Arkansas State will begin spring football practices this week with several new faces on the sidelines. Head coach Blake Anderson replaced 10 assistant coaching positions over the offseason, to include hiring Keith Heckendorf as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Heckendorf was hired at Arkansas State as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator when Anderson first took the job but returned to North Carolina shortly afterward to be a part of Larry Fedora’s staff.
Now, he is back in Jonesboro and ready to get to work. One of the first tasks at hand for Heckendorf will be naming a new starting quarterback with the graduation of Sun Belt Player of the Year Justice Hansen.
Heckendorf feels like he has a good candidate in redshirt junior Logan Bonner.
“When you talk about a new quarterback Logan Bonner is where the conversation starts,” Heckendorf said. “He was the number two guy the last couple of years here and has put himself in the position to be the first one to go out there. I expect him to go out there to do a great job. The thing I’m looking for him to do is the execution and attention to detail of everything we ask him to do. We want him to be aggressive, but make sure we are taking care of the football, and to gain command on the field. Really let the team feel his confidence as a trigger man.”
Heckendorf said that Bonner will feel a different pressure on him this year than he has had in previous years at Arkansas State.
“There is a different pressure when you go from being the number two guy to being the guy where everything is going to run through you,” Heckendorf said. “We are going to try to prepare him for that as much as we possibly can this spring, but he has done a phenomenal job in terms of leadership and taking command of this team during the offseason in offseason workouts, and in our leadership development stuff. That has been really great to see with our team responding to him. I’m just excited to get out there to work with him and do the actual football side of it.”
Heckendorf noted that one advantage Logan Bonner will have is having successful players around him in key roles who have legitimate game experience and who know what it is like to be out on the field for an entire game on game day.
“It is huge. As a quarterback, you are only as good as the people around you,” Heckendorf said.
“You have to have people around you that you can trust. A big part of it for us this spring is to build that sense of trust with those guys with the talent to go and make the plays for you, knowing they are going to be where they are supposed to be. Obviously, you have got guys who have played a lot of snaps, and who have a lot of game experience. The quarterbacks are going to be able to lean on those guys to help them in a lot of situations. We can’t get enough reps this spring or enough reps this fall to simulate a game situation, but we are going to get those guys as many reps as we can so that when they do step out there and the lights are on they feel like they have been in that environment before, and are able to operate at a fast and efficient level.”
Heckendorf said that he hopes to use spring practices to get to know his players better but to also begin installing a few pieces of his offense in preparation for fall camp in August.
“There is probably more carry over on the offensive side in regards to what they have done in the past than there is on the defensive side, so we are probably a little further ahead in that regard,” Heckendorf said.
“We are going to go ahead and install and begin putting it in. We are going to see it two-fold. One, how they learn, how much they go and execute at a high level, and to see what they can handle and what they can’t handle. Obviously, as we go you get a better feel of who they are and what they can or can’t do.
“As a staff, we are going to use this spring to not only install, but to evaluate, and make sure we come out of this spring knowing exactly what our guys can and can’t do so we can be in a position to be successful. There may be some things we run this spring that we see that doesn’t fit, and there may be some things we run this spring that works – and how many different ways can we do things so that we can enhance it.”
Heckendorf noted that one of the big things he wants to do is run an aggressive offense.
“I want to see the offense have the ability to be aggressive and be an attacking offense,” Heckendorf said. “We want to be able to dictate what we want to do. When we need to run it we need to find our runs that we can hang our hats on, and get the yards when we need them. Then we need to have those plays in our throwing game that are our go-to things, the things that we can count on in situations. It starts with what the trigger man has confidence in running.
“For me, this spring, this is what it is about. It is figuring out what Logan Bonner and the other quarterbacks can bring, what they are comfortable pulling the trigger to and are able to do it in a manner that there is no gray area, there is no second guessing, and they have complete confidence to do it.”
He also noted that his offense will be similar to what Blake Anderson has been running at Arkansas State when he took over the offense.
“There will be a lot of similarities,” Heckendorf said.
“When Coach Anderson took over calling the plays he went back to what he was doing at North Carolina. We continued in that same mold at North Carolina when I went back and continued to enhance it as the game developed with the RPO’s and the ability to run tempo. We have stayed in touch over the past five years and exchanged a lot of ideas, so a lot of the same stuff we were doing there Coach Anderson has been doing here. Obviously, there will be some tweaks and wrinkles with ways that we call things a little bit to streamline it and make it easy for everybody.”
“One of the first things I did with Coach Anderson when I came here was ask him what did he change and why? Why did you call it that? What did you rename it?” Heckendorf said. “I always want to look at how we can evolve and make it better. What we want to do is take a step back and figure out what we call it what we call it so that it makes sense to the guys in the room as you are presenting it for the first time, or when you are bringing new players in when you have freshmen coming in or transfers coming in and you are installing it to them, it makes sense. There is a rhyme and reason as to why you are calling it what you are calling it.”
Finally, Heckendorf noted what it was like for him when Blake Anderson picked up the phone and offered him the job as Arkansas State’s offensive coordinator.
“I couldn’t have been more excited. I think that it was the perfect opportunity for me and my family,” Heckendorf said.
“I’m at the place in my career right now where I was able to take the next step, and it was to be able to work in an environment where it is going to be a great family environment that my boys can be around, and I can have that balance of being a football coach and being a dad at the same time. Those were things right at the forefront for me when he first called and we started talking about the position.
“Obviously I followed the success they have had here, and to see how much this place has changed in five years in terms of the growth and the investment made in football. When I started looking at that from the press box, to the end zone, to the end zone facility and the new football complex those are all things that were done in the five year span from when I was here the first time.
"That fired me up to see a vision from the president, to the AD, to the head football coach that is all aligned, on the same page, and to have the same goals – to me that was awesome. It just felt right. Sometimes the Good Lord puts you in places for a reason, and I feel like he has got me and my family here for reasons that I don’t even know at this point. But, every day that I am here, I feel right at home.”