Kyle Shipp, head football coach at Arkansas Tech University, provided his first public thoughts on the 2023 Wonder Boys during Great American Conference media day on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
“We had a ton of guys here in the summer, so we were able to have meetings and things of that nature to get ourselves ready for this season,” said Shipp. “I think that paid off in guys knowing what they are doing, where to be and who each other are.
“We have a lot of returning guys on both sides of the ball and some new coaches in place,” continued Shipp. “I’m excited about those guys and they are doing a really good job for us. So far, camp has been going well. There’s always a lot to fix and get better at, but as far as guys understanding what we want and how we do things, I think it’s the best one we’ve had so far.”
Arkansas Tech began fall practice for its 108th football season on Monday, Aug. 7. The Wonder Boys have demonstrated annual improvement under Shipp, going from three wins in 2019 to four wins in 2021 to five wins in 2022.
In order to take the next step in the advancement of the program, Shipp selected new coordinators during the offseason.
Dom Mirocke joined the ATU staff as offensive coordinator after spending the previous six seasons at Henderson State University, where he was assistant head coach, passing game coordinator, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
Establishing starters along the offensive line is one question the ATU offensive staff must answer during fall camp.
Another question is starting quarterback. Candidates include three players who took snaps in 2022 — senior Taye Gatewood of Fort Smith and sophomores Hunter Loyd of Rogers and Ryan Wilkerson of Elysian Fields, Texas — as well as freshman Stran Smith of Benton, who went through spring practice with the Wonder Boys after spending a redshirt season at the University of Central Arkansas.
“We practice, I grade it, and, basically, whoever grades the highest gets to go with the ones,” said Shipp, who serves as quarterbacks coach in addition to his role as head coach. “It’s based on how you do. That’s how I handle it from a day-to-day aspect. It makes the room more competitive, which is what you want. We have guys who have played in games, understand the system and have been here multiple years. I have four older guys who have been here. Grading has been really close.”
On the defensive side of the ball, teaching and developing understanding of a new philosophy is top of mind for Shipp as he prepares to begin his fourth season as head coach.
Kendrick Van Ackeren is leading that teaching and learning process in his new role as ATU defensive coordinator. Van Ackeren was defensive backs coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2022. He also has coaching experience at Oregon State University and Montana State University.
“I wanted to bring in a different style and a different way of doing things,” said Shipp. “I felt like we needed that.”
Matt Arnold, ATU junior defensive back from Texarkana, Texas, said he likes the change.
“It’s been very different, but I would say it’s a good different,” said Arnold. “They know the game well as far as Xs and Os, but they’ve also changed our mentality. We’re focused on being more mentally tough.”
Shipp is counting on that new mentality to help the Wonder Boys post their first winning season since 2017.
“We want to put them through different scenarios so that when we get into games, they will have seen as many as they can and be prepared for it,” said Shipp. “When they see something they’ve seen before, they’re prepared for it and ready to go.”
Arkansas Tech will open its 2023 season at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, with a Great American Conference game at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla. The Wonder Boys’ first home game of the season will be at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, against Southern Nazarene University.
Live coverage of all ATU football games this fall will be available on KCJC 102.3 FM, the EAB Media Group app and www.arkansastechsports.com.
Talk to you on the radio.
Tech Tidbits is a column written by Sam Strasner, ATU director of university relations and radio play-by-play voice for ATU football and basketball.