RUSSELLVILLE — The Arkansas Tech football team will kick off its 99th season this Thursday as the Wonder Boys head to Alva, Okla., for a Great American Conference contest with Northwestern Oklahoma.

For the first time since the 1996 season, the Wonder Boys will be led by someone other than former head coach Steve Mullins, who stepped down after 16 seasons and 96 wins. Making his debut as the Wonder Boys head coach is Raymond Monica, who spent the last seven seasons as the head coach at Kutztown University in Kutztown, Pa., has a career 45-34 record, twice placing the Golden Bears in the Division II playoffs and winning one PSAC title.

Prior to joining the staff at Kutztown, Monica served on Bobby Wallace’s staff at North Alabama while the Lions won three national titles, posting a 41-1 record from 1993-95.

Monica followed Wallace to Temple, where his prowess on defense earned the attention of Sports Illustrated in 2003, describing Monica as "the best in the nation at getting ordinary players to do extraordinary things."

The first year Wonder Boys head coach will look to improve a defensive unit that ranked 10th in the Great American Conference in points allowed and 11th in yards allowed.

The 2013 version of the Wonder Boys return just eight players on a 22-player defensive depth chart, and will open the season with three freshmen starting on the defensive side of the ball in rover Devarius Rice, Free Safety Traa Strong, and cornerback Trevon Gooden.

Returning at linebacker for the Wonder Boys is sophomore Logan Genz, who had a banner freshman campaign and was one of the bright spots for Tech on the defensive side of the ball.

Offensively, the Wonder Boys will once again open the season with a senior transfer under center, as Luke Halpin has earned the starting nod for Arkansas Tech. There will be several familiar names at wideout for the Wonder Boys, as John Simpson, Tyler Woosley, Jonathan Keener, and Jermaine Merdock all saw action for the Wonder Boys in 2012.

Northwestern Oklahoma presents a unique challenge for the Wonder Boys, as the Rangers find themselves in a similar situation with new personnel on both sides of the ball, including a freshman under center.

Kickoff from Ranger Field in Alva, Okla. is set for 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on 100.9 KWKK in Russellville and online at