It’s time to hit somebody else!
And that unlucky somebody just happens to be the Western Illinois Leathernecks of the Missouri Valley Conference. The game on Saturday marks the start of the Bobby Petrino Era at Arkansas. And with the students back, Fayetteville is buzzing again.
The Leathernecks, located in Macomb, Illinois, come into the game ranked #25 in The Sports Network’s FCS Top 25 poll (that’s the Football Championship Subdivision…formerly Division I-AA). For reference, our friends down in Conway — UCA — are ranked #22 in TSN’s poll.
WIU is led by Head Coach Don Patterson (61-42, 10th season). Patterson, 57, won’t be on the sidelines though to start the season as he continues his battle with tonsillar cancer. Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Mark Hendrickson serves as interim head coach, and leads a team that returns 20 starters from last year’s 6-5 squad.
All-American tailback Herb Donaldson is the best player on either side of the ball for the Leathernecks. Donaldson, a Walter Payton Award finalist from last season, will most likely break the WIU career rushing record (4,189) during the 2008 season. Sophomore quarterback Matt Barr is a run-pass threat.
One of the members of the Western Illinois coaching staff is a familiar face in Fayetteville. Monte Henderson, former graduate assistant at Arkansas (2003-05) is the WIU defensive backs coach. Henderson, a high school All-American from Conway, played cornerback at UAPB for a few seasons before transferring to Arkansas. He worked with current Razorback assistant Bobby Allen in the secondary before joining the Leathernecks staff in 2006.
Like many smaller colleges, Western Illinois has produced some outstanding football players over the years. Current NFL players Rodney Harrison (New England) and Aaron Stecker (New Orleans) hail from WIU. As do former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox and wide receiver Don Beebe.
All in all, it should be a fun way to get the 2008 season kicked off. But for now, hold on to your score predictions. As always, we’ll make them with you every Thursday.