Legendary basketball coach John Wooden observed that the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.
During summer 2021, with no one in the bleachers at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field and nary a camera or microphone in sight, an unprecedented number of Arkansas Tech University football players were paying the price for success during voluntary workouts.
“We had 110 of our student-athletes enrolled in the second summer term…most in the history of our football program,” said Kyle Shipp, who is beginning his second season as the head football coach at Arkansas Tech. “That tells you where they’re at mentally. They’re just ready to play football. They know that we’re a better football program. They believe in what we’re doing, and they know that if they do the things we’re asking them to do we’ll have a chance to win every week.”
Arkansas Tech will begin its 106th football season by hosting Southeastern Oklahoma State University for a 6 p.m. Great American Conference contest in Russellville on Thursday, Sept. 2. Live coverage will be available on KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com.
The contest will be the first in 656 days for the Wonder Boys, who were 3-8 during the 2019 season. The 2020 GAC football season was canceled due to COVID-19.
The Arkansas Tech team that takes the field in the 2021 season opener will be a mix of familiar names and newcomers. One person who fits both categories is senior Jack Lindsey.
A transfer from the University of Arkansas, Lindsey is scheduled to start at quarterback for the Wonder Boys against Southeastern Oklahoma State. His most recent pass attempts came in the Razorbacks’ 2019 season finale when he threw two touchdown passes against the University of Missouri.
During his senior year at Springdale High School, Lindsey completed 55 percent of his passes (201-of-365) for 2,226 yards and 16 touchdowns against only six interceptions.
“Jack has done a great job of coming in and being a team leader,” said Shipp. “Guys follow him. He has a great football IQ. He has all the things you look for. We have four guys (Lindsey, Caleb Canady of Morrilton, Cade Yeager of Broken Arrow, Okla., and Jack Grissom of Eads, Tenn.) who can play at the quarterback position. All four of them have grown a lot in the past year. The quarterback room can be a weird room sometimes, but those guys have handled it so well. They all like each other, they hang out and they go play golf. It is a really fun group to have.”
Senior left tackle Christian Maier of Muskogee, Okla., sophomore left guard Garrett Jaster of Sugarland, Texas, junior center Myron Henderson of Memphis, Tenn., junior right guard Jacob Cato of Miami, Fla., and redshirt freshman Cameron Hataway of Southlake, Texas, are the Wonder Boys’ scheduled starters along the offensive line.
Henderson is taking on the starting center role after playing at guard earlier in his Arkansas Tech career.
“Myron’s always been more of a center, but he was a little light,” said Shipp. “He’s put on some good weight and gotten stronger. He’s worked really hard this year to do those things and has done a great job for us at center during the spring and during fall camp.”
Senior Caleb Batie returns as the Wonder Boys’ starting running back. He accumulated a team-leading 620 rushing yards in 2019.
No position in Arkansas Tech’s offensive scheme requires a more varied skill set than the tight end/halfback spot. Junior Tucker Kennedy of Union City, Tenn., and sophomore Caleb Stokes of Russellville are listed 1-2 on the depth chart at that position.
“Tuck is like an old-school fullback,” said Shipp. “He wants to hit you. He likes to hit you. He enjoys that. Stokes doesn’t mind to hit you, but he’d rather catch the ball. They are two different guys, but they play well together.”
Shipp also praised the hard work and leadership of tight end Caleb Dean of Norman, Okla.
Sophomore Brennon Lewis of Fort Smith, senior Trey Smith of Springdale and redshirt freshman Joyrion Chase of Marion are listed as starters at the wide receiver positions.
Arkansas Tech’s leading returning receiver --- senior Drew Wade of Pine Bluff (46 catches, 623 yards, four touchdowns in 2019) --- will contribute on offense and as a returner on special teams. He was All-GAC honorable mention in 2019.
Defensively, Arkansas Tech has run a 4-2-5 scheme for the better part of the last decade. So, it was noteworthy when the preseason depth chart showed the possibility of having three linebackers on the field at one time.
“You’ll see some differences,” said Shipp when asked about the Wonder Boys’ defensive scheme. “We will do some things defensively to make offenses think more.”
Arkansas Tech also became bigger and stronger at the linebacker positions with the additions of Cameron McKasson, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound graduate transfer from William Jewell College who is enrolled in ATU’s Master of Business Administration program, and Victor Hill, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound transfer from the University of Central Arkansas.
“We brought Vic in as a defensive end,” said Shipp. “We got low at linebacker in the spring, so we moved him there and within about three days it was clear he might be our best linebacker. He is a very explosive, long kid who can make plays.”
Senior Corey Chunn of Blytheville finished fall camp listed as the other starter at linebacker when the Wonder Boys are in a 4-3 alignment.
Senior Gio Williams of Denton, Texas, who made 51 tackles in 2019, is also expected to contribute at linebacker. He and his twin brother, senior defensive back Dio Williams, were limited participants in preseason camp due to COVID-19 protocols.
Scheduled starters in the secondary include senior Darryn Cain of Houston, Texas, who is ATU’s leading returning tackler after he made 60 stops in 2019; junior Tyrus Fort of Rockwall, Texas, who accumulated 55 tackles in 2019; junior Denzel Washington of Monroe, La., who made 21 tackles in 2019; and two freshmen --- Matthew Arnold of Texarkana, Texas, and Trayon Jones of Shreveport, La.
The possibility of having two freshman starters at cornerback does not faze the head coach.
“You think it’s scary, but then you watch Trayon play and you realize he might be one of the best corners in our conference,” said Shipp. “What I like about him as much as anything is that if he gets beat, it doesn’t bother him. He goes right back out there and he’s going right back after you. He redshirted and then had the COVID year, so Trayon’s really a third-year guy. Matt’s a year younger, but he will be fine. He’s a physical kid. Hopefully we’ll be able to rotate Dio in during the game and have what we need because we know Southeastern is going to throw it around.”
ATU’s scheduled starters on the defensive line are sophomore De’Veyon Smith of Mesquite, Texas, junior Carlos Gordon of North Little Rock, freshman Carson Holloway of Richmond, Texas, and junior George Brooks of Allen, Texas.
Junior Jesus Zizumbo of Springdale returns at place kicker after earning All-GAC second team honors in 2019. Zizumbo was 16-of-21 on field goal tries and 29-of-29 on point after touchdown kicks in 2019. His 16 made field goals established a new Arkansas Tech single-season record.
“Our kids believe in Jesus,” said Shipp. “When he goes on the field, there’s no doubt in their minds he’s going to make that field goal.”
Newcomer Aaron Winn is slotted to handle the punting responsibilities. A product of Summerville, S.C., Winn averaged 37.8 yards per punt over two seasons at NCAA Division I member Presbyterian College.
“I think (Winn) has a chance to be one of the better punters in the conference,” said Shipp. “We also have a lot of guys back from our coverage and return units who played a ton for us in 2019, so the familiarity with what we’re doing in those schemes should put us in a good place.”
Visit www.arkansastechsports.com for more information about the 2021 Arkansas Tech football team.