Chris Murray: Hendrix Warriors Football – The Epilogue


hendrix warriors football reboot

CONWAY – In their first season of varsity football in over a half-century, the Hendrix Warriors showed flashes of being very good, winning three of their first six games in NCAA Division III before stumbling toward the finish line and losing their final four games.

Restarting the program after a 53-year layoff provided a number of challenges, the biggest of which was likely that the team was comprised almost entirely of freshmen. That meant that the coaching staff had a limited number of days to acquaint the squad with the playbook and formations. After all, there were no drills last spring to consider.

“The fact we had limited numbers, we had to limit our mistakes, freshman mistakes,” said Hendrix Warriors football coach Buck Buchanan. “After the first half of the season, the learning curve caught up with us and depth become an issue. That put a lot of pressure on the defense. We weren’t as efficient on offensive in the second half.

“We won the three ballgames that we thought we’d have the best chance to win. And we had chances to win other games we didn’t necessarily think we would. We’re not satisfied with three wins, though.”

Hendrix opened the season in storybook fashion, with a last-second 46-44 win over Westminster, thrilling an overflow crowd. The Warriors followed that up with their first road game, a tough 35-32 loss to Birmingham Southern. Hendrix returned home and improved to 2-1 with a 48-29 win over Southwestern, as Young-Wise Stadium looked to be a tough place for opponents to play.

The Warriors then went to Jackson, Miss., where they competed but fell 48-37 to Millsaps, a tradional D-III power in the region. Then came perhaps the “swing” game for the 2013 season. Washington University came to Conway on October 12.

After the Bears had taken a 45-41 lead with under one minute left, Hendrix moved into Washington territory. Tanner Frye’s completion to Spencer Smith got the Warriors to the Washington 1 as time ran out. The Bears finished the season with a seven-game winning streak, and made the D-III playoffs.

Hendrix rebounded the following week to defeat Berry at home, 30-17. That would be the last victory of the season, as a tough schedule and attrition caught up with the Warriors. Quarterback Seth Peters went down with a knee injury in the Washington game, and though Frye was a more than capable replacement, Peters was on pace to lead the league in multiple passing categories.

Linebackers Caleb Shannon Broc Smith and Grey Stanton, and defensive back Reid Cone all missed multiple games due to injury, and several other Warriors staggered to the finish lines with various aches and pains as the team’s defense was decimated.

“We were very fortunate, but when we lose one guy, it’s still a major chink in the armor,” Buchanan said. “Our defense was making a lot of strides.”

On Oct. 26, the Warriors lost 45-38 at Austin College, then were really pushed around by Centre College in a 49-20 loss at Danville, Ky. Hendrix had high hopes, returning home for its final two games. The first against rival Rhodes, and the season-finale against a Sewanee team that had struggled for much of the season. The Lynx put up 548 total yards in a 55-36 win, and Hendrix was just flat in a disappointing 35-9 loss to Sewanee to end the season.

“The Centre game was the only time that we straight-up got out-physicaled,” Buchanan said. “We played physical football teams back to back to back to back. We weren’t quite ready for that. I thought our best game overall was against Wash. U., who is headed to the playoffs. I was disappointed in week 10 because we finally played like freshmen, and we didn’t treat the guys like freshmen. By the end of the year we learned a lesson: that 40 points don’t magically appear.”

The Warriors’ biggest standout was probably running back/return man Dayton Winn. The freshman from Pea Ridge led the Southern Athletic Association in all-purpose yards and was no. 3 in the nation. Winn was also a special teams ace. Casey Caton was tops in the SAA in receiving yardage and no. 2 in receiving touchdowns, while Travis McMahon was no. 1 in receptions and fourth in yards.

Peters and Frye combined for 2,877 yards passing, which would have easily led the league, and 27 touchdowns. With 17 passing TDs, Peters still finished second in the SAA, despite missing more than half the season.

The Hendrix coaches are hot on the recruiting trail, as the high school playoffs heat up. Buchanan and his staff have already fostered positive relationships with some of the top high school coaches in Arkansas, and they look for that to pay off with another strong class, coming to campus next August. At that point, the roster will almost double, which will give the Warriors more depth and flexibility when it comes to practice, and eventually, games.

“Because we’ve done things the right way and the facilities are right, we’ve had lots of support from coaches in the state,” Buchanan said. “They know we’re not intramurals in pads. We’re excited to about getting out and seeing kids. I think we have a good opportunity to go into the offseason full steam ahead.

“We have to work to get better at playing as a football team. We’re pretty good on offense and we’re pretty good on defense. But when we get a stop, we need to then go score, and if we turn it over, we have to step up and stop them on defense. We know we can get better.”

There was considerable debate and pushback from some portion of the Hendrix community when it was announced that football would be returning. So far, it appears that the members of the football team have assimilated into the Hendrix culture, and judging by the turnout and support on game days, the first year looked to be a net success.

“The campus was very accepting of (the players),” Buchanan said. “They come from such a disciplined and strict environment in football. I know lots of our guys are involved in various organizations. The number-one thing is I haven’t received a single call from the dean’s office.”

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