Bryce Giddens didn’t start his first game as a true freshman at Arkansas State last season.
But in the Red Wolves opener at No. 4 Oregon, he got in the game quickly and latched on to the center position, starting the next 12 games.
Colquitt County’s four-year starter and All-State center continued to perform against opponents such as Oregon and Nebraska and the Red Wolves’ Sun Belt Conference foes as he did while helping lead to Packers to a state championship game and two state semifinal appearances.
So impressed were the writers who cover the Sun Belt Conference, that he was named to the league’s All-Freshman team.
Giddens was back in Moultrie for the holidays and was at the Pineland gymnasium one evening to watch his former Packer wrestling teammates perform.
He had a fine career on the mats for the Packers, posting a 94-22 record and twice finishing third as a heavyweight in the state tournament.
And he holds the school record for highest takedown percentage at 84 percent.
But it was his strength and the techniques he learned from his two high school football position coaches – his father Kevin Giddens and Joey Bennett - that combined to create his ticket to playing at the next level.
Giddens started 45 games for the Packers, including 36 in a row.
He might be ready to start a similar streak in Jonesboro, Ark., where he wore familiar No. 68 as part of a 2012 Arkansas State team that went 10-3, with two of its losses coming to Oregon and Nebraska. The Red Wolves appeared in the GoDaddy.com Bowl for the second year in a row and upset Kent State 17-14 in what was expected to be a shoot-out.
Giddens just shrugged when asked why two high-scoring teams combined for just 31 points in Mobile.
“We had a lot of time to practice and get ready,” he said.
The Red Wolves played their final regular-season game – a 45-0 victory over Middle Tennessee State in that clinched a second straight Sun Belt Conference championship – on Dec. 1. The bowl game was on Jan. 6.
The 10-win season did not surprise the players, Giddens said.
“We expected to have a good year,” he said. “We had gone to the GoDaddy.com bowl last year.
“We thought we’d be pretty good.”
And the Red Wolves had an outstanding coach this past season in Gus Malzahn, who had left his previous job as Auburn’s offensive coordinator to take over the Arkansas State program.
But as Hugh Freeze did the previous year, Malzahn left for an SEC head coaching job. Freeze went from Arkansas State to Ole Miss. Malzahn, after just one year in Jonesboro, has returned to Auburn.
“We all appreciate what he did for us,” Giddens said of Malzahn.
Going to Auburn with Malzahn was Giddens’s offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, who helped the Red Wolves set a school-record with 481.8 yards of total offense per game while ranking 16th nationally in fewest sacks allowed.
Named on Dec. 12 to replace Malzahn as Arkansas State’s head coach was former Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.
Harsin has spent much of his career as an assistant at Boise State, but was at Texas the last two seasons as the Longhorns went 19-6.
Giddens said Harsin has spent much of his time out on the road recruiting, “but I’ve talked to him a couple of times. I like him so far.”
Harsin named former Colorado All-American and six-year NFL veteran Brad Bedell to coach the offensive line.
The Red Wolves will take an eight-game winning streak and back-to-back Sun Belt Conference championships into Harsin’s first head coaching job.
And while Giddens and a number of other top performers will return, Arkansas State will be without graduating quarterback Ryan Aplin, the two-time Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year and GoDaddy.com Most Valuable Player.
While working long hours earning and keeping a starting job, Giddens still managed to get a chance to look around Arkansas. And while he has had to get used to freezing temperatures and snow, there was at least one outdoor lure for him.
“There’s good hunting out there,” he said. “Some good duck hunting.”
As the weather warms up next spring, he is sure to a find place to put a boat in and do some fishing when he is not continuing to work on improving for his sophomore season.
But this spring will be doubly busy.
Giddens and longtime girlfriend Bryson Griner are getting married in May.
Both will continue their educations in Jonesboro.