ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (KTHV) -- After last year's historic season, there is no doubt that expectations are high for Henderson State in 2013.
With 11 all-conference selections and 17 starters returning, the Reddies are moving "Full Speed Ahead" with their eyes on another Great American Conference football title and a run at the National Championship.
The Reddies are ranked No. 9 in Lindy's Preseason Top 25 poll, No. 13 in the American Football Coaches Preseason Poll, and No. 16 by the Sporting News.
Henderson State claimed the 2012 conference title with a 10-0 regular-season record and advanced to the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in school history.
"It will be a big challenge for us to repeat," said Coach Scott Maxfield.
"We play a 10-game conference schedule and everyone will be giving us their best game. This league is much better than a year ago and we will have to be ready to play each week."
Offensively the Reddies return nine starters, while the defense has six returnees along with numerous lettermen who saw plenty of playing time.
There's no secret who will be starting for the Reddies at quarterback. Harlon Hill candidate and preseason All-American Kevin Rodgers returns for his junior season following a record-setting performance in a year ago.
The 2012 Great American Conference Player of the Year threw for 4,002 yards and 41 touchdowns en route to earning All-American honors. Rodgers, who was a six-time GAC Offensive Player of the Week selection, averaged a national best 14.77 yards per pass completion and 9.78 yards per pass attempt.
"Last year was fun and rewarding, but that was last year," said Rodgers. "We have a target on our back this year and we have to be ready to play each and every week."
Backing up Rodgers will be redshirt-freshman Dallas Hardison. A three-year letterman at Bentonville High School, Hardison led the Tigers to a 25-1 record including a Class 7A State Championship. The Class 7A Offensive Player of the Year in 2011, Hardison compiled over 6,600 yards passing and totaled 69 touchdown tosses during his prep career.
Despite losing their leading rusher, the Reddies could be even stronger in the backfield with the return of Kevin Nichols, Ryan McDonald and Justin Bradford along with rookie Daniel McCoy.
Nichols is Henderson's most experienced at the position. A powerful and strong player, Nichols totaled 340 yards rushing while scoring 13 touchdowns in 2012. Against Ouachita Baptist, the Little Rock native scored four touchdowns.
McDonald saw action in nine games last season as a redshirt-freshman and rushed for 176 yards on 33 carries.
Bradford will be used mainly for short yardage situations and as a blocking back.
McCoy has the speed that could make the Reddie ground game dangerous. The Prescott, Ark. product rushed for 2,259 yards and compiled more than 40 touchdowns his senior season at Prescott High School earning him all-state honors. He ended his prep career with 4,051 yards rushing on 547 attempts while totaling 436 points.
One position that has plenty of depth is wide receiver. Henderson returns four of its top receivers including preseason All-American selection Robert Jordan and Israel Valentin.
A 2012 First-Team All-GAC pick, Jordan led the league with 65 receptions for 1074 yards and 10 touchdowns. The playmaker from Miami, Fla. had 15 catches of 25 yards or more during Henderson's championship season.
Backing up Jordan at X-receiver will be sophomore Joseph Snapp. Snapp played in nine games and caught just two passes a year ago, but will be much more involved in the offense.
Dustin Holland returns at Y-receiver after grabbing 59 passes for 864 yards while earning First-Team All-GAC honors. The junior from Bryant, Ark. ranks as one of D2Football's top 25 receivers in the country. The sure-handed Holland caught 10 passes for 164 yards against Harding and totaled 121 yards on seven catches against Arkansas Tech.
Corey Chappell will also see action at the position. The sophomore from Rowlett, Texas caught seven passes for 46 yards in 2012. What he lacks in size (5-foot-7) he makes up for with speed being one of the fastest players on the team.
Darius Davis returns for his junior year at the Z-receiver position. A 2012 All-GAC honoree, Davis will see action both as a receiver and return specialist. Davis caught 27 passes for 522 yards and scored nine times.
Zann Jones and Ryan Black will rotate in with Davis. Jones saw limited action as a redshirt-freshman, but has worked extensively in the off-season.
A four-year letterman at Shiloh Christian School, Jones was a four-time all-conference and three-time all-state selection and was named one of the top five wide receivers in the state of Arkansas by ArkansasVarsity.com. The Rogers, Ark. product totaled 66 receptions for 1507 yards and 25 touchdowns his senior season.
Black moves from back-up quarterback to a receiver role this season.
Valentin caught 33 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns at H-receiver a year ago and will get the starting nod to begin the year.
Also look for sophomore Mark Czaus to get plenty of playing time at the position. Czaus is a well-rounded player having played numerous specialty positions during his football career. The Garland, Texas native played both quarterback and receiver at Bishop Lynch High School earning all-state honors as well as the Dallas Fort Worth Player of the Year.
Henderson State will have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country.
Rodgers will be protected by four All-Conference players including guards Doug Despain and Ricky Gonzales, tackle RJ Taylor and center Kelton Hays.
The Reddie offensive unit was instrumental in Henderson's 50.4 points and 516.8 yards per game.
Hays (5-11, 284), is ranked as one of the top 10 centers in the country by D2Football.com. A Third-Team Don Hansen All-American selection, Hays is a fifth-year senior and has played nearly every position on the offensive line. The product of Jonesville, La. was named to the Daktronics All-Region Second-Team and Don Hansen's All-Region First-Team a year ago.
Redshirt-freshman Anthony Brister (6-3, 290) will also see time at the center position. The native of Henderson, Texas was named All-East Texas and second-team all-state as a senior at Henderson High School.
Gonzales and redshirt-sophomore Deveron Powell are listed as Henderson's starting guards with Garrett Whitley also expecting to see plenty of playing time. Gonzales (6-0, 285) has been a starter for the past two seasons while Powell (6-4, 303) played in all 11 games and was in on more than 120 offensive plays as a freshman.
Whitley (6-3, 305) redshirted in 2012 after playing three years at Centerpoint High School, earning all-district honors twice.
The Reddies also return All-GAC tackles RJ Taylor and Doug Despain.
Taylor (6-0, 290) is also a preseason All-American selection and has been a mainstay on the Henderson offensive line the previous two years.
Despain will move from guard to tackle in 2013 after earning honorable mention All-GAC honors.
John Michael McGee and Marc Gonzales will rotate in at the tackle position.
McGee (6-4, 280) originally signed with Oklahoma in 2012, but left the university prior to the season and returned to Texarkana, Texas.
In 2011, McGee was the No. 12 guard in the country according to ESPN. McGee was a U.S. Army All-American coming out of Texas High School. He was also a four-star recruit by 247sports.com, Scout.com, Rivals.com and was rated the No. 6 offensive guard in the country by Rivals.com.
Gonzales was a two-time First-Team All-Conference pick from East Los Angeles Community College. He was voted the team's Most Valuable Lineman while having 19 knockdown blocks in 2012.
Juniors Charles Plaster and Amari Williams will trade off at tight end.
Plaster (6-2, 245) saw plenty of action last year but only had two receptions for 71 yards.
Williams (6-3, 240) comes to Henderson after earning First-Team All-Midwest Conference honors as a sophomore at Elsworth Community College. In 11 games, the Daytona Beach, Fla. product totaled 46 receptions for 568 yards and six touchdowns.
Henderson State's defensive front is loaded with experience. Six players on the depth chart are seniors including tackles Benny Theysen, Daniel Lyles and Nick Siedelhofer.
Theysen (6-0, 270), who will play nose tackle, came to Henderson from Ventura College where he earned all-conference honors. Last year, the Miami, Fla. native played in 10 games.
Lyles (6-0, 265) has the most experience as a Reddie having played in every game the last three seasons. The DeRidder, La. product has totaled more than 10 tackles for lost yardage and 50 tackles during his career in Arkadelphia.
Siedelhofer (6-2, 285) totaled 14 stops in 11 games a year ago. The native of Ormond Beach, Fla., played two seasons at Merced Community College where he earned all-conference honors after totaling 10 ½ sacks.
Jonathan Mitchell and Bryant House will also get plenty of playing time.
Mitchell (6-2, 270), who sat out last year, returns to the field after playing six games while having 12 tackles in 2011.
House (6-4, 290), transfers from Texas Christian University where he spent the past three years seeing limited action. From Maud, Texas, House has one year of eligibility remaining and will add much needed depth to the tackle position.
Glennon Bobo will get the starting nod at the Bandit position. Bobo (5-11, 245) led the team in tackles for lost yardage (13.5) during Henderson's championship season. The junior defensive end from Ashdown, Ark. was a Second-Team All-GAC selection after having 37 tackles and six quarterback sacks.
Redshirt freshman Trevon Del Rio will also see action. Del Rio (6-1, 245) was an all-district performer at La Marque High School.
A pair of newcomers will work at the left end position including Chris Flowers and Jimmy Jean.
Flowers (6-4, 270), transfers to Henderson State from Clark Atlanta University where he played in four games and totaled 18 tackles. Flowers also spent two seasons at Arkansas Baptist Community College and prepped at Little Rock Hall High School where he received All-District Honorable Mention honors.
Jean comes to Henderson after playing two seasons at the College of the Sequoias.
Even though the Reddies lost key veterans Maxie Graham and Ben Chandler, Henderson returns two-time First-Team All-GAC selection Keaton Stigger at Mike Linebacker and GAC Freshman of the Year Tim Llewellyn at Stinger.
Stigger is considered by many to be one of the top linebackers in all of Division II and has a chance to play at the next level. Stigger (6-2, 245) earned first-team All-GAC honors each of the last two years and had 103 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks last season.
Sophomore Lawson Schulz will back up Stigger. Schulz (6-0, 225) saw action mainly on special teams in 2012, but has worked his way into the two-deep this season.
In his first season as a Reddie, Llewellyn (6-2, 220) had 46 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. The Dallas, Texas product totaled a season-best nine tackles in HSU's playoff game against Missouri Western.
Also playing Stinger is veteran Turell Williams. Williams (6-2, 225) played the first-two seasons as a running back and moved over to linebacker last year. In 2012, Williams had 32 tackles including three tackles for losses.
At Wolf linebacker will be Blake Lopez and Ricardo Mendez.
Lopez (5-11, 200) ended last season with 31 tackles with a season-best seven stops against Arkansas Tech, while Mendez (5-10, 190) had 25 tackles and four tackles for lost yardage.
Henderson has a veteran secondary led by seniors Vince Thompson and Triston Crook.
Thompson (6-0, 190) has totaled 64 tackles and four interceptions during his Reddie career at the field corner position. Last season, the native of Frisco, Texas totaled 24 stops and had a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown against Southern Arkansas.
Newcomer Reggie Dunnigan will also get time at field corner. The senior transfer from Arkansas Tech played 10 games and totaled 35 tackles in 2011.
Crook (5-10, 170) has seen action in 29 games during his Reddie career. In 2012, the Reddie free safety totaled 30 tackles including a career-high 11 stops against Arkansas Tech.
A pair returning juniors will work together at boundary corner.
Cameron Deveraux and Chris King shared time at the position in 2012. Deveraux (5-10, 190) ended the season with 30 tackles including 16 solo stops, while King (5-10, 190) compiled 16 tackles and had two pass break-ups.
Zach Richardson and Christian Love return at the Rover position.
Richardson (6-2, 210) played in all 11 games a year ago and had 31 tackles. The Alabaster, Ala. native also had four break-ups.
Love (6-0, 180) played in 10 games as a redshirt-freshman and compiled 14 tackles.
There is no doubt that special teams play a big factor in the outcome of a game. Henderson returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2012.
Leading the return team are All-Americans Robert Jordan and Israel Valentin.
Jordan became the first player in HSU history to return two punts for touchdowns in a single game having returns of 82 and 69 yards against the Southeastern Oklahoma to earn D2Football.com and GAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
In his two seasons at Henderson, Jordan has returned 29 punts for an average of 16.1 yards per return which ranks send in Reddie football history. Last year, Jordan had 26 returns totaling 456 yards for an average of 17.5 yards per return.
Valentin is rated as the ninth-best all-purpose player in Division II by D2football.com. The junior ranks first in HSU history in kick return average having totaled 598 yards on 21 returns for an average of 28.5 yards per return.
Last season, Valentin earned Second-Team Beyond College Sports Network All-American kick returner after averaging 33.9 yards per return. Valentin opened the game against East Central with a 97-yard touchdown just weeks after returning the opening kickoff against Arkansas Tech for a 92-yard score.
Speedsters Darius Davis and Corey Chappell will also make up the kick and punt return teams.
Davis totaled 466 return yards including 389 in kick-return yardage for an average of 20.5 yards per return.
Chappell will add another dimension to the return team. The sophomore returned just one kick in 2012 for 33 yards but will get plenty of opportunities to be a playmaker this season.
Charles Gonsalves is back for his senior season and will handle most of the kicking duties for the Reddies.
The McKinney, Texas native holds the HSU single-season record for PAT kicks with 63 In 2012 he led the GAC in scoring with 90 points. Gonsalves also averaged 48.4 yards per kickoff.
Redshirt Addison Allen may also handle some of the kicking duties.
Christian LaToof has been Henderson's punter the last two seasons and has averaged 36.9 yards per boot. The junior from Dekalb, Texas has had 22 of his 90 career punts downed inside the 20.
Coach Maxfield, who is 49-35 entering his ninth season at Henderson State, acknowledged that winning a National Championship has always been at the top of the list of goals, but after last season Henderson State is closer than it's been since its move to Division II in 1993.
"Four, five or six years ago, that probably wasn't in the conversations," he said. "We were talking about having a winning season and winning a conference championship. We have taken our program to another level."
"I want our guys to talk about that. I want that to be in the back of their minds, and I want them to work toward that goal."
The Reddies will begin pursuit of that goal on September 7 when they play host to Southern Nazarene at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium.