By Jeff Greenberg
The Arkansas State Red Wolves closed out their regular season with another dominant win, this time against Texas State. The win puts their record at 8-4 as they now await an announcement about where they’ll be traveling to for their bowl game. But in all seriousness, football really did take a backseat this week around Jonesboro. News began to break that Wendy Anderson, the wife of Red Wolves’ Head Coach Blake Anderson, had received word earlier in the week that her cancer had returned. Coach Anderson said they have some more tests to do and will find out more in the coming weeks.
The response to this news was immediate, not just around Jonesboro, but nationwide as prayers and well wishes came pouring in from Anderson’s coaching peers and their families.
According to Anderson, “The response has been unreal. I’m at a loss for words. But I know one thing; we hear and feel all of the prayers coming our way. Wendy is the toughest person I know and she’s a fighter.”
“At a loss for words,” is where I found myself. I asked Coach Anderson if he wanted to skip this week’s ‘5th Quarter with Coach Anderson.’ He brushed aside that thought and said, “Look, we’re going to fight this thing and part of that process is doing what we do and living our lives. You can skip this week if you want to, but then you’d have to deal with Wendy about that and I don’t think that would be a wise decision on your part.”
Point taken, and with that, here is this week’s edition.
- 1st Quarter: “How did you get through this week as a coach, as a father and as a husband? – “Wow. Well, I think it’s the fact that I live in an incredible environment with my staff and the players on this team. They were really the only ones that knew during this week. We kept it quiet and didn’t tell a lot of folks to be honest. They just did an incredible job of wrapping their arms around us and being understanding about what we’re facing. I could see that their hearts are broken too, but they responded to that by picking us up with their love and their prayers. It just let us know that we’re not in this alone. To me, that’s all that matters. In a way, when you’re in a position where you’re still to trying to process the fight ahead all you can do is allow those prayers and that support to lift you up. But that’s how I managed this week. Just let those around us pick us up.”
- 2nd Quarter: Did you consider not coaching this week? – “Oh heck no. If you know my wife, she would never allow that to happen. Look, this is the beginning of a long fight ahead for us. This is far from over and we have a ton of fight in us to take this on. It was news that we weren’t expecting to get. At no point did we think about not continuing to do what we do. We have a ton we want to do and now we just have to figure out a way to fit it all into a schedule we weren’t aniticipating and make it all work.”
- 3rd Quarter: Another possible hurdle this week for your team was trying to prepare for the unknown that faced them in facing a Texas State team that had just lost their coach in a process filled with drama. What did you guys do to keep them focused this week? – “I think we approached it in a way that kept the drama side of it as more of a distraction for them than us. Now we knew we were going to be going into an environment where there were going to be very few people there at the game. It was almost an empty stadium. I think a bigger distraction we had to manage was keeping our minds from drifting to Louisiana and thinking about the results of that game and its impact on us. We felt like we could go down to Texas State and take care of business if we played our game and kept our focus. But I know the guys were going to be thinking about the other game going on that day. I’m proud of the way the guys approached the week. It’s really an example of how they’ve approached the entire month of November to be honest. They came to work every day. We stumbled a little out of the gate in this game but once we found our footing we took control and closed really strong in this win. Considering everything going on during the week, I couldn’t be more proud of how they handled this game and the days leading up to it.”
- 4th Quarter What was the sequence in the game where you felt your team regained their footing and took control of the outcome? – “I think the sequence there in the third quarter where we had a big conversion, and went down and scored. Then the punt block for a touchdown was absolutely huge. I thought from that point on we had the momentum and we got back to playing good football. We really got in a groove at that point. We got a touchdown, a three-and-out, a punt block for a touchdown and we were in control from that point on. That sequence turned the game for us.”
- 5th Quarter: You said after the game that the locker room was quiet due to the fact that the result in the Louisiana game didn’t go how you had hoped. How do you turn that disappointment around and get these guys focused and excited for the opportunity to get a 9th win and win a bowl game? – “We actually talked about that today(Sunday). I apologized to the team for not celebrating our win the way it deserved to be celebrated. We all, players and coaches alike, got caught up in the disappointment of not making the championship game. But we went on the road and won in a tough environment and in a must-win situation. We talked about how we can’t take these wins for granted. Every win is big. A ton of teams around the nation would like to be in our position. It’s only the 11th season in school history with 8+ wins, and our staff is responsible for 3 of those seasons. We’re one of only around 40 teams with a chance at winning 9 games or more this season. We’re heading to our 8th straight bowl game as a program. And we did all of this in the face of a ton of adversity. We had 19-20 serious injuries this season. We had 30 guys play in their first D-1 college game of their careers. We had 17 freshmen on this last trip alone and 8 walk-ons that were making plays all over the field for us. The guys in that locker room have overcome so much this season. There is so much to be excited about right now and we robbed ourselves of enjoying that after the game this past Saturday. But it’s because our expectations are high and we wanted more, so I get it. I think we have to make sure we don’t take for granted how much we’ve accomplished this season and what’s out there still for us to accomplish. We want to win our last game of the season. That’s one of our goals that we set way back in January and we have the opportunity to do that in a bowl game. We walked out of that meeting energized and ready to go.”
Come back each week to see what Coach Anderson has to say about his team’s performance. You can follow Coach Anderson on Twitter at @CHbanderson and Arkansas State Football at @AStateFB.