Nurturing co-op: Wolves insist no divide from QB plan

Junior Logan Bonner (center) will be Arkansas State’s starting quarterback in Saturday’s opener at Memphis, but Coach Blake An- derson and offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf said Layne Hatcher also will play.
(Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Keith Heckendorf is no stranger to playing two quarterbacks.

The second-year Arkansas State University offensive coordinator most recently did so at North Carolina with quarterbacks Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris. Now, three years later at ASU, he's going to do the same with junior Logan Bonner and sophomore Layne Hatcher.

"We feel like both of these guys can lead our football team. Both of them we view as starters, we just have to put one out there," Heckendorf said. "We'll adjust as we go through the season, and if one guy is clearly playing better than the other after two or three games, then yeah, we'll make a decision on what's best for our football team in that environment."

Bonner will be Arkansas State's official starter Saturday against Memphis, but according to Heckendorf and Coach Blake Anderson, Hatcher is also expected to see the field.

Heckendorf, who was North Carolina's quarterbacks coach from 2014-18, experimented in 2017 with Surratt and Harris rotating at the position. By the third game, Surratt became the solidified starter. By season's end, neither was the starter.

"I learned from my experience at Carolina because we went into the game with a three-series process. First man is going to play two series, the next man is going to play series three, and then we'll adjust from there," Heckendorf said. "And I didn't think it was fair for the kids in that environment as we learned from it because series four, there was always a question of who's up? Who's going?

"And I thought that created a negative environment. Coach [Anderson] and I talked about it, and we want to create an environment where they can just go out and play."

Heckendorf and Anderson haven't specified their exact plan for Saturday, but Bonner and Hatcher said they're comfortable with the decision to play both.

"I trust our coaching staff wholeheartedly, so whatever they think is best for the situation, I'm going to go with and I'm going to support 100%," said Hatcher, who threw for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. "I feel good about their decision and their plan for how they're going to go forward with playing both of us. I think it's a good thing for both of us."

Bonner and Hatcher have both been open about the quarterback competition, stating it's helped each of them improve their respective games.

For Bonner, this is another opportunity after suffering a season-ending hand injury a year ago in the fourth game of his first season as a starter.

"That's what any quarterback wants. You want to be the starter when you go out there, and you want to lead the team," said Bonner, who threw for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. "My role right now is to just focus on that first drive of the game and try to give our team the best shot to be successful. And whenever they take me out and let [Hatcher] play, then I'm going to be supportive and be Layne's biggest fan because if he does well, than the team does well. I think it's really important for us to work together and do what's best for the team."

One reason it'll be important for both Bonner and Hatcher to receive playing time is the possibility of either of them testing positive for covid-19, Anderson said. With the virus threatening to take out entire position groups due to positive tests and contact tracing, the fear of losing either Bonner or Hatcher for multiple games to quarantine is a real possibility.

"It probably seems a little bit more real that you can get in quicker. But it doesn't change anything in the way I approach or the way I prepare," Hatcher said. "It's always been the same since I was a kid. You prepare like you're the guy, and then you're ready when the time comes. Nothing really changes in that sense.

"But it definitely is more real that it's a little bit more out of guys' control, whether they can play or not."

While it's unclear when Hatcher will replace Bonner on Saturday, one thing both wanted to make clear is that whoever is in the game, the other will be there to help.

Bonner and Hatcher admit they hear the noise from fans and media who might want to pit the two against each other. That couldn't be further from the truth for a pair who were roommates last year.

"It probably gets more hectic than any other position battle. Playing this position -- you win, you get the praise. You lose, you get the downfall. That's just the way the position is," Bonner said. "The narrative most of the time is that people think we hate each other or that there's bad blood there, but there really isn't. When things like that happen, it's not good for your team. It's going to divide the team. So I think we've really done a good job of just not listening to the outside noise and just working together.

"Only one guy can play at one time. So when we're in there, we just take of our business and then when the other guy plays, help him out any way he needs."

And that's what Bonner and Hatcher plan to do Saturday at Memphis in the season opener.

"We both want this team to win. We both want to do whatever it takes for this team to win," Hatcher said. "There's no negative feelings. It's whatever can help us win games is this most important thing."

More News

Arkansas State University announced Tuesday several new kickoff times and national TV appearances for the 2020 season, including a 2:30 p.m. kick at Kansas State on FS1.

ASU learned its kick off time for Central Arkansas, which will be 6 p.m. on ESPN+ as well as Georgia State on Oct. 15, which will be 6:30 p.m. on ESPN. Arkansas State also had a schedule change, with its matchup against Appalachin State moving to Thursday, Oct. 22, and being broadcast on ESPN at 6:30 p.m. And its game at Louisiana-Lafayette was moved to Saturday, Nov. 7.

The Red Wolves will begin their season on ESPN Saturday at 7 p.m. against Memphis.

Sept. 5 at Memphis – 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Sept. 12 at Kansas State – 2:30 p.m. (FS1)

Sept. 19 vs Central Arkansas – 6 p.m. (ESPN+)

Sept. 26 vs Tulsa – TBD

Oct. 3 at Coastal Carolina* - TBD

Oct. 15 vs Georgia State* - 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Oct. 22 at Appalachian State* - 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Oct. 31 vs Troy* - TBD

Nov. 7 at Louisiana-Lafayette* - TBD

Nov. 14 vs ULM* - TBD

Nov. 21 at Texas State* - TBD

Nov. 28 vs South Alabama* - TBD

• Sun Belt game