JONESBORO — Adam Kennedy traveled across the country to play quarterback at Arkansas State.
With no guarantees, no promises, and no assurance that he would be the Red Wolves’ starting quarterback this fall, Kennedy transferred to Arkansas State from Utah State determined to earn the job. On Tuesday, first-year coach Bryan Harsin announced Kennedy as the starter during a press conference at the ASU Football Complex.
ASU began preseason practices three weeks ago with a quarterback competition that included six candidates for the starting job. Harsin said it was a tough decision and that Kennedy hadn’t emerged as his choice until just recently.
“I think the one thing that I saw with Adam as camp went on was the better he got, the more consistent he got and the more he started to understand the expectations that we have as a staff,” Harsin said. “Really, this last scrimmage, as we got some people out there and got into a little bit more of a game environment, I think you could see that gamesmanship come out and the decision making was really good.”
Kennedy played junior college football, then signed with Utah State in 2011 and led the Aggies to a bowl his junior year.
He began 2011 as Utah State’s backup, but started the final five games after an injury to the starter allowed him a chance to play. Kennedy led the Aggies to four straight wins and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, helping salvage a 7-6 season after a 3-5 start.
But last year, Kennedy suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener and missed the entire year. Then, when a coaching change occurred, Kennedy was informed he wouldn’t be the starter this season, so he decided to transfer.
After talking with his coaches and several other schools, Kennedy decided Arkansas State was the best fit for him. Now, he’ll be the starting quarterback when the Red Wolves host Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the opener on Aug. 31.
“It’s why I came here,” Kennedy said of being named the starter. “Obviously, I’m excited knowing the potential this team has, how good we can and will be. It’s just a lot of excitement, a lot of joy, and I’m looking forward to getting to work and preparing for UAPB.”
Kennedy has proven capable as a passing and running quarterback.
Kennedy completed 69 percent of his passes for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns at Utah State in 2011. He was intercepted just four times. Kennedy also rushed 55 times for 239 yards, an average of 4.3 yards a carry.
Harsin was satisfied with Kennedy’s knowledge of the offense, and he likes the passing arm that the 6-foot-5, 219-pound transfer brings to the position. As camp progressed, Harsin could see Kennedy growing comfortable and gaining confidence running the offense.
“Decision-making, that was the biggest thing that we had to work ourselves through,” Harsin added. “There was going to be some decisions that he’s not going to make quite well because he doesn’t quite know exactly where expectations are and how it should look. … Towards the last three or four days before the scrimmage I felt like his decision making was good.”
Kennedy feels he has a strong knowledge of the offense and is ready.
“Going through camp with the coaches, obviously, they kept beating it into me what they want and how things should be done,” Kennedy said. “I feel good about it. Like coach said, obviously, there’s still a little ways to go in certain aspects that I need to get right in what they expect. But I feel good about it, and with two weeks still to go, I’ll feel even better come game day.”
Kennedy will succeed former ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin, a two-time Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.
Harsin said ASU’s last scrimmage moved the pendulum and helped seal his decision to name Kennedy the starter. He saw something different in Kennedy that afternoon.
“I thought that was one of his best performances in the limited role and limited plays we could give him,” Harsin said. “We were very vanilla going into that scrimmage, but he went out there and executed and did all the things we asked him to do.”
Six quarterbacks began the competition with an equal shot to win the job, according to Harsin.
Senior Phillip Butterfield and sophomore Stephen Hogan appeared to be front-runners following spring practice after each operated with the first unit for much of the spring game. Kennedy and freshman Cameron Birse joined the competition over the summer.
Harsin said Butterfield will be the backup in case of an injury or other issue. He listed sophomore Fredi Knighten as another backup and said Knighten will have a role with the offense in some capacity.
Knighten, who has been primarily a running threat, has impressed the coach with his speed and ability to cut. Harsin wants to give Knighten some opportunities to make plays this season.
“Fredi Knighten is a guy that provides a little bit different dimension to what we can do offensively,” Harsin said. “He is an electric player that can do different things, and so he’s a guy that will be utilized in our package.”
Hogan will serve as holder on special teams while Birse will work with the scout team and redshirt this season. Harsin did not elaborate on what role junior Chandler Rogers might serve.
Kennedy, who is originally from Elk Grove, Calif., said his former coach at Utah State and the relationship the coach had with Harsin provided him a path to Arkansas State. But, once he made it to ASU, he was on his own.
“This is a D-I program, so there’s no promises made to anyone,” Kennedy said. “You have to go out and earn your spot, like coach said, season by season, week by week even. There’s absolutely no promises made. What they did tell me was that I would get a fair chance coming in, that they liked what I could do, and they thought I would have every opportunity to compete and win the job.”
Harsin was relieved to have the competition behind the team and said the focus will now shift to the season opener.
“We hoped that when it came down to making this decision, that it would be a very difficult decision, and it was,” he said.
ASU released a two-deep depth chart that included few surprises, but a couple of positions were still undecided.
Among the undecided spots are right guard where senior Cliff Mitchell and junior Alan Wright are battling, and Wolf linebacker where junior Frankie Jackson and sophomore Charleston Girley of Dollarway are battling. A competition also remains at punter between sophomore Luke Ferguson and freshman Paul Jones.
Harsin said freshman Ja’Von Jones suffered a knee injury during fall camp that required surgery and is out for the season.