Sixth in a series previewing Arkansas teams in the Great American Conference.
RUSSELLVILLE -- The first coaching change -- the dismissal of Raymond Monica in November at the end of a 3-8 season -- did not catch many Arkansas Tech University football players by surprise.
But what they didn't see coming was the arrival and departure of their new coach, Bo Atterbury, before spring practice was complete.
2019 Arkansas Tech schedule
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Thursday at Ark.-Monticello 6 p.m.
Sept.14 Ouachita Baptist 6 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Henderson State 6 p.m.
Sept. 28 Southern Arkansas 6 p.m.
Oct. 5 Oklahoma Baptist 6 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Southern Nazarene 1 p.m.
Oct. 19 NW Okla. St. 2 p.m.
Oct. 26 at SW Okla. St. 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 SE Okla. St. 2 p.m.
Nov. 9 at East Central (Okla.) 3 p.m.
Nov. 16 Harding 2 p.m.
2018 Arkansas Tech results
DATE OPPONENT RESULT
Aug. 30 Southern Arkansas L, 38-0
Sept. 8 Henderson State L, 38-31
Sept. 15 Oklahoma Baptist W, 31-7
Sept. 22 Southern Nazarene W, 24-10
Sept. 29 Ouachita Baptist L, 24-7
Oct. 6 Ark.-Monticello L, 34-16
Oct. 13 NW Okla. St. L, 21-0
Oct. 20 SW Okla. St. L, 35-14
Oct. 27 SE Okla. St. W, 10-6
Nov. 3 East Central (Okla.) L, 28-26
Nov. 10 Harding L, 28-0
Arkansas Tech glance
MASCOT Wonder Boys
COACH Kyle Shipp (first season)
LAST SEASON 3-8
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH QB (Manny Harris/Carter Burcham/Mason Cunningham), RB Caleb Batie, WR Drew Wade, TE Tanner Gaines, OT Cole Fritschen
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH LB Gio Williams, LB Chris Kale, DE Carlos Gordon, CB Dio Williams, FS Alex Chambers, SS Deeandre Ervin
NOTEWORTHY The Wonder Boys were picked in the coaches’ poll to finish eighth in the Great American Conference. … There’s seven returning starters on offense and nine on defense. … Last year, Arkansas Tech averaged 14.5 points per game, last in the GAC. … The Wonder Boys averaged 334.4 yards per game, ninth in the GAC, but were last in red-zone efficiency, scoring on 20 of 35 trips inside the opponents’ 20. … The defense — which must replace middle linebacker KJ Reid, the GAC’s leading tackler, and safety Cua Rose, a four-year starter — returns nine starters and is ahead of the offense at this point.
"I can honestly say we were a little skeptical at first," senior strong safety Deeandre Ervin said. "You get a new coach, and he goes, and you get another coach. It's almost like nobody wants to take a shot on us."
"No clue," junior tight end Tanner Gaines said of the Atterbury departure. "It didn't work out for him, we were told."
"It's sort of been a roller coaster," senior offensive tackle Cole Fritschen said.
The ride is not herky-jerky anymore with Kyle Shipp, a former Arkansas Tech player and assistant coach, at the helm.
Shipp, 34, spent the past five seasons as the offensive coordinator at the University of Arkansas-Monticello before being named offensive coordinator by Atterbury in mid-January.
He was as surprised as anyone when former athletic director Steve Mullins, who retired suddenly on Aug. 26, told him about Atterbury leaving for "health" reasons and asked him whether he'd like the job.
"He said, 'Hey, do you want to do it?' " Shipp said of Mullins, "and there was no question, yes or no. Just give me the keys, and I'll start directing this thing."
Shipp said he was in a little bit of shock at first.
"But I never really thought twice about it," he said. "I know I've been prepared for this part of it for a long time."
It didn't take long for Shipp, a Wonder Boy through and through, to win over the doubters in the Arkansas Tech locker room.
"Once they announced it was going to be Shipp, the guys bought in right away," Ervin said. "He's a Wonder Boy. We know if anybody wants to turn this thing around, it's Coach Shipp."
Once Shipp took over, Ervin said it was all gas, no brakes.
"There was no looking back," Ervin said.
Fritschen said the Wonder Boys are better off now with Shipp than they were before the turmoil.
"He's been in the same shoes as us," Fritschen said. "I really feel like this is the person we need at the helm to get us where we need to be. I've really enjoyed having him here, and I get to have him another year."
Gaines said attitude was a problem last season.
"Guys were halfway in, halfway out," he said. "The biggest thing is the atmosphere has changed a little bit, just the want-to. There's a new feeling going around."
One of the first messages Shipp had for the remaining players was that he was going to go out and recruit with the idea that he was bringing in 11 new offensive and defensive starters.
Of the 65 new players, Shipp said, there are FBS transfers from Colorado, Liberty, Florida International and Memphis; FCS transfers from Central Arkansas (4), Western Illinois and Southeast Missouri State; a quarterback from Division II Northeastern Oklahoma State; and a handful of junior-college transfers.
"It's all about being competitive," said Shipp, who has yet to publicly name a starting quarterback with the start of the season one day away. "If you're not a competitive person, this is not a place you're going to want to be at.
"We want to make this a competitive culture, where the top guy plays. Not the way it's been around here. Hey, you're the starter and that's the way it was."
The quarterback competition is a three-way battle among senior Manny Harris, redshirt sophomore Carter Burcham and Mason Cunningham, a transfer from Liberty.
"We may not decide until the day of the game," Shipp said.
There is no denying that the game, on the road against a UAM team Shipp spent the past five years working with, is a big one.
"We know it's personal for him," Fritschen said. "We've got to beat those guys."
Thursday's matchup is the first of four consecutive against in-state opponents to start the season, and Shipp said he's almost glad to get over with right off the bat.
"It will be a bittersweet game for me, going against guys I know and enjoy," Shipp said. "You got to go out and play a game. Whoever wins, wins."
Shipp said he and UAM Coach Hud Jackson are on good terms, and Shipp said he will always be grateful for the opportunity Jackson gave him.
"If it wasn't for the time I spent with him, I wouldn't be prepared at this age for this position," Shipp said. "I think they have a chance to have a good season. I just hope they struggle against us."
Sports on 09/04/2019
Print Headline: Wonder Boys hold on during coaching shuffle