CONWAY -- It was a good week for redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Hales.
In eight days, he went from third on the depth chart among the University of Central Arkansas' four quarterbacks to Southland Conference Player of the Week and the FCS national Freshman of the Week.
In his first start and first appearance for UCA, Hales passed for 304 yards and 5 touchdowns in UCA's 66-35 victory over Houston Baptist at Estes Stadium last Saturday. He found out the night before the game he would make his first start since his senior season at Greenwood High School in 2016.
"I was trying to stay calm," Hales said. "I knew if I was calm, then everyone else would be relaxed. I didn't want to be uptight. I didn't want to look nervous. I was prepared really well, so I was confident, and really more excited than nervous. I was ready to roll because it had been a long time."
Even in high school, Hales, 6-2, 231 pounds, knew all about teams deep in quarterbacks. He split time throughout his high school career with Connor Noland, a freshman reserve this season with the University of Arkansas.
Hales knows he likely will see more of the same at UCA.
Going into this season, it looked like Hales would be a reserve behind sophomore starter Breylin Smith and junior Kirk Baugh, but Smith broke an ankle and Baugh damaged his shoulder in a 34-31 overtime loss at Sam Houston State on Sept. 29. The door opened, and Hales walked in with a dominant performance.
"Throughout the week last week, Luke continued to impress us," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "He allowed us to not be handcuffed in our offensive play-calling. He never had that deer-in-the-headlights look. He looked like he belonged, so with him doing that -- along with his ability to throw the football -- he ended up being the perfect storm for us."
Brown expects Hales to make his second start today against Stephen F. Austin at Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches, Texas. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.
"By no means was he perfect against Houston Baptist," Brown said. "But what he did do, and what I did see, was he operated the offense, not only by executing his throws but pre-snap, he was getting our alignments right. There were no issues with our order of operation, and that's a huge part of running an offense, making sure everyone is on the same page.
"That being his first start, it would've been easy for him to get rattled, but he executed everything at a 100 percent rate. That was what I was most proud of."
Though Hales said he is comfortable in any role, his current one is clearly his favorite.
"Obviously, I want to play," Hales said. "I want to be the guy, but I want to do what's best for the team. It's a team sport, and whatever it takes to win has always been my mindset."
"First of all, Luke is a great teammate," Brown said. "In high school, he played in a two-quarterback system. That's the culture and the atmosphere he came from. Now, coming here, he's always been a great supporter of Breylin and a great supporter of Kirk. Now, he's getting his shot, and I want to see him work the football. I want him to stay out there and continue to get better."
Hales, like most college players, dreams of a shot at the NFL but said he is nearly certain that he has found his life's calling.
"I want to be a coach, for sure," Hales said. "I don't know where. I don't know how. I don't care about that stuff right now, but I've been around football my whole life. It's what I love to do, and I'm hoping to do it."
Brown said another week of practice should help Hales improve on his award-winning debut.
"Luke has taken first-team reps all week, so he's gotten better every day," Brown said. "But like I told him after the game, he's put himself on film now, so how will he respond? I would fully anticipate Stephen F. trying to put the heat on him, but I think Luke is the kind of kid who will respond in a positive way."
Sports on 10/13/2018
Print Headline: Hales to follow up on own tough act