Arkansas State didn't have anywhere near the kind of season it expected in 2009.
After being picked to finish second in the Sun Belt Conference, the Red Wolves stumbled home with only three conference wins and finished in a tie for sixth place.
But the Wolves did end on a positive note, winning their last two games to give them something to build on. Senior running back Reggie Arnold noted the importance of that after the Wolves rallied for two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 24-20 closing win at winless Western Kentucky.
It was emotional, Arnold, who came up 15 yards short of setting a career school rushing record, told the Jonesboro Sun. "I didn't get the record, but hey, the win is more important. These guys can start out right next year with a two-game win streak. We went out with a win as seniors. It's always most important to win the ballgame over anything else."
Injuries and player dismissals had a huge impact as the Wolves dropped to 4-8 after finishing 6-6 a year earlier.
Wide receiver Jarriel Norman and cornerback Paul Stephens, two potential starters, and defensive back Leroy Trahan were dismissed during the summer, Norman and Trahan for conduct detrimental to the team and Stephens after his arrest on a breaking and entering charge.
The Wolves lost starting center Tom Castilaw to a knee injury in October, had tight end J.T. Jordan available for only half the year, and eventually lost starting quarterback Corey Leonard to a knee injury, though by that point the Wolves' fate had been pretty much sealed.
The injuries did allow newcomers like redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Aplin to gain more playing than expected, and the offensive line returns five starters. But there will be some rebuilding to do in 2010 on defense with the loss of six senior starters.
Game Of The Year: Iowa 24, Arkansas State 21-Just a week after a credible performance in a 38-9 loss at Nebraska, the Red Wolves took the Big Ten's Hawkeyes right down to the wire. The Wolves pulled to within three points by scoring on Corey Leonard's four-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Gillott with just over two minutes to play, their second touchdown of the fourth quarter. They held the Hawkeyes on downs on the ensuing series. But only 10 seconds remained when the Wolves got the ball back, time enough for only two passes that both went incomplete.
Players Of The Year:
WR Brandon Thompkins-"Thompkins was the Wolves' leading receiver and also was a key in the kick-return game. The senior was eighth in the conference in receptions with 47 catches and seventh in receiving yards with an average of 49.8 per game. He ranked sixth in kickoff returns with his average of 22.6 yards per runback.
PK Josh Arauco-A senior, Arauco was one of the most accurate kickers in the conference, booting 14-of-17 field-goal attempts (82.4 percent). Only Troy's Michael Taylor (90 percent on 9-of-10) and Middle Tennessee's Alan Gendreau (85.7 percent on 18-of-21) were more accurate. Arauco ended his career with 58 field goals, a Sun Belt record.
Fast Forward: Arkansas State returns all five starters up front offensively along with QB Ryan Aplin. Aplin started three games overall, including the last two after senior Corey Leonard went down with a knee injury. Defensively, the Red Wolves must replace six starters, including DE Alex Carrington. But sophomore LB Demario Davis and sophomore SS Kelcie McCray both return after solid seasons.
Recruiting Trail: The Red Wolves have only a handful of commitments, including two given three-star ratings by Rivals.com. They were S Grant Gill out of McGehee, Ark., and LB Antonio Harding out of Warren, Ark.
Quote To Note: "I'm very proud of this football team. Tonight was an example of how our football season has gone. It's definitely an example of the resilience of this bunch and how hard they have worked. It seemed like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, from a lot of different standpoints. They continued to work hard, and they did that tonight and worked their way back into this ballgame. I'm very proud of the way we were able to finish."Coach Steve Roberts, in the Jonesboro Sun, after the Red Wolves overcame a 17-point deficit late in the third quarter for a 24-20 at Western Kentucky in the season finale.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Players To Watch In 2010:
QB Ryan Aplin-"The redshirt freshman had three starts, including the last two games of the season when senior Corey Leonard was out with a knee injury. Aplin was 34-of-48 passing in those two games, both wins, for 386 yards and a touchdown. He had three interceptions, all coming in the win over North Texas.
LB Demario Davis-A sophomore, Davis topped off the season with a career-high 15 tackles against Western Kentucky, giving him a team-high 81 stops for the year.
SS Kelcie McCray-Also a sophomore, McCray led the Wolves in interceptions with four picks, which tied him for second in the Sun Belt Conference.
DE Alex Carrington-Carrington had seven sacks among this 39 tackles and has the kind of size (6-5, 284) scouts tend to love in a pass rusher. But he got off to a slow start in 2009, and that isn't likely to help his stock, which put him in the middle rounds at best.
RB Reggie Arnold finished his career with 3,933 yards rushing, second to the school record of 3,947 second by Richie Woit from 1950-53.
DE Alex Carrington finished his career with 19.5 sacks, fourth-most in school history.