Experienced Bears open 2023 Fall Camp

CONWAY — Experience was at the forefront for the University of Central Arkansas Bears on the opening day of Fall Camp on Aug. 3.

The Bears, who return nearly 80 percent of their starters from a year ago, worked for a little more than two hours on a hot, muggy morning in Conway.

“I thought our old guys, the guys who have been here, looked great,” said Brown, entering his sixth season as head coach of his alma mater. “They played fast, had a good pace of play, made a lot of plays. And the bottom line is, what you’re looking for when you have this many guys back on your roster, is retention. And I thought we had that this morning.

“Obviously, getting some OTA work, things we did in June and July, that helped when you come out here on Day 1. Very proud of the way we approached it today. I thought we approached it with a purpose. I thought we approached it with a group that is hungry about getting better.”

UCA, which finished 5-6 last fall and won a share of the ASUN Conference title, opens the 2023 season at FBS Oklahoma State on Saturday, Sept. 2 in Stillwater, Okla. The Bears will take a highly experienced group into that hostile setting of 60,000 or so. 

“I don’t think there’s any question that we’re well ahead of where we were a year ago,” said Brown. “And that’s a testament to us retaining our players. And that’s not easy to do in the college football landscape the way it is now. But our guys get it. We’re probably three or four days into an install sheet where today would be an install 1 with a young group. And that’s something we’re excited about as coaches. 

“But that’s a double-edged sword. We’re also holding those guys to higher standards, and they have to understand that and also bring somebody with them. We talk about that, you have to get yourself right, but once you get yourself right, bring a teammate with you, bring two teammates with you. And when you get a bunch of guys bringing guys with them, it’s like compound interest, it’s going to end up getting a championship-caliber team we want.

“Very pleased where we’re at, as opposed to years past where we were turning over a roster.”

UCA returns a core group of players that features several All-Americans and even more All-Conference type-players. Brown said the talent is there, but consistency will be a big key. 

“Our guys are going to be held to high standards, so we have to be even better tomorrow morning when we come out here,” he said. “But they’ve got want-to, they’ve got effort, all those things. But again, the consistency and attention to detail, especially some of our younger guys, has to continue to improve.

“Your goal as a coach is to get your best 11 out there on every snap. What that looks like is still to be determined. We’re working on ourselves, and  the improvement has to continue to grow each and every day.”

Brown mentioned sophomore wide receiver Myles Butler as one that everyone on the team can look to as an example of consistency and dedication. Butler, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from Montgomery, Ala., caught 22 passes for 442 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. Brown expects a huge increase in production in 2023.

“He’s mature beyond his years. He’s a kid that knows what he wants, his work ethic is second to none on this football team,” said Brown. “He’s a young man who spends nearly every morning up here at 7 a.m. working by himself or with a couple of teammates. Very engaged in the process. And you (always) hope you get that when you recruit young men, but you just never know. 

“But that’s the growth you look for, that’s being the holistic football player in my opinion. We’ve got a lot of guys who can run fast, can make big catches, are big and strong in the weight room. But what are you doing outside of the football field? Are you being a good teammate, are you being someone that wants to see your team grow. And that’s what championships are made of, a bunch of unselfish dudes that want to see their teammates do well, too. 

“Yeah, you’re wanting to get better, and you don’t want to lose your spot. Myles doesn’t want to lose his (starting) spot, but he’s helping his guys behind him. He’s confident enough in his ability that he doesn’t have to worry about that.”  

Brown said the experience and maturity on this squad will pay dividends throughout the season.

“That’s your goal whenever you’re coaching these guys… your best teams are peer led,” said Brown. “Championship teams are peer led. We’re going to play a team in Week 3 in North Dakota State, I’d be willing to bet they’re peer led. They’re one of those teams that (have a) file into place, next guy ready mentality. 

“Seeing our guys like Myles Butler, TaMuarion Wilson, Logan Jessup, David Walker, those guys are out there coaching on the field. That helps us as coaches. They know what they are doing, they know what they are seeing, they have experience and they’re in the fire. So if you’re in the fire and then are able to go out there and coach your backups on things that you see or maybe the nuances of the offense or defense that can maybe help you, then that’s only going to help us get better.”