Younger Wolves get extra attention

JONESBORO — The younger players who took a back seat during Arkansas State’s run to the Sun Belt Conference championship are getting a little extra attention this week as the Red Wolves begin preparations for the Jan. 6 Bowl.

A few Red Wolves are trying new positions this week — a group that includes freshman receiver Warren Leaphart, freshman defensive tackle Austin Moreton and freshman DeKeathan Williams. Interim head coach John Thompson said Leaphart is working at defensive end, Moreton in the offensive line and Williams, who has been an offensive player, at the Wolf position on defense.

“We’re really trying to do it for them,” Thompson said after Thursday’s practice. “We’re trying to get them over there and coach them, and hopefully they’ll have some success. We’ll see.

“We may come back and say, ‘No, it wasn’t that good an idea.’ We’re just trying to get our team better and add some depth. I think it will help us possibly in some recruiting decisions and also you’re not wondering going into spring. You’ve got a chance to make some pre-spring decisions.”

Thompson is also planning a scrimmage Saturday morning for Red Wolves who haven’t seen a lot of game action this fall.

Most of the players who will see action against Kent State in the Bowl won’t be involved in the scrimmage. Thompson said they may not even have to practice in full gear.

“You can do everything without full pads. We had inside drill, we had team (drill),” Thompson said. “We’ve got guys who have played 700, 800 snaps of real tackle football. I don’t know that getting out here and going 30, 40, 50 snaps of real tackle football is what they need right now.”

Thursday’s practice was the second in ASU’s bowl preparations. The Red Wolves will practice daily, with the exception of Sunday, through Dec. 20. Workouts will resume Dec. 28.

Thompson opened ASU’s bowl practices to the public. Thursday morning, the Red Wolves practiced to 1960s and ’70s music.

“I got the first choice today,” Thompson said with a grin. “I’m sure there’s going to be multiple requests for a new DJ today, but I got my one shot in. I loved it. That was off my playlist.”

Senior quarterback Ryan Aplin said the Red Wolves have been energetic the past couple of days. ASU (9-3) took more than a week off after closing the regular season with a 45-0 victory over Middle Tennessee State that clinched the school’s second consecutive Sun Belt Conference championship.

Gus Malzahn resigned as head coach three days after the victory over MTSU. ASU announced that Bryan Harsin, who spent the past two seasons as Texas’ co-offensive coordinator, as its new head coach Wednesday afternoon. Thompson will coach the Red Wolves through the bowl game.

“I would say before practice (Wednesday), it was still different. Maybe ‘awkward’ isn’t the word, but it was a little different,” Aplin said after Thursday’s practice. “Guys were kind of skeptical of who was going to come in and they were waiting to see, and the young guys were obviously very curious.

“I think having them name Coach Harsin the coach (Wednesday), it made things a little easier. The guys, they know who’s going to be here and they came out and we got after it. Today was a good one, too.”

The Red Wolves are focusing on fundamentals and their own schemes this week, not the 25th-ranked Golden Flashes (11-2).

Aplin has already spent plenty of time looking at Kent State, though. He saw a few minutes of the Mid-American Conference championship game telecast and has watched other games on tape.

“I’ve watched several games of their defense and they’re a good team, a really good team. You can see why they’re Top 25,” Aplin said. “They’re very physical up front. Their secondary is extremely talented. That definitely is a challenge for us.

“You can tell their offense feeds off their turnovers. They just play well as a defense and when their defense gets off the field, their offense goes down and scores. They’re an all-around team. We see why they’re Top 25.”