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Wonder Boys Open 96th Season Thursday

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Ever since off-season workouts began last spring, members of the Arkansas Tech football program have sported T-shirts that ask a simple yet intriguing question: what’s next? After a 9-3 overall record and a berth in the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs in 2009, the Wonder Boys will begin to answer that question when they host the Lambuth University Eagles in Tech’s 2010 season opener on Thursday. Kickoff at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field is scheduled for 7 p.m. Party at the Plaza, a pre-game tailgating event outside the stadium on Centennial Plaza, will begin at 5 p.m. Game tickets will be available at the gate. There are many questions wrapped up inside that simple notion of “what’s next?”

Who will succeed Nick Graziano as the Wonder Boys’ quarterback? Will an inexperienced corps of wide receivers be able to aid that new quarterback? Can the offensive line overcome the loss to graduation of two all-conference performers? Will the Tech defense continue the improvement it showed in 2009 and make a leap in 2010? Will there be many adventures in the kicking game?

The honest answer to those questions is best reflected in head coach Steve Mullins’ answer when asked what he is most certain about going into Thursday’s season opener.

“Kickoff’s at 7 p.m.” said Mullins. “That would be the thing I am most certain about. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. We just lost so many people. Anytime you are starting a new quarterback that gets in your head at night as you get ready to lay your head on your pillow. I’ll be anxious to see how Jake Denzer works out punting and how Cody Jones works out kicking, as well as what other punters and kickers we might use through the course of the game just trying to find that guy we know is going to perform when the lights come on.”

The latest depth chart posted on the Arkansas Tech Athletics Department Web site shows senior Robert Sagerian and sophomore James Landry as co-No. 1 quarterbacks. Both are expected to play on Thursday.

One certainty is that the Wonder Boys will not be able to coast through their season opener. Lambuth was 12-1 last season, with its only loss coming in the second round of the NAIA National Football Championship Series. The Eagles are in the midst of a transition that they hope will result in acceptance to NCAA Division II and the Gulf South Conference. They proved they could compete at that level a year ago when they went on the road and defeated eventual NCAA Division II Playoffs participant West Alabama 58-40.  “(Lambuth) has a good, good football program,” said Mullins. “Defensively, they are very comparable to the GSC. They have good players who play hard, line up in the right places and make very few mistakes.” The Eagles opened their season on Saturday with a 60-6 win over Shepherd Film Academy. Lambuth led the game 41-0 at the end of the first quarter. “All those silly first-game mistakes that every team in the nation is going to make, Lambuth has already had an opportunity to make them, watch video and correct them,” said Mullins. “That’s a concern, along with the talent they have back.” Perhaps chief among that returning talent is Rod Jefferson, a 6-foot-8 senior wide receiver. He caught 74 passes for 1,160 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2009. “He’s bigger than anything we’re going to see at the wide receiver position all year,” said Mullins. “He’s going to be very easy to spot.” Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast of Thursday’s game beginning with the pre-game show at 6:30 p.m. The broadcast will be streamed over the Internet at www.athletics.atu.edu.

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