Southern Arkansas Muleriders football
|Southern Arkansas Mulerider football|
|Athletic director||Steve Browning|
|Head coach||Bill Keopple
7th year, 33–39–0 (.458)
|Other staff||Landon Keopple – Offensive Coordinator
Josh Lawson – Defensive Coordinator
Trent Figg – Recruiting/Special Teams Coordinator & Secondary
Paul Streacker – Offensive Line
Cordell Upshaw – Defensive Line
Tyler Hasty – Wide Receivers
Benson Jordan – Running Backs
Zach Lisko – Graduate Assistant
Chase Rico – Student Assistant
|Home stadium||Wilkins Stadium|
|Stadium surface||RealGrass Turf|
|League||NCAA Division II|
|Past conferences||Independent (1911–1925)
Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (1926–1994)
Gulf South Conference (1995–2011)
|All-time record||454–429–30 (.514)|
|Postseason bowl record||2–4–1 (.357)|
|Conference titles||8 (1926, 1927, 1929, 1948, 1951, 1952, 1972, 1996)|
Royal Blue and Gold
|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.
- 1 Football Championships
- 2 History
- 3 Rivalries
- 4 Traditions
- 5 Current Coaching Staff
- 6 Head coaches
- 7 Award winners
- 8 Notable Muleriders
- 9 Bowl history
- 10 References
- 11 External links
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.
- 1911–1925, Unknown
- 1926–1995, Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference
- 1995–2011, Gulf South Conference
- 2011–present, Great American Conference
|1972†||AIC||Raymond "Rip" Powell||8–2|
|Total Conference Championships:||8 (7 - AIC, 1 - GSC)|
|† Denotes co-champions|
Pre-NCAA History (1911-1994)
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. Coach Smith finished at SAU with a 54-27-2 record.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Nickname and Logo
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. The Mulerider nickname is regularly names one of the most unique 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.
The western style bronco-breaking rider on a bucking mule first appeared atop The Bray student newspaper masthead in 1949-1950.
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.
“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.
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,
Our Love and Loyalty.
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! GO! GO!
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
|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|
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|
|Raymond "Rip" Powell||102||62||38||2||0.618||1969||1978||10|
|Jimmy "Red" Parker||10||7||3||0||0.700||1981||1981||1|
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
Notable SAU Players
|Dennis Woodberry||DB||1986-1988||Atlanta Falcons & Washington Redskins|
|David Ward||LB||1987||New England Patriots|
|Kenneth Brown||WR||1987||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Jordan Babineaux||DB||2004-2012||Seattle Seahawks & Tennessee Titans|
|Cedric Thornton||DT||2011–present||Philadelphia Eagles|
|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|
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.
|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|
- Willis, James. Southern Arkansas University, The University's Centennial History, 1909-2009. p. 184.
- "Elmer Smith". College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved 26 August 2014.
- Willis, James. Southern Arkansas University, The Centennial History, 1909-2009. p. 350.
- Willis, James. Southern Arkansas University, The Centennial History, 1909-2009. p. 309.
- Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. pp. 32–33.
- Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. pp. 62–63, 94–95, 113, 18, 248.
- Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. pp. 13–14.
- Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. p. 95.
- Willis, James (2009). Southern Arkansas University. XlibrisCorporation. p. 346.
- "SAU Mule Mascot Dead at 26". Retrieved 5 March 2013.
- 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.