Jonesboro, AR (A-State) – With its spring camp nearing completion, the Arkansas State football team used its 14th practice to hold a "Friday Night Fan Fest" that generated some fun interaction with the crowd while also featuring some full-contact action by the Red Wolves at Centennial Bank Stadium.
A-State players took time to interact with kids on the Student Activity Center field prior to the official start of the event, but then also began the outing inside the stadium by going through some drills alongside some young Red Wolves' fans as well.
The outing featured three fan-experience contests, including a quarterback challenge and field goal and punt return competitions as well. The team also had the opportunity at the end of the night to visit with the fans on the field while taking photos and signing autographs.
"We had a great time with the crowd, and I thought people had fun," said A-State head coach Blake Anderson. "It could have been disastrous because the weather was just so bad all day, but we had a great turn in the weather. The crowd interaction with the challenge and the kids going through drill work was fun, and then we got through a scrimmage without getting anyone hurt."
A-State additionally went through several full-contact team competitions that featured a special scoring system in place for the offense and defense. The offense edged the defense at the end of the night, 77-68, while giving all available players the opportunity to get some snaps.
"I thought there were good plays on both sides and some big plays on both sides, but I don't think you can gauge tonight's x's and o's as to what we are going to be," Anderson said. "We wanted to make sure everybody got to play. We've have had three physical scrimmages (earlier this spring) and we have tackled live, quarterbacks included. We've hit each other a lot and tonight was not meant to be that, although we did play live and tackle to the ground, but it was a lot more of an exhibition than it was a game.
"I think there were probably some things that we can teach off of that we did well and we did poorly, but all-in-all we got what we wanted out of it – a good night for the fans and the community, and a healthy night as well."
The offense scored three touchdowns, including two passes by junior Justice Hansen and one by redshirt freshman Logan Bonner. Hansen, a 2016 Honorable Mention All-Sun Belt selection, found sophomore wideout Darveon Brown for a 17-yard score and sophomore receiver Omar Bayless for another covering seven yards. Bonner's lone touchdown throw went to Brown for a 17-yard gain, which ended the team competition.
The defense saw sophomore T.J. Harris and redshirt freshman William Bradley-King both post sacks, while sophomore safety Trajan Doss recorded an interception. Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, the 2016 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, also recorded a tackle for loss.
A-State's previous three spring games under Anderson featured a guest-coach aspect, but this year marked the first time A-State has combined a scored scrimmage with fan challenges and drill-work that included participation by kids.
"We're always trying to find something knew," Anderson stated. "I think we had kind of exhausted the guest-coach way to do things. We just felt like getting the kids involved and the challenge portion of it might be fun. We are just always trying to be creative and, really, give back to the community. I just wanted to involve as many people as we could, enjoy the night and get some work some done, and I really think we accomplished that."
With A-State's spring camp set to officially end next week, Anderson said he has been pleased with the progress the Red Wolves have made over the past four weeks while adding there is still also a lot of work to be done before the start of the 2017 season.
"They'll compete, both sides (of the ball) will, and they know how to work," said Anderson. "These guys will work, and they will compete, and they love ball, and they love each other. This is a close-knit group. They fight just like brothers, but then they come back and they care about each other, so we've got a foundation for offense, defense and special teams. All of that is what was critical (this spring) and now we have to add the other pieces to the puzzle. We have more safeties coming in, we have more offensive linemen coming in, and there are other bodies that are going to be critical to our ability to compete. That is going to be the next step, and the next phase is getting them integrated and getting them up to speed to where these guys are. That learning curve nobody will know until we actually go through it.