New Class Moves Wonder Boys in Right Direction

The only Arkansas tie first-year Arkansas Tech coach Raymond Monica has to Arkansas is he attended Wonder Boys Football Camp 29 years ago. The lack of familiarity didn’t hamper the Louisiana native from cleaning up on the recruiting trail. With the help of former coach Steve Mullins holdover assistants Dean Norsworthy, Clint Reed and Kyle Shipp, Tech signed 18 of its 35 players from in-state high schools.

“I think coach Kyle Shipp did a great job coordinating our recruiting efforts,” Monica said. “Coaches Dean Norsworthy and Clint Reed, as well as our graduate assistants Kyle Phillips, Derek Cosper, and Reggie Fish were able to keep our recruiting efforts going early in the recruiting process until we were able to complete our staff. We addressed needs at all positions, and I feel like we did a good job bringing in some new faces in our secondary.”

Monica not only signed a large in-state group, but he added some quality players, and won some heated recruiting battles with upper echelon Great American Conference teams.

Benton’s Wallace Foote, a standout running back and Landers Award finalist, and Chase Pigue, an offensive lineman, along with Bryant offensive lineman Ian Shuttleworth, a cancer survivor and Paul Eells Award winner, flipped their commitment from Henderson State to Tech. Henderson State finished conference play undefeated in 2012 and advanced to the Division II playoffs.

In addition to landing those three in-state gems, Monica added some other big names and big bodies.

Among them were Conway offensive lineman Bryton Boher (6-8, 315) who has All-American potential with his massive frame. Joining Boher up front is all-state two-way lineman Hayden Carlton (6-6, 265) from nearby Lamar. Monica also inked Mountain Home lineman Conner Brown (6-3, 250) who started 22 games for the Bombers and blocked for three 1,000-yard rushers.

The solid line will have the honor of blocking for some electric skill players. Antwan Arnold (6-0, 205) earned all-state honors at Searcy as a dual-threat quarterback (accumulated nearly 3,000 yards of offense and 30 combined touchdowns). He’ll line up at running back for Tech. Joining him in the backfield will be ATU’s quarterback of the future, Gage Jensen (6-2, 180). The two-sport star at Alma racked up 2,208 yards and 21 touchdowns through the air and ran for 764 yards and nine scores. He earned all-state honors in 2012.

Thanks to assistant coach Clint Reed’s ties to Nashville, ATU landed three players from his alma mater — running back Ja-Karee Gaines, defensive end Jacolby Crowe, and wide receiver Donyell King.

Gaines (5-foot-11, 195) rushed for 1,337 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 325 yards and three scores on his way to an all-state bid. Crow (6-0, 250) also earned all-sate honors for the Scrappers while totaling 92 tackles, five tackles for loss and six sacks. King (5-9, 165) caught 51 passes for 920 yards and 11 touchdowns and returned six punts for 149 yards and two scores.

What all of these players have in common is plenty of combined high school accolades and wins. Many of them came from programs that made deep playoff runs. In his first year at the helm Monica managed to snag talented winners. That’s important as the former Kutztwon (Pa.) coach tries revive the Wonder Boys.

Monica knows what it takes. In seven years at Kutztwon he finished 45-34 and guided his teams to NCAA Division II playoff appearances in 2010 and 2011. Kutztown achieved its highest ranking in school history in 2011 when it finished No. 6. That squad also set the all-time record for wins (11) in the 97-year history.

Monica trained under legend Bobby Wallace while at North Alabama. UNA won D-II titles in 1993, ’94 and ’95. When Wallace left Florence to coach hapless Division I doormat Temple in 1997, Monica headed to Philadelphia and served as the Owls defensive coordinator for eight seasons and was assistant head coach from 1999-2005.

Monica’s Kutztown team won its final four games in 2012 to finish 7-4. He had no reason to leave but to get back to his Southern roots. The Kutztown playesr and administration were sorry to see him go. Mullins, who stepped down as Tech’s head coach, made a brilliant move as Athletic Director. It’s not often a successful veteran coach leaves a thriving program to take over a project.

He already has the Wonder Boys headed in the right direction with a stellar class. Look for ATU to be contending for conference titles soon with a band of Arkansans leading the way.

Rating the Arkansas GAC Schools’ Recruiting Classes

1. Henderson State — The defending champions get richer adding former University of Oklahoma offensive lineman John Michael McGee. McGee, a former Army All-American left Oklahoma after a year and returned to his hometown of Texarkana, Texas and enrolled at Texarkana College before deciding the play football. The Reddies added instate prep standouts receiver A.J. Tucker, of Little Rock Central who received late interest from Arkansas, and McClellan athlete Akee Johnson, a Landers Award finalist.

2. Harding — Ronnie Huckeba only signed a handful of in-state players but managed to steal some big-time talent from around the country. Littleton (Colo.) defensive end Austin Babin set the Colorado preps career sack record with 38. Defensive back Trence Blevins led the city of Memphis with nine interceptions and earned Auto Zone Liberty Bowl All-Star Game honors. Zach Shelley rushed for 7,642 yards and 108 touchdowns at Parish Episcopal in Dallas earning all-state honors four straight years.

3. Arkansas Tech — Daryl Monica mined some in-state gems in his first few months on the job.

4. Ouachita Baptist — Veteran coach Todd Knight signed a solid class which included former Pulaski Academy wide receiver Kendall Bruce, who walked on at Arkansas State last year. Bruce has four years of eligibility at OBU. All-state quarterbacks Lucas Reed, of El Dorado, and Austin Warford (Malvern) also inked with the Tigers after enjoying postseason success in high school.

5. Southern Arkansas — After an impressive 8-3 finish in 2012, the Muleriders signed an admirable class that included 11 Texans and players from California and Florida. SAU raided 5A State Champion Camden Fairview for three players including mammoth twin offensive linemen Dillan and Zach Bever and linebacker Aaron Wynn, who was the 2012 5A Defensive Player of the Year.

6. Arkansas-Monticello — The Boll Weevils won just one game last fall, but could have won a few more if it weren’t for losing their top two quarterbacks and having to play the No. 4 signal caller at times. Coach Hud Jackson addressed that need by inking 6-foot-7, 200-pound Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College quarterback Colton Morrison and Highlands Community College’s Cody Trimble. In all, 11 mid-year transfers try to make an immediate impact and move the Boll Weevils from the cellar. Sophomore Grant Gill, a former McGehee standout, moves closer to home after spending the past two seasons at Arkansas State. Former Dumas running back Rod Smith also comes back to Southeast Arkansas from ASU.

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