I co-host Fun Belt Podcast with Ben Moore (Panther Talk) and Dusty Thibodeaux (Warhawk Report). Over the last three weeks, we’ve spoken to a number of voices from a sundry of Sun Belt programs. One thing has stood out to me over that time; a common thread that ties them all together.
The Red Wolves are no longer a feared football program.
Turning in a dismal 4-7 record during the COVID Stupid Season was simply the final stake driven into the Monster’s heart. The program has been in slow decline since 2016, when Arkansas State opened the season with four straight losses, punctuated by a 28-23 defeat to next Saturday’s opponent, the University of Central Arkansas.
Stay with me a little longer. Here’s the reason why the Red Wolves will have a monster season.
I was in the stands for that game with The Bears. With a little more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Bears running back Antwon Wells capped off an 11-play, five-minute drive by executing a three-yard rumble into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The Bears, who had missed a PAT earlier, opted for a two-point conversion. The Red Wolves broke up the pass in the corner of the end zone.
As the majority of the Red Wolves defense trundled off the field in the silence of a mostly stunned stadium, two A-State players took the time to wind up and execute one of those Flying Butt Bumps that is so popular with the kids. “That’s it,” observed my brother, Rex Steele. “We lost.”
Of course, six minutes later, the game was over and the fans clad in purple were stoked. All I could do was replay that Flying Butt Bump in my mind. The program, in the midst of what was becoming a four game losing streak, found the energy to celebrate the thwarting of a two-point conversion.
I can’t imagine a scenario under Butch Jones – he with his arms permanently Gorilla-glued in crossed formation – where we’ll ever see Red Wolves execute a Flying Butt Bump after surrendering a go-ahead touchdown.
Jones is in Jonesboro for business, and he’s handed each player a briefcase stuffed with expectations. He could have worked with Anderson’s roster. Instead he added more than 20 transfers. He could have auto-installed Layne Hatcher behind center. He chose to fill the quarterback room with legitimate challengers. He could have focused on Xs and Os. Instead, he’s reshaping the culture, recognizing that the football program serves the campus and community, not the other way around.
Arkansas State opens the season this Saturday against the opponent that underscored the program’s sad slide to obscurity. Arms will be crossed. Flying Butt Bumps will be doled only when appropriate. The Sun Belt will soon utter the Red Wolves’ name again, and it will be in hushed and fearful tones.
Photo Credit: It belongs to me, Hoss