Wonder Boys Open Season at SAU Thursday

With new faces at positions such as quarterback, place kicker and punter, nerves will inevitably be part of the equation for Arkansas Tech University when the Wonder Boys begin their 104th season this week.

Raymond Monica, who is beginning his sixth season as ATU head coach, said that a fluttering feeling in the belly is a good thing.

“It’s one of those things you’ve just got to go out there and play,” said Monica. “There’s nothing you can say or do. The big thing is you prepare them as best you can so that when they go out there the game is easy. Until you get out there and get a couple of snaps under your belt, you ought to have some type of butterflies.”

Arkansas Tech will face Southern Arkansas University for a 6 p.m. Great American Conference contest at Wilkins Stadium in Magnolia on Thursday, Aug. 30. Radio station KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com will provide live coverage.

It is anticipated that ATU sophomore Cale Fulsom will make his first collegiate start at quarterback on Thursday. Fulsom, who led Russellville High School to the 2016 Class 6A state championship, served as a back-up to Ty Reasnor during his freshman season with the Wonder Boys.

Reasnor, the 2017 Academic All-American of the Year at the NCAA Division II level, completed his eligibility while helping ATU compile an 8-4 overall record last season.

“Right now, Cale Fulsom is going to get the edge at quarterback,” said Monica. “I thought he’s had some really good practices leading up to the first game. Cale did some really good things with his feet when we scrimmaged the other night. I’m looking forward to seeing how he performs in a live situation.”

ATU must also replace all-conference performers Clayton Watson at punter and Eric Perez at place kicker.

Monica said that junior Tyler Dunlop of Hurst, Texas, will begin the season as Arkansas Tech’s punter. The place kicking situation is less certain. Freshmen Carson French of Grapevine, Texas, and Jesus Zizumbo of Springdale have competed for the job during preseason camp.

Injuries have been another storyline for the 2018 Wonder Boys during the month of August.

“You always get some bumps and bruises…I think this camp more so than any I’ve been around,” said Monica. “It’s taken a little bit to get some players back from injuries, so I’m a little concerned about how conditioned we are at some positions. I’m looking forward to seeing how these guys play. We know what guys like (senior defensive back) Cua’ Rose are going to do. We’ve got some other guys stepping into new roles, and you’ve just got to see how they go out there and perform.”

Southern Arkansas was 7-4 in 2017. Three of its losses were by seven points or less, including a 28-21 season-opening setback at Arkansas Tech. It marked the 10th consecutive win by the home team in the series between the Muleriders and the Wonder Boys.

Senior SAU quarterback Barrett Renner is a three-year starter and a three-time All-GAC selection. He led the conference in passing (291.3 yards per game), total offense (305.2 yards per game) and touchdown passes (35) in 2017. Renner has 9,908 career passing yards and 95 career touchdown passes.

“He’s been in situations during the course of his career, so he’s been there and done that,” said Monica. “He can get the ball out and he can make all the throws, but he can also hurt you with his feet.”

Also back for the Muleriders is 2017 GAC defensive player of the year DaVondrick Lison. A senior defensive end from Arkansas City, Lison tied for the league lead in tackles for a loss (16.5) and was second in the conference in quarterback sacks (7.5) last year.

“One thing I know is that they have a really good defensive line,” said Monica. “They have very good players up front who can cause a lot of problems for an offensive line. We’ve got to be sound, be in the right gaps and picking up the right people.”