When Sterling Young, Alan Wright, Brock Barnhill, Tyler Greve and Kenny Rains signed their letter-of-intent with Arkansas State, none of them envisioned their coaching careers would become a coaching roller-coaster with five head coaches (and two interim ones) in 5 years.
Since that 2009 National Signing Day, they’ve endured more change than any Division 1 football player has ever endured and yet somehow have won three straight conference championships (something few Division I football players can claim.) Now, with their last season looming, the seniors reflected on their time at A-State and looked forward to their final season in the scarlet and black.
For all five the experience as Red Wolves, while sometime treacherous, has been a tremendous experience.
“It’s been incredible.” said the safety Sterling Young, who has shown a knack for making big plays that turned games around for the team. “No one was expecting this; it’s just crazy to have a coaching carousel. But, we’ve been able to adapt to the new coaches, adjust on the run, put forth winning seasons and accomplish our goals that mean a lot to the players.”
Center Tyler Greve grew up in Jonesboro and had followed the A-State program, but never saw anything like what e
“You never expect anything like this” said Greve, who is expected to start at center this season. “I signed with Coach (Steve) Roberts and I expected him to be here forever, and so on and so forth. But, it’s been a great experience. It’s going to help me through life.”
Brock Barnhill is the son of A-State legend Randy Barnhill and walked on with the Red Wolves after a talented career at Mountain Home.
“I knew it would be tough when I got here” said Barnhill, “but anything less than championships was unacceptable for our class. And now we can look back and take ownership and say this is what we did.”
Roberts was the coach when all the players signed, but after their redshirt season he was dismissed and offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze was promoted to head coach.
After a 10-2 season and a conference title, he was offered the job at Ole Miss and left for his home state.
Next up was Gus Malzahn, the Arkansas high school coaching legend, who left Auburn for Jonesboro. After a 9-3 season and a second straight league title, Malzahn was offered the head job at Auburn and returned to the Southeastern Conference school.
Bryan Harsin was hired away from the offensive coordinator position at Texas and led the Red Wolves to a 7-5 record and a third-straight Sun Belt title. His alma mater called and he left for Boise State, opening the door for Blake Anderson, last the OC at North Carolina, to move to Jonesboro.
To most, it’s bumfuzzling how the Red Wolves can continue to win with a different coach at the helm each and every year, but for the players, not much has been different from coach to coach.
“Scheme wise it’s been a lot of the same” said Greve “Coach Roberts’ OC was Coach Freeze and Coach Malzahn was really similar to Coach Freeze.
A noted blocker, tight end Kenny Rains from Lake Hamilton become more involved with the offense last season and caught a career high seven passes.
“Coach Roberts and Freeze ran the spread and were looking to get the ball everywhere,” he said. “Coach Malzahn’s offense was systematic and downs to a T and Coach Harsin runs a ground and pound offense.”
Now we are on to the game with Anderson
“It’s going to be faster this year than we’ve ever seen” said the offensive lineman Alan Wright “It’s gonna be fast break basketball on grass.”
While their legacy is already strong, the group is looking forward to building on that but also enjoys looking back.
“The comradery after each and every win is something I’ll never forget.” said Rains “It is really special.”
Greve added, “Winning two bowl games and three conference championships is something I will never forget,” he said. “The first conference championship was surreal because it hadn’t been done in so long.”
While Greve and Rains both have great memories, Young remembers sharing a special moment with his mom after one of the biggest victories in school history.
“Winning the bowl games has been spectacular,” said Young. “After the bowl game me and my mom just had a touching moment where I hugged her for so long and we started crying because we were so overjoyed that we won our first bowl game. Kent State was ranked too, so that was an incredible moment.”
The group took the time to look in the rearview mirror for a few minutes, but now all of the focus is on the upcoming season and going out with a bang.
“We want to do something that we’ve never done” said Barnhill “Ideally we go 12-0 and win our bowl game. Anything less than 10 wins is not a successful season.”
Wright added, “My individual goal this year is to be an all-conference player. And the team goal, which is more important than my individual goal, is to win the conference and go to a bowl game.”
Young wants more jewelry.
“Team wise our goal is to four-peat and go to a bowl game,” he said. “The target is on our back and is only getting bigger. So, as organization or goal is to take it snap by snap and game by game and win the Sun Belt. My individual goal is to put together another solid season and I also want to bring the leadership I have been bringing and help these young guys grow.”
The Red Wolves began practice on Thursday. The season opener is Aug. 30 at home against Montana State.
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