RUSSELLVILLE, AR (GreatAmericanConference.com) – Coming off of a 6-4 season, the Great American Conference head football coaches voted Henderson State as the preseason favorite in a tight ballot. The Reddies edged out Ouachita Baptist and East Central, the conference office announced on Tuesday.
The Reddies placed second in the first season of GAC play, but they did close the year by handing league champion Ouachita Baptist its lone conference loss. They return first-team All-GAC inside linebacker Keaton Stigger and second-team running back Jarvis Smith. Stigger led the team with 64 tackles. He forced three fumbles, recovering two. Smith scored 11 combined touchdowns, tied for fourth-best in the league.
The conferences pair of Tigers shared second place. East Central picked up three first-place votes while Ouachita Baptist collected the final two. East Central's defense features a pair of conference players of the year. Jason Catchings won the first-ever GAC honor a season ago; Armonty Bryant claimed the Lone Star Conference North Division honor in 2010. Catchings recorded 71 tackles with a team-leading 13.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Bryant added 12.5 tackles for loss.
Oauchita Baptist's hopes rest with the duo of reigning GAC Offensive Player of the Year Casey Cooper and 2011 Coach of the Year Todd Knight. The dual-threat signal caller finished 16th in all of NCAA Division II in total offense. He threw for 1822 yards and rushed for another 957. He accounted for 19 touchdowns in guiding the Tigers to their first conference championship since 1982.
Harding took fourth with Arkansas Tech in fifth. Harding featured the league's top offense last year (35.5 ppg, 427.6 ypg) but must replace first-team All-GAC performers Kale Gelles (1005 rushing yards) and Jeremy Holt (1294 all-purpose yards). Senior Josh Aldridge anchors the Bisons defense. He led the GAC with 7.5 sacks. The Wonder Boys also boast a stellar defensive end in first-team All-GAC performer Roland Dampeer. He totaled 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Four schools - Arkansas-Monticello, Southeastern Oklahoma State, Southern Arkansas and Southwestern Oklahoma State shared sixth place in the preseason vote.
Coaches did not include provisional members Northwestern Oklahoma State an Southern Nazarene in the preseason ballot. Both will compete in a full league schedule in 2013, but are not eligible to win the conference championship. Student-athletes from both institutions will be eligible for individual honors throughout the 2012 season.
|2012 GREAT AMERICAN CONFERENCE – PRESEASON FOOTBALL COACHES POLL|
|Place||School (2011 Record)||Pts (1st)|
|1.||Henderson State (6-4)||57 (4)|
|T2.||East Central (8-3)||54 (3)|
|T2.||Ouachita Baptist (7-3)||54 (2)|
|5.||Arkansas Tech (2-8)||29|
|T6.||Southeastern Oklahoma State (2-8)||22|
|T6.||Southern Arkansas (3-7)||22|
|T6.||Southwestern Oklahoma State (5-6)||22|