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Wonder Boys Debut New Turf Saturday

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The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys football program will kick off its 98th season of football this Saturday, Sept. 1, as the Wonder Boys face Bacone College Warriors at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field.

Admission will be free for those with a valid Arkansas Tech identification card. Tickets will be available at the Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field ticket office.

"This has been a fun group to coach," said head coach Steve Mullins, entering his 16th season at Arkansas Tech. "The attitudes have been good. I look forward to going out to practice."

The Wonder Boys will turn to senior Tanner Marsh as the starting quarterback this season. Marsh, a transfer from West Texas A&M, was highly effective in his time at WTAMU, completing 83-of-142 passes for nine touchdowns with just three interceptions. His time at quarterback for a highly competitive NCAA Division II program gives Arkansas Tech the experience under center that the Wonder Boys have not had recently.

"Tanner, besides his abilities as a leader and his athletic ability, gives us experience at the position," said Mullins. "The last two years we've played freshmen quarterbacks for a variety of reasons, and the toughest position in any sport to play as a true freshman is quarterback. Preston Conder did a lot of good things for us last year, and will continue to do good things this year. Tanner is a guy who is older and more experienced, and that gives Preston a chance to learn more this year. We have a more stable situation at the quarterback position than we've had the last two years."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Wonder Boys will move from a higher-pressure 3-3 stack formation to a 3-4 defense; a schematic change put into place with the move of Jo Nixon from defensive secondary coach to defensive coordinator.

"Jo is a much more conservative defensive coach," said Mullins. "I think our players have responded well to that. We're still making some mistakes on defense, but we are minimizing them. Hopefully going through the season we can develop more confidence, become more sound, and make opposing teams earn their way down the field."

The Wonder Boys will have a different look on special teams, as Trevor Pinkston, a sophomore transfer from Rockwell, Texas, takes over lead placekicking duties for the Wonder Boys. An accurate kicker with a strong leg, Pinkston heads a deep group of talented kickers as the Wonder Boys adapt to a new set of playing rules in 2012; kickoffs will return to the 35-yard line and a touchback will give the ball to the offense at the 25-yard line instead of the 20.

"Trevor Pinkston has come in and done an excellent job," said Mullins. "In live competition he's kicked a 50-yard field goal."

As 2011 represented the final year where Arkansas Tech was required to play teams from the Gulf South Conference, 2012 represents a true new beginning for the Wonder Boys as Arkansas Tech will play a full Great American Conference schedule for the first time.

But before the Wonder Boys get to the conference portion of the schedule, a pair of non-conference games await as Arkansas Tech plays host to Bacone today and Missouri S&T next Thursday.

Bacone, an NAIA-member school from Muskogee, Okla., enters the game with a 1-0 record after taking a 25-20 decision over Tabor (Kan.) College this past Saturday. Bacone raced out to a 20-3 lead in the third quarter before Tabor battled back, tying the game early in the fourth quarter before Bacone added a field goal and a safety to seal the win. Mullins was impressed with what he saw out of Bacone.

"They've got some excellent football players," said Mullins. "They have a very physically gifted defense. They're big and strong on the inside and lean and rangy on the outside. Everyone looks like they're supposed to, and they play very sound, fundamental football. They are going to make you earn your way down the field."

Bacone also has the benefit of a strong, accurate kicker, as the Warriors were 3-for-3 on field goals with a long kick of 48 yards on a turf field.

Despite the challenges facing the Wonder Boys in what promises to be a challenging schedule this season, the veteran Wonder Boys coach believes his team is prepared heading into the season opener.

"As a coach you're optimistic and you think the guys are going to perform at a certain level," said Mulllins. "I'm confident that we are going to be ready to go and that we have great attitudes. We want to hurry up and get some guys some game experience. Watching those guys mesh and come together is going to be big."

In addition to the new-look team, Saturday's game will also be a debut of a new-look home field for the Wonder Boys, as Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field received several upgrades over the offseason; ranging from new sod around the playing surface to a new, state-of-the-art SprintTurf field. Arkansas Tech will immediately put the new field to work, as the Wonder Boys will host seven contests at the new-look Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field, including five of the first six games.

"We've arranged things so that we have seven home games," said Mullins. "The new turf has transformed the look of our stadium. Hopefully we can do our part to create a great gameday atmosphere on the field."

Kickoff from Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday, and the game will be broadcast live on KWKK 100.9 FM in Russellville.

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Click here to listen to the game online.

Story Courtesy of Arkansas Tech Sports Information Office.