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Freshman play makers

Published: Monday, September 10, 2012

Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 18:09

“I don't like Rocky right now,” David Oku deadpanned. The junior running back had been asked about true freshman Rocky Hayes, who switched from defense to offense last week and slithered his way through a gauntlet of Memphis defenders to help the Arkansas State Red Wolves defeat the Tigers 33-28 Saturday night. Hayes had only four touches but amassed 48 yards and helped revitalize an offense that struggled throughout the first half.

            “He's the fastest guy on the field, the most electric guy on the field, and we had a couple plays for him, and he was one of the difference makers in the game.... He'll be playing offense from here on out,” said head coach Gus Malzahn.

            Though he spent most of fall camp practicing as a cornerback, Hayes says that his switch to the offense wasn't a difficult adjustment.

            “I came into ASU from a small high school, and at small high schools you always play both ways. So throughout my high school career I played both ways the whole time, so it really wasn't too bad at all,” he said.

            Hayes, along with Oku and redshirt freshman wide receiver J.D. McKissic, are three new faces helping to bolster an already potent Red Wolves offense.

            Oku, a transfer from the Tennessee Volunteers, was a workhorse Saturday night, rushing 25 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. He was rated as the nation's top all-purpose back coming out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, OK. As a Vol, he had 1,175 kick off return yards as a freshman and sophomore.

            “David Oku ran the ball hard, held onto the football [and] made the tough yards, especially toward the end of the game. He's got that competitive, hard-nosed edge about him,” Malzahn said.

            He may not play against SEC competition in front of 100,000 fans like he did at Neyland Stadium, but Oku says he's happy to be in Jonesboro.

            “I don't care if it's not like Tennessee. I'm not there anymore, period. This is where I love being,” he said.

            With the absence of senior receivers Taylor Stockemer and Allen Muse, McKissic got the opportunity to play a more involved role and answered the call with eight catches for 99 yards. His one mistake was muffing a punt return that the Tigers recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, but that didn't diminish Malzahn's praise for him.

            “J.D. is a very good player for us. We were asking him to play about four different positions for us and be our punt returner,” Malzahn said. “He's really hard on himself, and he's a great competitor.... He's a very good football player.”

            The three look to be key contributors throughout the rest of the season, adding to a bevy of talent at the skill positions.

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