Reddies ’22 preview

By David Salley
HSU Sports Information

ARKADELPHIA — The 114th season of Henderson State football officially begins on Thursday when the Reddies report to campus for fall camp in preparation for the 2022 campaign.

HSU will hit the practice fields for the first time on Friday and will have eight practices and a scrimmage prior to the start of school on Aug. 15. The Reddies open the season on Thursday, Sept. 1 at home when they welcome Southwestern Oklahoma State to Carpenter-Haygood Stadium and GeoSurfaces Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

The fall scrimmage, which takes place on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. is free and open to the public.

Three-time Great American Conference champion Henderson, who is coming off of back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2019 and 2021, had one of the top offenses in the country last fall but must replace several key pieces on that side of the ball. HSU returns 12 starters, including seven on defense, from a squad that finished second in the GAC. The Reddies were picked fourth in the 2022 GAC Preseason Poll on Tuesday.

The Reddies need to replace the production of 2021 All-GAC Second Team honoree Adam Morse, who accounted for 3686 yards of total offense and 32 touchdowns last season. The two players vying for the starting role are returners junior Mason Schucker (Searcy HS) and redshirt sophomore Landon Ledbetter. Schucker, who has played at both Hutchinson Community College and FCS Southeastern Louisiana, brings a pocket passing presence, while Ledbetter, who threw for nearly 10,000 yards at Midlothian Heritage High School in Texas, is a true dual-threat weapon and ran for 92 yards and three touchdowns in three games last year. Henderson was the top passing offense in the GAC last season and among the leaders nationally with an average of 311.2 passing yards per game. Redshirt freshmen Andrew Edwards (Bentonville HS) and Zach Baker will add depth to a position group that needs a new face to emerge. 

Henderson returns nearly its entire stable of running backs to comprise one of the deepest position groups on the team. Back for the Reddies are sophomore Fredrick O’Donald (North Little Rock HS), redshirt sophomore Kris Morris, redshirt senior Darius Austin (North Little Rock HS) and redshirt sophomore Korien Burrell, who combined to rush for 979 yards and nine touchdowns last season. O’Donald, who burst onto the scene as a true freshman, looks to have a breakout year after rushing for 337 yards and 5.9 yards per carry in 2021. Morris played in just seven games due to a nagging injury but ran for 329 yards and a season-high 91 against SWOSU. A seasoned veteran, Austin has played in 28 games for HSU and has run for 464 yards and nine touchdowns in his career. Burrell, who was the starter at one point during fall camp in 2021 before a preseason injury set him back, looks to play a bigger role after appearing in just three games last year. Despite their success through the air, the Reddies were a balanced offense last season and finished third in the GAC in rushing yards per game (183.2). 

The most notable loss in perhaps the entire GAC comes for Henderson at receiver, where the Reddies are tasked with reloading after the departure of unanimous 2021 First Team All-American L’liott Curry, who caught 91 passes for 1297 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Despite the loss of one of the headline players in all of Division II, HSU remains fully stocked with talented pass-catchers who will look to collectively fill the production of Curry. Speedy senior Xavier Malone, who caught 68 passes for 970 yards and three touchdowns in 2021, was a Second Team All-GAC pick and is primed for an even bigger campaign as the go-to option. Senior veterans Henley Bland (Little Rock Christian)Braden Boykin and Riley Frederiksen also return and could play multiple positions, while Chris Hatzis, who caught two touchdown passes last year, looks to have an even bigger impact in the slot. Redshirt sophomores Jalen Abraham and Cole McLawchlin, as well as redshirt freshman Jeffery Williams Jr. (Prescott HS), are poised to take on bigger roles with playing time up for grabs.

Another very deep position group exists for the Reddies at tight end, where they have three legitimate options who offer varying skill sets depending on the formation. Redshirt junior Ayden Shurley (Cabot HS) was a 2021 All-GAC Honorable Mention selection as an H-Back and has caught 21 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns in his career. Senior Mike Benning burst onto the scene last season after transferring from Birmingham Southern and proved to be a true receiving threat, as he caught 23 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns in his first year on campus. Redshirt sophomore Cameron Galliher will also see his role increase after a season-ending injury in fall camp ended a promising season prematurely last fall. The big-bodied Galliher was at one point considered the leader in the clubhouse to start due to his combination of blocking and receiving skills and will be in the rotation for a group who should see all three players make contributions. 

The returning group on the offensive front for Henderson is one that elicits excitement internally from the coaching staff and should have a chance to be one of the top units in the GAC. Multiple starters and veterans with experience are back for the Reddies, including redshirt senior left tackle Will Hawkins (Prairie Grove HS) and redshirt sophomore left guard Blaise Smith (Bryant HS)Conner Justus (Greene County Tech HS), who started at a guard spot last season, will move to center, and powerful Robert Dunham (Nashville HS), who has spent most of his career at tackle, will shift inside to right guard. Sophomore Brandon Bishop (Central Arkansas Christian), considered a huge recruiting win when he signed in 2020, was in the two-deep as a true freshman in 2021 and looks poised to take command of the right tackle position. Other veterans in line for playing time include redshirt sophomore Beau Stevenson (Conway Christian HS), redshirt junior Hayden Fichtel, redshirt sophomore Quintlyn Rogers (Little Rock Central HS) and redshirt sophomore Jared Laughlin (Hamburg HS).

Much like its offensive counterpart, the Reddies’ defensive line brings back the majority of its contributors from 2021. Returning for Henderson on the interior are senior Peyton-Usher Pearson, Denzel Walter (El Dorado HS) and Shaq’ke Robinson (Jacksonville HS), who combined for 53 tackles last season and will look to eat up space at defensive tackle. HSU has weapons on the edge as well, as 2021 Honorable Mention All-GAC honoree Jayden Ford is back for his senior year after leading the team with five sacks and nine tackles for loss. Joining him are redshirt sophomores Trenton Moore and Luke Rocha, who both look to build on strong freshman campaigns last season. Other players who will likely see time in the rotation include junior tackle Javante Sims, converted offensive lineman Tyler Strain, redshirt freshman Gary Lewis (Fordyce) and redshirt freshman Chase Berg

The Reddies will need to replace the veteran presence of graduated backer Jake Chatman this fall, but several key pieces return and several younger faces look poised to step into more prominent roles. Sixth-year Jacob Greenfield is back and will serve as one of the most experienced players on the team. Greenfield led HSU with 67 tackles last season and will look to finish his career on a high note. Senior nickel Deldric Shields, who was a 2021 Honorable Mention All-GAC selection in his first season in Arkadelphia, has proven to be one of the team’s vocal leaders and was twice named GAC Defensive Player of the Week last year. Redshirt freshman Jordan Owens’ (North Little Rock HS) first-ever college snaps this fall could come in a starting role as the young linebacker has emerged following a standout high school career with the Charging Wildcats. Other linebackers who could see time in the rotation include redshirt freshman Keegan Stinespring (Bentonville HS), redshirt sophomore AJ Zarate and redshirt freshman Josh Murray.

The back end of the Henderson defense in 2022 will be shored up by a plethora of players with experience. Redshirt sophomore Cam Thomas headlines the group after emerging as a 2021 Second Team All-GAC pick as a freshman last fall. Thomas, who had 34 tackles, three interceptions and seven pass breakups, will be relied on to secure one of the two corner positions. Redshirt junior veteran Ketric Sledge (Fordyce HS) looks to have a hold of the opposite corner spot as he transitions from nickel. Sledge was hampered by injury in 2021, but brings athleticism and size as a field corner. Senior Andrew Croker, who transferred in from McNeese State last season, will likely see time at one of the safety spots after playing in all 11 games and making 26 tackles and an interception in his first year with the program. Redshirt junior Randarius Terry (Crossett HS) will also be counted on by the coaching staff to play his way into the rotation at safety. A terrific athlete, Terry has previously seen time at both nickel and linebacker. Senior Damarion Parham, redshirt sophomore Tim Jennings, redshirt sophomore Darrick Rose Jr. (Bryant HS) and redshirt freshman Antonio Wiley Jr. will also factor into the mix in the secondary. 

The Reddies will have a new face at placekicker after the departure of veterans Temo Martinez and David Heaton, who each saw action last fall. Trusty punter Tristan Heaton could very well earn himself some extra work with kicking duties this season after starting each of the last two years at punter. 2021 Second Team All-GAC long snapper Thomas Hathorn is back after a very smooth season in which HSU did not have a bad snap to a punter or holder all year. In the return game, senior Braden Boykin is back from injury after missing all of last season and was a true weapon at punt returner in 2019. Boykin, along with Xavier Malone, figures to factor into the kick return game for Henderson. —

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