Every night when practice is over…after the last player has left and the day is done…Kyle Shipp takes a walk through the Arkansas Tech University football locker room in the Hull Physical Education Building.
The Wonder Boys’ head coach looks to see if each member of his team is meeting the program standard for storing their equipment and cleaning their space.
He admits it’s a little thing, but he also knows it’s the little things that make the difference between winning and losing. As ATU prepares to begin its 2022 season, he likes what he sees.
“That’s because the older guys have taken it upon themselves,” said Shipp. “I’m very proud of them for that. They’re the ones who have to take control of this football team. I tell them that if they want to win, it’s on them.”
The Wonder Boys were 4-7 in 2021. They enter the 2022 season picked ninth in the 12-team Great American Conference as they seek their first winning season since 2017.
“Our biggest thing is putting it all together every single day and not letting one day go by that’s a bad day,” said Shipp.
There are about a half-dozen returnees with experience on both the offensive and defensive lines. Shipp said the defensive line will be bolstered by freshman Braxton Johnson. The North Little Rock product was the 2021 Class 7A defensive player of the year in Arkansas.
“So far, he has showed why he was that,” said Shipp. “A lot of times freshmen aren’t ready to play, but he’s one I think will be ready.”
Johnson is part of an infusion of talent that has Shipp optimistic about the short-term and long-term future of the program.
“This freshman class has been really, really good as far as athletic ability and length,” said Shipp. “It’s kind of surprising to a certain extent how ready those guys have been to go.”
Freshmen aren’t the only newcomers who could make a positive difference for Arkansas Tech in 2022.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Hunter Loyd was a two-time all-state selection at Rogers High School, where he accumulated 7,643 career passing yards and 75 career touchdown passes. He spent the last two seasons at the University of Central Arkansas before transferring to ATU.
Another new face in the Wonder Boys’ quarterback room is junior Taye Gatewood, a Fort Smith Southside High School graduate who played at East Central University (Okla.) for three seasons. He appeared in 18 games for the Tigers.
Then there’s redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Wilkerson of Elysian Fields, Texas, who could take snaps out of a wildcat package this season.
“(Wilkerson) has ridiculous vision and can run pretty well, too,” said Shipp.
Like Gatewood, senior running back Devontae Dean transferred to ATU from inside the GAC. Dean rushed for 1,384 yards and 11 touchdowns over three seasons at the University of Arkansas-Monticello. Shipp was his offensive coordinator with the Boll Weevils during Dean’s freshman season in 2018.
Top returners for Arkansas Tech (with their statistics from 2021) include: sophomore running back Keon Simmons of Mayflower (191 rushing yards); sophomore wide receivers Joyrion Chase of Marion (48 receptions, 577 yards, four touchdowns) and Mason Ross of Rogers (37 receptions, 548 yards, two touchdowns); senior defensive back Tyrus Fort of Rockwall, Texas (63 tackles, three fumble recoveries); senior linebacker Christian Cole of Sachse, Texas (42 tackles); sophomore linebacker Matthew Minnix of Tulsa, Okla. (41 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss); sophomore defensive back Trayon Jones of Shreveport, La. (32 tackles, nine pass break-ups); senior place kicker Jesus Zizumbo of Springdale (10-of-15 field goals); and junior punter Aaron Winn of Summerville, S.C. (40.5 yards per punt).
Arkansas Tech will begin its 107th football season on Thursday, Sept. 1, with a GAC contest at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Kickoff at Paul Laird Field in Durant is set for 6 p.m. Radio station KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com will provide live coverage.
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.