By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Arkansas State Red Wolves took a step in the wrong direction last season, as they posted just a 4-8 record, their worst showing since going 3-8 in 2004. Head coach Steve Roberts, who took over at the helm
in 2002, has yet to lead ASU to a winning record, though the program has
notched six wins on four separate occasions and even earned a share of the Sun
Belt title in 2005. Since capturing that lone title however, the Red Wolves
have yet to finish any higher than third in the Sun Belt and that includes
last year's sixth place showing at 3-5.
The Red Wolves got the 2009 season underway with a 61-0 punishing of
Mississippi Valley State before everything went downhill. The team then
suffered four straight defeats. A few breaks here and there could have changed
some of the results though, as ASU dropped three of those games by six points
or fewer. A 27-10 triumph over Florida International got the squad back on
track, but only for a moment, as the Red Wolves would endure another four-
ASU wrapped up the disappointing campaign with a pair of four-point victories
over North Texas and Western Kentucky, but it was too little, too late.
Overall the Red Wolves lost five of their eight games by eight points or less,
so the team was much more competitive than their record suggested.
OFFENSE: The Red Wolves lost all of their major players at the skilled
positions, but that may not be so bad considering the offense managed only
328.8 total ypg and just 22.7 ppg in 2009. A fresh group of talent will now be
asked to step in and adjust to a different scheme, as new offensive
coordinator Hugh Freeze has implemented a no-huddle, spread attack in
replacement of the standard two-back set run at ASU.
At quarterback, the Red Wolves must replace four-year starter Corey Leonard,
and Ryan Aplin and Phillip Butterfield are the top candidates to take over.
The 6-1, 213-pound Aplin took over as a redshirt freshman last season when
Leonard was lost to injury and he completed over 65 percent of his tosses,
while generating more then 1,200 yards of total offense. Aplin however, sat
out the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, allowing Butterfield to
get more reps. The 6-2, 205-pound Butterfield was considered the prized
recruit in Roberts' 2009 class and he has made a strong push for the starting
job with an impressive spring.
"Phillip is just like everybody else - he is still learning and trying to see
things, but he is learning and is extremely eager," said Roberts. "He is
getting a tremendous opportunity. He is extremely accurate and has proven that
throughout our spring practices."
Whoever lines up under center will have an unproven group of wideouts to work
with, as the top returnee is 6-4, 195-pound Taylor Stockemer, who averaged
21.7 yards per catch last season. Dwayne Frampton (5-9, 184), a junior college
transfer, and Allen Muse (6-4, 211), who has terrific size, will help fill
the void left at wide receiver.
Reggie Arnold ran for more than 4,000 yards in his collegiate career, so
replacing him will be no easy chore. Derek Lawson (5-11, 214) currently sits
atop the depth chart and he was a factor in the run game two years ago,
gaining 695 yards. Jermaine Robertson (5-11, 230), a converted fullback, will
also get some touches in this new-look, one-back scheme.
Things are more settled up front, as ASU returns 10 offensive linemen that
started at least one game in 2009. Injuries decimated the line last year, so
staying healthy will be the key in 2010.
DEFENSE: ASU topped the Sun Belt in total defense (340.5 ypg) and scoring
defense (23.3 ppg) in 2009, and this unit figures to be solid once again this
The biggest loss for the defense comes up front in Alex Carrington, who was
the 2008 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and a major force over his
career. Filling those shoes will be difficult, but the team does have another
star along the line in Bryan Hall. The lone returning starter up front, Hall
was recently named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year. It marked the
third time in the past four years that an ASU player has received that honor.
The 6-1, 284-pound tackle earned second-team all-league accolades last season
after making 30 stops, including nine for loss.
The linebacking corps will likely be the strength of the defense this season
and Demario Davis highlights the group. The 6-3, 231-pounder led the team with
80 tackles last season as a sophomore and is a star in the making.
"Demario obviously had a great year for us last year, and we're looking for
more consistency from him this year," Roberts said.
Much like the front line, the secondary will feature an abundance of
newcomers. Some production does return though, as safety M.D. Jennings (6-0,
172) is welcomed back after ranking second on the team with 64 stops last
season. Kelcie McCray (6-2, 190) also returns at safety and he started every
game last season while notching a team-high four interceptions.
SPECIAL: The new look trend continues on special teams, as both the team's
kicker and punter must be replaced. Brandon Parker has the slight edge to take
over as the placekicker, while Neely Sullivent is the favorite at the moment
to handle the punting duties.
OUTLOOK: ASU was expected to compete for the league title last season, but
came up well short. Things could get a little rougher this season, as the Red
Wolves try to replace several stars, while taking on a new no-huddle, spread
offense. A tough schedule, which includes three league games in September,
could have ASU out of the race early and in store for a long season.