solid backup quarterback to Corey Leonard, but there are kids to pick from.
Offense: Starters-QB Corey Leonard; RB Reggie Arnold; FB Jeff Blake; WR Brandon Thompkins; WR Jahbari McLennan; TE J.T. Jordan; LT Kiano Prater; LG Dominic Padrta; C Tom Castilaw; RG Drew Hilton; RT Derek Newton.
The ASU offense broke a 57-year-old school record for total offense last year and returns older and wiser with more numbers in place. Running multiple offenses, the Wolves are experienced throughout the unit, but one of the questions in camp surrounded a backup for Leonard. But this team returns its passer, three top rushers and two top receivers, so the points will be there. Leonard makes the whole thing go, and while the Wolves don't have an experienced backup in place, they do have one of the top guys in the league in Leonard, and he has help.
Defense: DE Alex Carrington; DT Khari Mays; DT Bryan Hall; DE Stanley Wakwe; SLB Darius Glover; MLB Michael Adams; SLB Greg Hardy; CB Cordarious Mingo; CB Daylan Walker; SS MD Jennings; FS Evan Van Dolah.
The Red Wolves, who work out of the 4-3, lost their leading tackler (Ben Owens), but they do have the Sun Belt's reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Carrington. The defensive end could become the first player ever to win that award two straight years. There are eight starters back on the defense, and Hall is also strong up front, while Glover leads the linebackers and Jennings and Walker are strong in the back.
Arauco, 17-for-20 in field goals last season (four of the makes from beyond 40 yards), is on the watch list for the Groza Award, so the Wolves are strong there. Wilbourn handled kickoffs in 2008 and is now the punter after the loss of Brett Shrable. Thompkins is the school's all-time kick-return leader, and Walker now handle kicks and punts with Kevin Jones gone.
• In addition to being named preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in the Sun Belt, QB Corey Leonard and DE Alex Carrington are quality people off the field as well, according to their coach. "They're both tremendous young men who do a great job in representing our program in the community, whether it's reading to elementary school students or at a restaurant just visiting with our fans," says Steve Roberts. "Whatever it is, they do a tremendous job from a character standpoint and an action and words standpoint in representing our program in a tremendous manner."
• Leonard, who is on the watch list for the Johnny Unitas Award, needs 742 yards passing to fly by Richie Woit (1950-53) and become No. 1 on ASU's all-time list. He is also on pace to become the program's all-time leader in completions, touchdown passes and total offense.
• RB Reggie Arnold is trying to become only the eighth running back in NCAA history to record four straight 1,000-yard seasons. He enters the season as the nation's No. 3 active rusher.
• CB Paul Stephens, projected as a co-starter at his position, was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.
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