JONESBORO, Ark. (11/29/18) – The Arkansas State football team racked up 17 All-Sun Belt Conference selections on Thursday, while also becoming the first program in league history to have different players win four of the conference’s five major individual player awards.
Senior quarterback Justice Hansen was named the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year, senior defensive end Ronheen Bingham the Defensive Player of the Year, junior wide receiver Kirk Merritt the Newcomer of the Year and running back Marcel Murray the Freshman of the Year.
Including five players tabbed First Team, six Second Team, two Third Team and four Honorable Mention, A-State’s 17 total selections were the second most in school history behind only its 18 last year. The Red Wolves have now had at least 10 all-conference selections nine consecutive years and 12 times since the Sun Belt’s inaugural season in 2001. They have also accumulated 81 all-conference picks since 2014, which are the most in the league over that span.
Finding a place on the All-Sun Belt First Team were Hansen, Merritt, senior offensive lineman Lanard Bonner, Bingham and senior defensive back Justin Clifton. Representing A-State on the Second Team were senior wide receiver Justin McInnis, sophomore tight end Javonis Isaac, sophomore defensive end William Bradley-King, junior defensive lineman Forrest Merrill, sophomore cornerback Jerry Jacobs and junior punter Cody Grace.
Murray and junior safety Darreon Jackson were both named Third Team, while junior wide receiver Omar Bayless, sophomore center Jacob Still, junior defensive lineman Kevin Thurmon and senior running back Warren Wand were all Honorable Mention selections.
With the addition of Hansen, A-State has now seen three different players named the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year a combined five times – both the most in conference history. Former quarterback Ryan Aplin (2011-12) and defensive end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones (2016-17) both received the honor as well.
An Arkansas State player has also won the award the last three consecutive years between Hansen and Rolland-Jones, which happened only one other time in Sun Belt history by North Texas from 2002-04. Hansen completed the regular season as the Sun Belt’s leader in total offense (297.3 ypg), passing yards (264.3 ypg), passing touchdowns (27) and points responsible for (202), while also ranking among the top 16 players in the nation in each category. The Edmond, Okla., native is the Sun Belt’s second all-time leader in passing touchdowns (83) and ranks sixth in total offense (10,807 yards) and eighth in passing yards (9,858).
Bingham joined former defensive ends Brandon Joiner and Alex Carrington and safety Tyrell Johnson as all-time A-State players to be named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The four standouts have combined to give the Red Wolves the most players in the league to ever receive the recognition.
A two-time All-Sun Belt selection, Bingham was also named a South Carolina Football Hall of Fame (SCFHOF) Blanchard-Rogers Award semifinalist in 2018 and is on the Senior Bowl Watch List. He leads the Sun Belt in both sacks (9.0) and tackles for loss (18.5) and is ranked No. 27 in tackles (5.4 pg). The Bennettsville, S.C., native is responsible for the 11th most tackles for loss and 21st most sacks in the nation, while also ranking No. 9 in the nation among defensive linemen in tackles.
Merritt became Arkansas State’s second all-time Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year, joining former defensive back Jonathan Burke (2002). A-State is one of three programs in league history with multiple players to win the award.
The Destrehan, La., native currently tops the Sun Belt in both receptions (6.2 pg) and receiving yards (78.2 pg), and he ranks No. 21 and No. 34 in the nation in each stat, respectively. His 75 receptions are the fourth most in school history for a single season, and his 939 yards and seven receiving touchdowns are both the fifth most.
Joining former wide receiver J.D. McKissic and running back Reggie Arnold, Murray is the third all-time A-State player to be named the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year, which ties the most in conference history. Murray has rushed for the 11th most yards in the nation among true freshmen and is ranked No. 4 and No. 9 in the Sun Belt in rushing yards per attempt (5.8) and rushing yards, respectively.
The Hiram, Ga., native has posted 793 rushing yards this season that are the most by an A-State true freshman since Lamont Zachery ran for 846 in 1996. He also ended the regular season with 1,114 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns, the most on the team.
The Red Wolves have accepted an official invitation to play in the 2018 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 29, at 12:15 p.m. (CT). Making its eighth consecutive and 16th all-time bowl-game appearance, A-State will play a Mountain West Conference opponent at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. The Red Wolves opponent for the CBS Sports Network-televised contest will likely be announced this Sunday.
Arkansas State completed the regular season with an 8-4 overall record and as the Sun Belt Conference West Division co-champions. The Red Wolves’ eight victories matches their third highest total since moving to FBS status in 1992. A-State has secured a school-record eight consecutive winning seasons and piled up 67 victories from 2011-18 for its most over an eight-year span in the program’s 104-year history.
ARKANSAS STATE ALL-SUN BELT CONFERENCE SELECTIONS
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Justice Hansen (Sr., QB)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Ronheen Bingham (Sr., DE)
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Kirk Merritt (Jr., WR)
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Marcel Murray (Fr., RB)
FIRST TEAM: Justice Hansen (Sr., QB), Kirk Merritt (Jr., WR), Lanard Bonner (Sr., OL), Ronheen Bingham (Sr., DE), Justin Clifton (Sr., DB)
SECOND TEAM: Justin McInnis (Sr., WR), Javonis Isaac (So., TE), William Bradley-King (So., DE), Forrest Merrill (Jr., DL), Jerry Jacobs (So., CB), Cody Grace (Jr., P)
THIRD TEAM: Marcel Murray (Fr., RB), Darreon Jackson (Jr., S)
HONORABLE MENTION: Omar Bayless (Jr., WR), Jacob Still (So., C), Kevin Thurmon (Jr., DL), Warren Wand (Sr., RB)