By Nick Eatman: lonestarconference.org
Entering his sixth season as head coach, Chris Thomsen has several talking points to get excited about this year.
Not only did the Wildcats return to the playoffs last year with a 9-4 record, which included eight straight wins to open the year and a No. 1 ranking at one time in the season, but ACU returns 25 seniors and 15 players who received All-LSC recognition last year, including eight first-teamers.
So this should be a huge year for the Wildcats? For Thomsen, the answer to that question is yes, if and only if ACU can find a consistent quarterback to emerge.
A three man-race between Mitchell Gale, who started the second half of the season, Zach Stewart and Clark Harrell will compete for the starting job.
“Going through the spring, I felt like all three of those guys improved, but I still don’t believe anyone separated themselves,” said Thomsen, who is 32-17 overall at ACU. “The first couple of weeks will be critical because whoever performs the best will probably start against Washburn (Sept. 4). It could be any of those three guys.”
Whoever emerges as the quarterback, will have plenty of talent surrounding him.
Three all-conference linemen return, including guard Royland Tubbs. Also back is offensive tackle Trevis Turner and center Matt Webber.
In the backfield, ACU returns a pair of second-team All-LSC backs in Darryl Richardson, who rushed for 961 yards and 16 touchdowns, and Reggie Brown, who had 955 yards and seven scores.
Wide receiver Edmund Gates had 49 grabs for 702 yards last year.
But for all the talent on offense, ACU appears even better defensively, and it starts up front as the entire front seven are back from last year, when the Wildcats led the LSC in total defense, allowing just 291.4 yards per game.
Leading the way is junior defensive end Aston Whiteside, this year’s preseason choice for South Division Defensive Player of the Year.
“Aston is doing a great job on the field and in the classroom as well,” Thomsen said of Whiteside, who led the team with 9 1/2 sacks last year.Just behind him was Fred Thompson, who moves into a defensive end role from linebacker last year. Kevin Washington had a team-high 76 tackles year, and will team up with Eric Edwards and Courtney Lane to form quite a tandem at linebacker.
The holes on defense could come in the secondary, which lost All-LSC safety Tony Harp. But Drew Cuffee and Richard Havins will be asked to take charge.
Overall, it’s a talented and experienced squad for the Wildcats, and one that should be right in the mix once again in the LSC South.