UCA: Bears playing in the big leagues now

But it didn’t finish that way. The Bears went 1-6 down the stretch, including five straight losses (each by four points or fewer).

“We’ve re-evaluated everything we do as a team,” Coach Clint Conque said. “We’re not changing just to change, but we’ve made some little updates in the program to make us more efficient and more cohesive. We felt like we weren’t as cohesive as we needed to be last year.”

The Bears are in more of a state of tweaking than rebuilding. Twenty-three seniors graduated from last year’s team, but the Bears do return 10 starters – seven on offense and three on defense. But for the first time in four years, the Bears are not restricted by the transition to Division I. This year, the Bears are fully eligible for postseason play.

The biggest question on offense is at the quarterback position. Junior Nathan Dick (6-4, 225) looks poised to take over after transferring to UCA two years ago from the University of Arkansas. Redshirt freshman Wynrick Smothers (6-1, 210) gives a different look at the position, offering speed and athleticism behind center. Another Arkansas transfer, sophomore Jim Youngblood (6-1, 225), will also be in the mix. Youngblood is a former all-state athlete from Camden Fairview.

“We feel like we have some good depth at quarterback,” Conque said. “It will be a really strong position for us. Dick made some big improvements in spring practices. He’s really gained some confidence in his second year in the system.”

Three sophomores return to bolster a deep backfield. Jackie Hinton Jr. (5-10, 200), Anthony Blackmon (5-10, 200) and Terence Bobo (6-0, 210) each gained valuable experience last fall, and each back gives the Bears a different running style.

“Explosion, speed – you get it all with these guys,” Conque said. “They complement each other, and they all are good receivers out of the backfield.”

Senior Willie Landers (6-2, 210) returns to lead the receiving corps after missing all of last season because of a knee injury. In 2008, Landers caught 44 passes for 735 yards and seven touchdowns. Junior Isaiah Jackson (5-11, 185) pulled in 20 balls for 288 yards and a touchdown last fall. Junior T.J. Adams (6-1, 190) and sophomore Dominique Croom (6-3, 190) round out the receivers.

“We have the receivers to really spread the ball out again this year,” Conque said. “Last year, we depended more on the running game, but this year, I think we’ll be able to be strong in both areas and mix it up.”

Two starters return on the offensive line at the guard spots – junior Austin Emerson (6-3, 280) and sophomore Corey Howard (6-1, 280). Juniors Matt Dickerson (6-5, 280), Joe Lehocky (6-4, 285) and Logan Roubique (6-2, 280) all saw time across the line last year.

Last year’s defensive leader, defensive end Larry Hart, is now in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hart repeated as Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He wasn’t the only Bear lost on defense – UCA must now replace eight starters on the defensive side of the ball.

Senior Markell Carter (6-5, 255) returns at defensive end after a solid junior season. Carter was second on the team last fall with 6.5 sacks. Senior Hutton Andrew (6-1, 280) and junior Trey Lippe (6-3, 255) gained experience on the defensive line last year.

Senior Tok Opeloye (5-11, 220) is a serviceable veteran at outside linebacker. Senior cornerback Henry Minor (5-10, 175) is the only returning defensive back. Minor recorded 39 tackles a year ago.

The steady Eddie Carmona (6-0, 210) returns to handle placekicking duties for the Bears. The senior went 16-for-20 last year in field goal attempts and a perfect 37-for-37 on PATs. Carmona will also handle punting.

“We’re a pretty young group this year,” Conque said. “But we have a lot of potential and room to grow into a good team.”

5 Players to Watch:

Jackie Hinton Jr. (So. RB)
Isaiah Jackson (Jr. WR)
Markell Carter (Sr. DE)
Henry Minor (Sr. CB)
Eddie Carmona (Sr. K)


Sept. 2    Elizabeth City State
Sept. 11    at Eastern Illinois
Sept. 18    Murray State
Sept. 25    at Tulsa
Oct. 9    Northwestern State*
Oct. 16     at Stephen F. Austin*
Oct. 23    at Nicholls State*
Oct. 30    SE Louisiana*
Nov. 6    at Texas State*
Nov. 13    Sam Houston State*
Nov. 20    McNeese State*
* Southland Conference game