Southern Arkansas Muleriders football

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Southern Arkansas Muleriders football
2016 Southern Arkansas Muleriders football team
First season 1911
Athletic director Steve Browning
Head coach Bill Keopple
8th year, 34–39 (.466)
Other staff Landon Keopple – Offensive Coordinator
Josh Lawson – Defensive Coordinator
Boomer Cunningham – Offensive Line/Recruiting Coordinator
Benson Jordan – Linebackers
Wade Henderson – Defensive Line
Beaux Gipson – Wide Receivers
Nicholas Sanders – Running Backs
Mack Chermak – Defensive Backs
Zikerious Ware – Student Assistant
Stadium Wilkins Stadium
Field Rip Powell Field
Year built 1949
Seating capacity 6,000
Field surface GeoSurfaces Turf
Location Magnolia, Arkansas
NCAA division Division II
Conference GAC (2012–present)
Past conferences Independent (1911–1925)
Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (1926–1994)
Gulf South Conference (1995–2011)
All-time record 454–429–30 (.514)
Bowl record 2–4–1 (.357)
Conference titles 8 (1926, 1927, 1929, 1948, 1951, 1952, 1972, 1996)
Consensus All-Americans 70
Colors Royal Blue and Gold[1]
Fight song SAU Fight Song
Mascot Molly Ann & the Mulerider
Primary Rival UAM Boll Weevils

The Southern Arkansas Muleriders football team represents Southern Arkansas University (SAU) in the sport of American football. The Southern Arkansas Muleriders compete in Division II of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and in the Great American Conference.

SAU begin competing in 1911 when they were known as the Third District Agricultural School. Early Mulerider teams played local junior college and high school teams. The Muleriders are inaugural members of the Great American Conference. SAU has competed in the NCAA Division II since 1995 after spending almost 50 years as members of the NAIA.

Mulerider football teams have won 8 conference championships, participated in four college bowl games (2-1-1 record), and have made the NCAA Division II Playoffs in two seasons (0-2 record). SAU has produced 70 All-Americans and 172 First Team All-Conference players.

The Muleriders’ home stadium is Wilkins Stadium which opened in 1949. Wilkins Stadium features dual grandstands with seating for 6,000. Several renovations have been done to Wilkins Stadiums over the past few years. Artificial turf was recently installed and new ticket booths and concessions stands were added. Also on site at Wilkins Stadium is the Auburn Smith Field House which houses the SAU coaches offices, locker room, and training room.

Football Championships[edit]

Conference Championships[edit]

Southern Arkansas has won a total of 8 conference championships, including 2 in an early conference that included Arkansas junior colleges and high schools, 5 AIC Championships and 1 GSC Championships.

Conference affiliations:

Year Conference Coach Overall Record
1926 AIC Sage McLean 6-1–2
1927 AIC Sage McLean 7-2-1
1929 AIC Sage McLean 7-0-2
1948† AIC Elmer Smith 8-2
1951 AIC Elmer Smith 9–1
1952 AIC Elmer Smith 10–1
1972† AIC Raymond "Rip" Powell 8–2
1997† GSC Steve Roberts 9–2
Total Conference Championships: 8 (7 - AIC, 1 - GSC)
† Denotes co-champions


Pre-NCAA History (1911-1994)[edit]

AIC Era[edit]

Prior to joining NCAA Division II football, the Muleriders were an inaugural member of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference which featured several non-scholarship programs from the state of Arkansas. Six of these programs continue to be conference mates today. SAU saw varying periods of success during their years in the AIC. SAU fielded 61 teams during their time in the AIC and left the conference with a 309-270-25 record. The late 1920s were good to the Muleriders as the team won the AIC Championship in 1926, 1927, and 1929. The 1929 squad is the last team to finish a season unbeaten. The 1930s and 1940 saw years that SAU did not field a team. Many schools took off the World War II years due to the demands that war brought. However, by 1946 football was back at SAU to stay. Elmer Smith was hired to lead the program. Elmer Smith was able to duplicate the success of the late 1920s winning AIC Championships in 1948, 1951, & 1952. Coach Smith left the university to join Paul "Bear" Bryant's staff at the University of Alabama following the 1953 season.[2] Coach Smith finished at SAU with a 54-27-2 record.[3]

In 1954, Auburn Smith (no relation to Elmer Smith) was promoted from assistant football coach to the head coaching position. This began the longest tenured coach in SAU history. Auburn Smith guided the Mulerider program for 15 seasons and retired with the most wins in school history. Upon his retirement, Smith served as the athletic director for several years. The field house at Wilkins Stadium was named in his honor in 1995.[4]

Raymond "Rip" Powell was named as Smith's replacement and proceeded to lead SAU into the best five-year period in the programs history. From 1971-1975, Powell's squads compiled a 38-13-1 record and won the 1972 AIC Championship. Powell wasn't able to continue the success that he found at the beginning of his career and he retired following the 1978 season. Following Powell's retirement, SAU's program entered into a period of instability. Coaches rarely stayed more than a couple years and 8 win seasons were followed by 1 win seasons. There were bright spots. The 1981 squad, coached by Jimmy "Red" Parker reached the #1 ranking before finishing the season 7-3. In 1990, the Muleriders traveled to the Aztec Bowl in Mexico where they beat the Mexican All-Star team 41-31.[5]

At the conclusion of the 1994-1995 season, the AIC folded. Most of the schools had already moved from the NAIA to the NCAA ranks. SAU joined several other Arkansas institutions to form the Western Division of the Gulf South Conference. While this ended a wonderful period of SAU's athletic history, good things were just around the corner for the SAU football team.

NCAA History (1995-present)[edit]

GSC (1995-2011)[edit]

SAU was in a transitional period during the 1995 & 1996 seasons. However, any fears that Mulerider fans has about SAU's ability to compete at the NCAA Division II level were put to rest during the 1997 season. Coach Steve Roberts led SAU to the Gulf South Conference Championship in 1997 with an overall record of 9-2. The 1998 & 1999 seasons were equally successful as SAU finished 8-2 & 9-1. The 1999 squad lost their final contest to eventual GSC Champions Arkansas Tech in overtime. A win would have earn SAU their first unbeaten season in 70 years and would have given SAU their 2nd GSC Conference championship in their first three years in the league. Following the 1999 season, Coach Roberts was hired by Northwestern (LA) State.

Following Roberts at SAU was John Bland who coached the Muleriders to a 5-5 record in 2000, his only season at the helm. Steve Quinn replaced Bland and led the Muleriders for the next 8 seasons. The 2003 squad was Quinn's most successful. The 2003 squad finished 9-3 and made the NCAA Division II playoffs where the lost to GSC conference foe North Alabama. After three consecutive losing seasons to finish his tenure at SAU, current head coach Bill Keopple was hired to replace Quinn. Keopple's first season in Magnolia was SAU's final season in the Gulf South Conference.

GAC (2011-present)[edit]

Beginning in 2011, SAU joined five other Arkansas colleges and four Oklahoma colleges joined forces to become the Great American College. Leading the SAU team into the new conference was 3rd year head coach Bill Keopple. Keopple came to SAU after several years as a college assistant as well as a successful high school head coach. He brought with him an uptempo offense and multiple defense. The 2011 teams showed improvement on the field but finished the season with a 3-7 record. In 2012, the improvement was shown in a major way. Behind the inspired play of the offense, led by All-Americans Tyler Sykora, Mark Johnson, & Don Unamba, the Muleriders finished the season 8-3 and participated in the C.H.A.M.P.S Heart of Texas Bowl where the fell to McMurry 36-35. The 2013 season had high expectations with many of the starters from the 2012 squad returning. SAU stumbled out of the gate and finished the season 6-4. Despite the drop off in wins, SAU finished with consecutive winning records for the first time since 2002-2003.


Southern Arkansas plays its annual rivalry game, “The Battle of the Timberlands”, against the University of Arkansas at Monticello Boilweevils. The rivalry dates back to 1913 and the winning team is awarded a traveling trophy. SAU leads the series 55-35-1.


School Colors[edit]

SAU’s school colors of Royal Blue and Old Gold were chosen in honor of the Farmer’s Union. The union paved the way for the Third District Agricultural School to be founded in Magnolia in 1909.[6]


Southern Arkansas’s athletic teams have gone by several nicknames during the years. Names include “Aggies”, “Burros”, “Mulettes”, “Kats” and “Riderettes” before becoming the Muleriders/Lady Muleriders officially.[7] The Mulerider nickname is regularly names one of the most unusual nicknames in college athletics. There are several versions of how the Muleriders became the nickname of SAU. The university has accepted the following legend of the nickname:

Shortly after Thanksgiving in 1912, young men from the football team of the Third District Agricultural School (TDAS) rode mules to Coach George RufordTurrentine’s home north of the campus at Magnolia, Arkansas. In that year’s final game, they had played a scoreless tie game with Fordyce High School at TDAS on “Turkey Day,” November 28, and they wanted to talk over the season with the coach. It was not unusual for young men in the rural South to ride mules; as the animal used most often in Southern agriculture, they were easily available. In the school’s early years, football teams may have ridden mules occasionally to reach McNeil, five miles north of TDAS. It was there that they caught the Cotton Belt train to away games. There were only four automobiles in Columbia County in 1912 and no paved roads. Muddy roads in flooding weather conditions made travel difficult, even by wagon. Riding a mule was a more reliable means of transportation.
A few days after the Fordyce game, Coach Turrentine invited the players to dinner at his home, also located on the road to McNeil. As the riders dismounted in his yard, Turrentine walked onto his porch and shouted a greeting, “My Mule Riders!” This was the first known occasion when the name Mule Riders was used for the football team. Over time, it became more than the team’s name. Among all the nation’s institutions of higher education, the name has been uniquely associated with the school established in 1909. Over the next century, only TDAS and its three successor institutions—Magnolia A&M College, Southern State College, and Southern Arkansas University—embraced Mule Riders as a symbol for athletic teams, mascots, students, and alumni.[8]

The western style bronco-breaking rider on a bucking mule first appeared atop The Bray student newspaper masthead in 1949-1950.[9]


Molly Ann is the official mascot of the SAU Muleriders. Molly Ann is a full-size American mule ridden by a “mule rider”. Molly Ann can be found at football games, “Mulegates”, and other campus events.

Molly Ann replaced longtime mascot Molly B following Molly B's death on March 5, 2013. Molly B was the official mascot for 20 years.[10] [11]



“Mulegating” is a family-oriented event that gets Mulerider football fans geared up for every home SAU football game. Mulegating got its start in September, 2003, after the opening of the SAU Welcome Center. The SAU version of tailgating, students, family, and friends of SAU gather to visit, eat, and prepare for the upcoming game. The event is hosted by the University’s Office of Alumni Relations, and there is always a variety of grilled food, as well as games for the children.[12]

Alma mater[edit]

We hail thee now, oh SAU,
For thee we'll always stand,
Your eager sons and daughters
Form one united band.

Your glory and your fame will spread
Through all eternity,
We pledge to thee,
dear SAU,
Our Love and Loyalty.

Fight song[edit]

We are the Blue and Gold,
'Riders, so strong and bold!
We've got the spirit --
Come on, let's hear it!
Shout out for good ol' SAU:

Go 'Riders, go along,
This is our favorite song!
For it's M-U-L-E-R-I-D-E-R
'Riders, the best of SAU!

Current Coaching Staff[edit]

Name Position Alma mater Year Entering
Bill Keopple Head Coach Central Arkansas 6th
Josh Lawson Defensive Coordinator Alabama 6th
Landon Keopple Offensive Coordinator Tulsa 6th
Trent Figg Recruiting Coordinator/Special Teams Coordinator/Secondary William Jewell College 1st
Paul Streacker Offensive Line Valdosta State 2nd
Cordell Upshaw Defensive Line Southern Arkansas 3rd
Tyler Hasty Graduate Assistant - Wide Receivers Guilford College 2nd
Benson Jordan Graduate Assistant - Running Backs Ouachita Baptist 1st
Zach Lisko Graduate Assistant - Defensive Line Arkansas State 2nd
Chase Rico Student Assistant Southern Arkansas 1st

Head coaches[edit]

SAU has had 19 head coaches since it began play in 1911. Bill Keopple is the current head coach, having served in this role since 2009. Keopple came to SAU following a successful high school stop at Arkansas High School in Texarkana, Arkansas where he led the school to 2 state championships in five seasons. Auburn Smith won more games than any other SAU coach, with 63 wins. G.W. Bacot, Arvil Green, and Jimmy (Red) Parker each won at least 70% of the contests they coached.

Name Games Wins Losses Ties Percent First Year Last Year Years
G.R. Turrentine 35 11 21 3 0.357 1911 1917 7
J.W. Gardner 3 1 1 1 0.500 1918 1918 1
G.W. Bacot 8 8 0 0 1.000 1919 1919 1
A.J. Anderson 16 6 10 0 0.375 1920 1921 2
A.L. Ahrens 8 3 5 0 0.375 1922 1922 1
Sage McLean 117 51 54 12 0.487 1923 1936 14
Arvil Green 18 13 4 1 0.750 1940 1941 2
Elmer Smith 83 54 27 2 0.663 1946 1953 8
Auburn Smith 141 63 76 2 0.454 1954 1968 15
Raymond "Rip" Powell 102 62 38 2 0.618 1969 1978 10
Sam Goodwin 21 9 11 1 0.452 1979 1980 2
Jimmy "Red" Parker 10 7 3 0 0.700 1981 1981 1
Steve Arnett 40 20 18 2 0.525 1982 1985 4
Rob Hicklin 41 13 26 2 0.341 1986 1989 4
Don Tumey 44 22 21 1 0.511 1990 1993 4
Steve Roberts 60 35 24 1 0.592 1994 1999 6
John Bland 10 5 5 0 0.500 2000 2000 1
Steve Quinn 86 39 47 0 0.453 2001 2008 8
Bill Keopple 73 34 39 0 0.466 2009 8

Award winners[edit]

Through the 2013 season, 70 Muleriders have been named All-American with over 150 Muleriders have been named All-Conference. The following players and coaches have won individual awards.

Gulf South Conference Coach of the Year

  • 1997 - Steve Roberts

Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Year

  • 1997 - Fred Perry, LB

Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year

  • 2011 - Mark Johnson, RB

Great American Conference Freshman of the Year

  • 2015 - Barrett Renner, QB

Notable Muleriders[edit]

There have been 9 Muleriders who have played professional football in the National Football League and the Canadian Football League.

Notable SAU Players[edit]

Professional Players[edit]

Name Position Years Team
Dennis Woodberry DB 1986-1988 Atlanta Falcons & Washington Redskins
David Ward LB 1987 New England Patriots
Kenneth Brown WR 1987 Cincinnati Bengals
Kenneth Pettway DE 2000-2001 Houston Texans & Jacksonville Jaguars
Jordan Babineaux DB 2004-2012 Seattle Seahawks & Tennessee Titans
Cedric Thornton DT 2011–present Dallas Cowboys
Greg Stumon DE/LB 1986-1995 British Columbia Lions, Edmonton Eskimos, Ottawa Rough Riders, & Shreveport Pirates
Fred Perry DE/LB 1999-2009 Toronto Argonauts, Edmonton Eskimos, Ottawa Renegades, Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders, & Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Nik Lewis WR 2004–present Calgary Stampeders
Don Unamba DB 2014–present Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Bowl history[edit]

Southern Arkansas teams have been invited to participate in four bowls and have an overall bowl record of 2-1-1. The Muleriders most recent bowl appearance was in 2012 when the competing in the Heart of Texas Bowl.

W/L Date PF Opponent PA Bowl
T 12-12-1947 0 John McNeese (LA) JC 0 Cajun Bowl
W 12-03-1948 41 Eastern Oklahoma State 12 Papoose Bowl
W 12-12-1990 41 Mexican All-Stars 31 Aztec Bowl
L 12-01-2012 35 McMurry (TX) 36 Heart of Texas Bowl


  1. ^ "Colors". Retrieved 2016-04-18. 
  2. ^ Willis, James. Southern Arkansas University, The University's Centennial History, 1909-2009. p. 184. 
  3. ^ "Elmer Smith". College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved 26 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Willis, James. Southern Arkansas University, The Centennial History, 1909-2009. p. 350. 
  5. ^ Willis, James. Southern Arkansas University, The Centennial History, 1909-2009. p. 309. 
  6. ^ Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. pp. 32–33. 
  7. ^ Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. pp. 62–63, 94–95, 113, 18, 248. 
  8. ^ Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. pp. 13–14. 
  9. ^ Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. p. 95. 
  10. ^ Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. p. 346. 
  11. ^ "SAU Mule Mascot Dead at 26". Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Willis, Dr. James (2009). The Mulerider School's Centennial History, 1909-2009. United States: Xlibris Corporation. pp. 356–357. ISBN 978-1-4415-5364-5. 

External links[edit]