Hales to fol­low up on own tough act

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - PETE PERKINS SPE­CIAL TO THE DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE

CON­WAY — It was a good week for red­shirt fresh­man quar­ter­back Luke Hales.

In eight days, he went from third on the depth chart among the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Ar­kan­sas’ four quar­ter­backs to South­land Con­fer­ence

Player of the

Week and the

FCS na­tional Fresh­man of the Week.

In his first start and first ap­pear­ance for UCA, Hales passed for 304 yards and 5 touch­downs in UCA’s 66-35 vic­tory over Hous­ton Bap­tist at Estes Sta­dium last Satur­day. He found out the night be­fore the game he would make his first start since his se­nior sea­son at Green­wood High School in 2016.

“I was try­ing to stay calm,” Hales said. “I knew if I was calm, then every­one

else would be re­laxed. I didn’t want to be up­tight. I didn’t want to look ner­vous. I was pre­pared re­ally well, so I was con­fi­dent, and re­ally more ex­cited than ner­vous. I was ready to roll be­cause it had been a long time.”

Even in high school, Hales, 6-2, 231 pounds, knew all about teams deep in quar­ter­backs. He split time through­out his high school ca­reer with Con­nor Noland, a fresh­man re­serve this sea­son with the Uni­ver­sity of Ar­kan­sas.

Hales knows he likely will see more of the same at UCA.

Go­ing into this sea­son, it looked like Hales would be a re­serve be­hind sopho­more starter Breylin Smith and ju­nior Kirk Baugh, but Smith broke an an­kle and Baugh dam­aged his shoul­der in a 34-31 over­time loss at Sam Hous­ton State on Sept. 29. The door opened, and Hales walked in with a dom­i­nant per­for­mance.

“Through­out the week last week, Luke con­tin­ued to im­press us,” UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. “He al­lowed us to not be hand­cuffed in our of­fen­sive play-call­ing. He never had that deer-in-the-head­lights look. He looked like he be­longed, so with him do­ing that — along with his abil­ity to throw the foot­ball — he ended up be­ing the per­fect storm for us.”

Brown ex­pects Hales to make his sec­ond start to­day against Stephen F. Austin at Homer Bryce Sta­dium in Nacog­doches, Texas. Kick­off is sched­uled for 2 p.m.

“By no means was he per­fect against Hous­ton Bap­tist,” Brown said. “But what he did do, and what I did see, was he op­er­ated the of­fense, not only by ex­e­cut­ing his throws but pre-snap, he was get­ting our align­ments right. There were no is­sues with our or­der of op­er­a­tion, and that’s a huge part of run­ning an of­fense, mak­ing sure every­one is on the same page.

“That be­ing his first start, it would’ve been easy for him to get rat­tled, but he ex­e­cuted ev­ery­thing at a 100 per­cent rate. That was what I was most proud of.”

Though Hales said he is com­fort­able in any role, his cur­rent one is clearly his fa­vorite.

“Ob­vi­ously, I want to play,” Hales said. “I want to be the guy, but I want to do what’s best for the team. It’s a team sport, and what­ever it takes to win has al­ways been my mind­set.”

“First of all, Luke is a great team­mate,” Brown said. “In high school, he played in a two-quar­ter­back sys­tem. That’s the cul­ture and the at­mos­phere he came from. Now, com­ing here, he’s al­ways been a great sup­porter of Breylin and a great sup­porter of Kirk. Now, he’s get­ting his shot, and I want to see him work the foot­ball. I want him to stay out there and con­tinue to get bet­ter.”

Hales, like most col­lege play­ers, dreams of a shot at the NFL but said he is nearly cer­tain that he has found his life’s call­ing.

“I want to be a coach, for sure,” Hales said. “I don’t know where. I don’t know how. I don’t care about that stuff right now, but I’ve been around foot­ball my whole life. It’s what I love to do, and I’m hop­ing to do it.”

Brown said an­other week of prac­tice should help Hales im­prove on his award-win­ning de­but.

“Luke has taken first-team reps all week, so he’s got­ten bet­ter ev­ery day,” Brown said. “But like I told him af­ter the game, he’s put him­self on film now, so how will he re­spond? I would fully an­tic­i­pate Stephen F. try­ing to put the heat on him, but I think Luke is the kind of kid who will re­spond in a pos­i­tive way.”

Hales

Photo cour­tesy of UCA

Quar­ter­back Luke Hales made his first start for Cen­tral Ar­kan­sas in last week’s vic­tory over Hous­ton Bap­tist, throw­ing for 304 yards and five touch­downs. “I was pre­pared pretty well, so I was con­fi­dent, and re­ally more ex­cited than ner­vous,” Hales said. “I was ready to roll be­cause it had been a long time.”

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