Jeff Reed: Are the Red Wolves Poised for Big Season?


Jeff Reed Author PageOn the surface it looks like the Arkansas State Red Wolves are poised for a big season.

Coming off what is now looked upon as a down season (7-6 and a GoDaddy Bowl loss to Toledo) in Jonesboro, the Red Wolves return a lot on offense and enough on defense to warrant a pre-season third place Sun Belt Conference prediction.

In fact when the Sun Belt released its preseason all-conference team the Red Wolves led the way with 11 selections, six of them on the first team. There seems to be plenty of front-line talent on campus.

Senior quarterback Fredi Knighten, who prepped at Pulaski Academy, has had a big summer. He is on the watch list for three major awards and has been a consistent all-conference pick by pre-season magazines (sans Phil Steele, who did not have him among the top four in the league). Entering his second season as the starter, Knighten is poised for a big season.

He also has a healthy J.D. McKissic back. McKissic leads active players with 237 receptions but was not 100 percent, or even close, for most of last season. Tight end Darion Griswold, who is from Dumas, made the second team list as did offensive lineman Colton Jackson (Ozark) and running back Michael Gordon, who is also helping for a healthy season.

On defense, ends Chris Stone and Javon Rolland-Jones were named to the first unit along with linebacker Xavier Woodson and cornerback Rocky Hayes was second team.

Punter Luke Ferguson and kick returner Blaise Taylor (first team) were also cited.

In all 60 players were cited. In the 11-team league 11 of the best are Red Wolves.

So why the third-place prediction?

A-State did receive a first-place vote, but favorite Appalachian State and second choice UL-Lafayette received more. But a look back at last season probably gives a pretty good idea about how the league feels about the Red Wolves.

A year ago it was ULL was the team that exposed, and as senior cornerback Rocky Hayes said “embarrassed” the Red Wolves on national television. Going into south Louisiana, the Red Wolves were 4-2 and appeared on course for their fourth-straight outstanding season.

ULL ran for 419 yards and won 55-40. That night started a trend, an opposing running back running wild against the Red Wolves for at least 200 yards. Four times it happened and all four times A-State lost.

No longer did teams try to finesse Arkansas State but decided to mash them. Defensive coordinator said it best after the season, that down the stretch the Red Wolves could not stop a hard-charging marching band.

The Red Wolves have a pair of all-conference ends on the defensive front and a top-notch linebacker. But how well they fill that middle gap on the defense will likely go a long way on how this season goes. Reinforcements were brought in from other schools – two jucos and a UAB transfer.

We start finding out in a little more than a month. Odds are it will be better.

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Jeff Reed is editor of

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