The Arkansas State football team is coming off a Sun Belt Conference championship, which should carry a lot of momentum on its own.
But bringing in Gus Malzahn as the new coach has only brought more excitement to the program, something Pine Bluff natives Kelsey Collins and Kyle Coleman have enjoyed so far.
“They like to be perfect and 100 percent correct,” said Collins, who is a Pine Bluff High School alumni. “It’s quite different. This coaching staff wants to build up from where it has been. They are on us every single day and we take that to get better.”
Malzahn took over for Hugh Freeze, who left Arkansas State to become the head coach at Ole Miss.
But the team has not skipped a beat with Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator at Auburn and was Arkansas’ offensive coordinator in 2006, as the new coach, Coleman said.
“He’s doing really well. He has brought a lot of energy and momentum to the program,” he said. “The practices and workouts, they are going really well.”
Malzahn is also pushing the team even harder to come away with its second straight Sun Belt championship.
“We are going to compete for the conference title again and reach for the stars,” said Coleman, who is a Watson Chapel product. “Go big or go home. … The expectations are to win the conference.”
Collins and Coleman are hoping to play a role in another conference title for the Red Wolves. Collins is a redshirt sophomore wide receiver and Coleman is sophomore safety.
Collins played in all 13 games last year and caught one pass for four yards. While he does not know where is at on the depth chart yet, Collins is happy with how the fall camp has gone.
“Fall camp is going good and I feel confident,” he said. “I think I have played a good role in fall camp and have worked hard. I am looking forward to getting on the field.”
Collins has not set any specific individual goals for the season. He just wants to help the Red Wolves have a successful season.
“I just want to play, personally, and try to have a couple of touchdowns,” he said. “Not too much anything personal, I just want to contribute.”
Coleman, a safety, is also looking to contribute in an expanded role this year. Last season, he had two tackles in 11 games.
Coleman is still at safety this year, but he has been rotating between the rover safety position and the wolf safety. The wolf safety is more of a run stopping and blitzing safety.
“I can’t complain too much because I’ve been getting reps and doing some good things,” said Coleman of how fall camp has been going. “I played some wolf in spring and they moved me back to rover, but they needed more help down here and moved me back to wolf.
“I wasn’t used to it at first, but I’ve got a good hang of it and got comfortable with it.”
Coleman said he is the second string wolf safety right now.
Coleman and Collins have also helped make each other better. When they are back in Pine Bluff, they try to work out together.
“We try and keep in contact away from the team,” Collins said. “We are close friends. … We try and work out and run routes and do things like that when we are home.”
Coleman enjoys having another Pine Bluff native with him in Jonesboro, too.
“We have been through the same things and it’s fun to play against each other being defensive back and wide receiver,” he said. “It gives you someone to talk about anything in Pine Bluff because he knows what you are talking about.”
Both players are ready to get the season going, even though Arkansas State’s first game is on Sept. 1 at Oregon, which is ranked No. 5 in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
On Wednesday, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said he could play quarterback for Oregon and the Ducks would beat the Red Wolves.
But Coleman said the team is not listening to what other people have to say about that game.
“Nobody is expecting that we will beat them, but we have high confidence and we won’t take them lightly,” he said. “They are human beings too, and we just have to do our best. A lot of people say that we don’t have a chance, but they don’t know what goes on and we will fight real hard.”