As the ACU football team says goodbye to one of the greatest classes in the history of the program, it is never too early to wonder who will step up next season.
Offensively, for the second straight year, a new quarterback will step into the limelight with humongous shoes to fill. John David Baker followed up the insane numbers of Mitchell Gale with video game totals of his own in 2013.
Baker amassed over 3,500 yards of total offense and 40 touchdowns, which is an ACU record. Once again, there is a cluttered but capable group looking to take over.
Back-up quarterback Malcolm Rueben completed all of his passes this season in extremely limited action and could have the inside track. However, redshirted quarterback Kade Munden was a highly coveted recruit last season.
ACU will also lose several offensive linemen that were a part of one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Nobody can score points without blocking, and the linemen were the unsung heroes of the season. Blake Spears, Will Latu and Josh Perez will all graduate, leaving more than half of the offensive line in flux.
At the skill positions, it would be hard to imagine any team in college football, at any level, with more talent leaving. The trio of receivers, Darian Hogg, Taylor Gabriel and Darrell Cantu-Harkless, combined to score over 100 touchdowns in their career.
This season alone, Harkless, Hogg and Gabriel accounted for 3,470 yards and 26 touchdowns. Harkless is the only player in ACU history to have over 1,000 career rushing, receiving and kick return yards. Hogg has caught more than half of ACU’s 10 most explosive passing plays in the history of the school and Gabriel caught over 200 passes in his career.
Nobody knew where the production would come from when Johnny Knox, Edmund Gates and Raymond Radway left, but Hogg, Harkless and Gabriel stepped up and continued the legacy of outstanding wide receiver play. Replacing these guys seems like an unbelievable task, but ACU has several gifted players waiting in the wings. Demarcus Thompson and Cade Stone have already given ACU fans a taste of their explosiveness and should be featured more in 2014.
Let’s not forget running back Charkandrick West, who ran for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in his four years as a Wildcat. West leaves as third in ACU career touchdowns and in the top 10 ACU rushers in terms of yards.
Defensively, ACU has some production to replace as well. Let’s start with the middle linebacker position.
This season, the middle linebacker combo of Thor Woerner and Jesse Harper combined for 126 tackles. Both linebackers will be graduating, leaving a big gap in the middle of the field.
At the outside linebacker position, both Justin Stephens and Blake Rudd will return, which helps them give the linebacker some experience heading into next year, but Woerner and Harper will definitely be missed.
Defensive linemen Kolby Rowe and Nick Finney will also be graduating this year. Rowe stared all 11 games this season opposite of talented end Nick Richardson and Finney started half of the games this season. Both players were important parts of a defensive line rotation and Finney scored a touchdown early in the year after recovering a fumble.
In a talented secondary, Caleb Withrow will be the only player that graduates after starting seven games for the Wildcats in 2013. His graduation means that Keith Barnett will become a full-time starter going forward and ACU will be looking for a nickel cornerback to step up.
The 2013 seniors will always be remembered as the first class to graduate ACU as Div. I football players, and it’s hard to imagine a more deserving group.