With back-to-back undefeated regular-seasons and majority a of its offensive specialty players returning, Henderson State earned a No. 8 ranking in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) preseason Top 25 poll.
2013 national champion Northwest Missouri State earned the top spot in the preseason poll earning 31 of 32 first-place votes. Henderson State received the only remaining first-place vote.
Harding, 9-2 last season and the winner of the inaugural Live United Texarkana Bowl, received 27 votes in the poll.
Henderson State returns two-time GAC Offensive Player of the Year and GAC Male Athlete of the Year Kevin Rodgers at quarterback.
The senior from Rockwall, Texas, has thrown for 10,076 yards and 90 touchdowns, while averaging 335.9 yards per game in 30 contests.
The Reddies also return six of their top eight receivers including the school’s all-time leading receiver Darius Davis.
The Frisco, Texas, product has compiled 2,425 yards receiving and caught 29 touchdown passes.
Dustin Holland returns for his senior season and ranks fifth in career yards receiving with 1,721 yards.
Israel Valentin caught 39 passes for 522 yards in 2013 while averaging 20.5 yards in kick returns.
Corey Chappell returns for his junior season after totaling 353 yards on 27 receptions. Chappell will also return kicks this season after averaging 26.1 yards per return including a HSU record 100-yard kickoff return against Harding last season.
The Reddies are also ranked No. 5 in Lindy’s preseason top 25 poll, No. 9 in USA Today’s preseason poll, and 10th in the Sporting News top 25.
Henderson State kicks off the season on Sept. 6 when the Reddies travel to Bethany, Okla., to face Southern Nazarene with kickoff set for 6 p.m.
Harding opens its season Sept. 6 at home against Southwestern Oklahoma. Kickoff at First Security Stadium is at 6 p.m.
AFCA Preseason Top 25
Rank School (1st votes) Points
1. Northwest Missouri St. (31) 799
2. Grand Valley St. (Mich.) 725
3. Minnesota-Duluth 634
4. Colorado St.-Pueblo 619
5. North Alabama 589
6. Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) 538
7. Minnesota St.-Mankato 530
8. Henderson St. (Ark.) (1) 523
9. Pittsburg St. (Kan.) 522
10. West Chester (Pa.) 477
11. West Texas A&M 407
12. Shepherd (W.Va.) 393
13. Ohio Dominican 390
14. Winston-Salem St. (N.C.) 389
15. St. Cloud State (Minn.) 350
16. Carson-Newman (Tenn.) 333
17. Tarleton St. (Texas) 266
18. Indianapolis (Ind.) 229
19. Delta St. (Miss.) 206
20. Indiana (Pa.) 167
21. North Carolina-Pembroke 140
22t. Azusa Pacific (Calif.) 133
22t. Emporia St. (Kan.) 133
24. Bloomsburg (Pa.) 103
25. Tuskegee (Ala.) 98