Red Wolves v. Golden Flashes – Aplin’s Last Hoorah

Jeff Reed Author Page
The former Arkansas State University Red Wolves coach, Steve Roberts, was asked about Ryan Aplin, the Red Wolves’ senior starting quarterback, during a recent visit by an old friend.

“I told some people, after his freshmen year, when he was finished, he would be the best quarterback in school history,” said Roberts, who laid the foundation for the Red Wolves’ run the past two seasons and will be a guest of the school at the bowl game tonight, which is on ESPN at 8 p.m. “There was just something about him. He had ‘it’.”

Which is fitting. Without Steve Roberts and without Ryan Aplin, the last two years probably would not have happen for A-State.

The foundation was Roberts’ work and all but one of last season’s starters were his recruits, and most of this year’s team, were his.

But no one has played as big a role or a more impressive one as Aplin. You consider in his four years as a starter, he has worked with three different offensive coordinators, and three different head coaches. Yet, he adapted, and has led the team to 24 victories in a little more than three seasons as a starter.

A three-time All-Conference player and twice Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Aplin’s journey to Jonesboro is one of those classic stories of where ASU was looking at another player on film  and kept seeing this quarterback making play after play. They got more film, and offered him a scholarship before he ever made a visit. He committed on the spot. A-State was his only top level offer.

Last week at practice in Jonesboro, the underclassmen made a bridge for the seniors to run through.  John Thompson, defensive coordinator and interim head coach, told the story of all the players lifting the senior quarterback on their shoulder and chanting his name.

“And he was very humble about it,” said Thompson. “He was trying to get down.”

There was evidence of how his teammates felt about him in his first major action as a redshirt freshmen, replacing a struggling Corey Leonard in the second half against Louisiana-Lafayette. He led the Red Wolves on a scoring drive, and on the sideline, player after player came over and congratulated the rookie. After a second scoring drive, that got the Red Wolves back in the game, it was a repeat.

His third drive ended with an interception, that sealed ULL’s victory. But Aplin saw playing time the rest of the season, including leading the team to a victory at Western Kentucky. In 2011 he took over as starter and began to blossom in Hugh Freeze’s offense.

“When it gets down to it and you funnel it all out, it comes back to Ryan Aplin,” Thompson said. “There’s no question about it. We’ve got other leaders on our football team, but the leader and the guy is Ryan Aplin.”

It all ends tonight when Aplin, who threw 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season, and the Red Wolves face Kent State, led by former Pulaski Academy quarterback Spencer Keith, in the Bowl. The Golden Flashes are ranked No. 25 by the Associated Press.

ASU, coming off its second straight Sun Belt title, is a 3.5 point favorite. The Red Wolves have won seven straight after a loss at home in their Sun Belt opener to Western Kentucky and are hoping a strong showing tonight will give them a shot at their first national ranking.

Kent State won its division in the MAC and lost to Northern Illinois. The Golden Flashes (10-2) love to run and have two skillful backs in  Dri Archer, who had 2,460 all-purpose yards and 23 total touchdowns this season. Sophomore running back Trayion Durham ran for 1,248 yards. The Red Wolves ranked 51st in rushing defense, but allowed just 79.2 per game in its final five wins.

And of Roberts, who helped lay the foundation? His players still love him.

Steve Roberts With His Team


Tags: , , , ,