Hendrix football set for Saturday kickoff

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

The hottest ticket in the 501 this weekend is free.

Hendrix College will play its first football game in nearly 53 years at 1 p.m. Saturday at Young-Wise Memorial Stadium. Admission is free; the opponent is Westminster College.

It will mark the school’s first football game since Hendrix defeated Ouachita Baptist, 7-6, in November 1960.

“It’s what you’ve prepared for the whole time,” said coach Buck Buchanan, hired in March 2012 to resurrect the Warrior program. “You’re always looking to the future, but sooner or later, it’s going to hit you right in the face.”

Westminster, from Fulton, Mo., plays in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference of D-III. The Blue Jays finished 4-6 last year.

Saturday’s opener will be the first of the Warriors’ six home games during a full schedule in NCAA Division III. Hendrix will play in the Southern Athletic Association, where it will face foes Birmingham-Southern, Millsaps, Berry, Centre, Rhodes and Sewanee.

Buchanan believes his staff had been effective in evaluation of recruiting for the non-scholarship program. Academics has to be a big part of that. But he hasn’t been promising starting positions based on recruiting videos.

“I thought we did a good job of selecting very good students and some guys that can really play, but they’ve got to do it on our field now and assimilate to college and do all the little things it takes to be successful beyond high school,” he said. “Everybody’s got to play hard; the question is how long can you play hard? We’ve got to add an extra 12 minutes to everything these freshmen have ever done.”

About 60 freshmen, including just a handful of redshirts, make up the Warrior roster, including quarterback Seth Peters and defensive back Reid Cone of Greenbrier, defensive end Drew Dunkum of Little Rock Christian and defensive back Jake Steward of Vilonia, all from the 501.

Anticipation for the opener has been building since the decision to resurrect the program was announced. Buchanan and the Warriors have felt the enthusiasm — and embraced it.

“Everybody in the community is real supportive,” he said. “Hendrix is an integral part of Conway and Arkansas, and we’ve done a good job of generating interest. The (high school) coaches in the state have been very supportive of us. We’ve got a lot of guys from Arkansas, and that’s something we’re really proud of. We like to have our local guys.”

Pregame gatherings and tailgating plans are among the peripheral chatter surrounding the game and the season.

“Our alums are fired up and supportive,” Buchanan said. “That’s nice to see. People do care.”

Buchanan, who helped restart the football program at Louisiana College prior to this rebuilding project, said the major expectation for the Warriors would be to establish a championship program. That begins this season.

“Short-term, we’re always playing to win, but in the long-term, we’re trying to establish the things it takes to build a program over time,” he said. “We want to be clear and consistent with what we do. If we take shortcuts this year, we’ll never get to where we want to go.”

He said the foundation put in from the beginning would be crucial over the long haul.

“That is crucial to our success over time,” he said. “Everything will be based on that from here on out. Everything we do will be echoed. We’ve got to be good and disciplined, consistent, do things right. Each day is actually the key — making sure we’re better than the day before. What you see in Week 10 may not be what you see in Week 3.

“I think our guys realize the expectations of other people may not be what ours are, but we always want our guys to be overachievers. There’s no NCAA rule that says freshmen can’t win.”