Hendrix, which limited its roster by design for its first football season in 53 years last season, has almost doubled its numbers this season.
The Warriors, who stunned Westminster in its revival game of football in the final seconds last season with a 48-player roster, goes on the road to face Westminster on Saturday with an 80-man roster.
“We have depth and that gives us a lot of competition,” said coach Buck Buchanan. “That actually gives us depth and we can practice like we need to.”
The Warriors were pretty decent last season with the small roster. They were 3-7. Of 30 startup programs in Division III since 1997, only eight have won three or more games. Hendrix was in almost every game last season and fell only two victories short of tying the record for most wins by a startup program, even though the Warriors lost their last four games.
“Our startup was as close to what we wanted it to be as possible; everyone was so supportive,” Buchanan said. “We still have a young team of primarily freshmen and sophomores, and we’re playing teams with juniors and seniors. But I tell the players the Spanish proverb ‘that the road to bye and bye leads to the house of never.’”
Translated, that means he doesn’t want his young players to wait around to be good someday.
“There are only so many opportunities in their careers,” he said. “You may get to thinking that you can do it next year and have plenty of time, then it’s done. You have to seize the day. We don’t want to wait to get good.”
Seth Peters, the former Greenbrier star, completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,366 yards in becoming one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks, leading the Warriors to three victories in their first five games. He sustained a season-ending knee injury in game 5. He’s back at 100 percent and ready to lead. “He got stronger, as he needed to, in the offseason,” said Buchanan. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel with Seth, just make it spin faster.”
Tailback Dayton Winn was Newcomer of the Year in the Southern Athletic Conference with 1,971 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns, caught 49 passes for 421 yards and had 650 yards on kick returns.
Casey Caton had 821 yards in receptions and 10 touchdowns in becoming one of D-III’s best wide receivers. Another top receiver is Spencer Smith, who doubles as a punter.
Steve Crenshaw, who kicked the winning field goal last season against Westminster was second in the league in points by a kicker with 61.
It’s the area Buchanan hopes to see the biggest improvement as the Warriors allowed an average of 40 points and almost 500 yards per game.
“We knew we would probably wear down as the season went on,” Buchanan said. “But we’re more experienced, stronger and have some depth.”
Free safety Caleb Shannon and linebacker Ben Cunningham were the leading tacklers last year. Vilonia’s Jake Steward, the strong safety, was the fourth-leading tackler and is a proven leader in the secondary.
Gray Stanton and Broc Smith are other leaders at linebacker and Jake Falleur, Stephen Stearman and Brett Asher should give the Warriors more strength up front.
Can the Warriors’ defense improve enough to avoid a series of shootouts?
Back-to-back home games against Birmingham-Southern and Millsaps on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4.
PLAYER ON THE RISE
Dayton Winn, 5-10, 155, from Pea Ridge could become one of the most dangerous backs in NCAA III. “We learned to just get him the ball and get out of the way,” Buchanan said.