UAPB predicted to finish last again
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is predicted to finish last again in the Southwestern Athletic Conference football standings.
In fact, the SWAC’s preseason predictions are exactly the same as last season, despite head coaching changes at five of its universities.
UAPB was selected to finish last in the Western Division for the fifth consecutive year at Friday’s SWAC Media Day in Birmingham, Ala., and in the past four seasons, those predictions have come true.
“Yeah, I thought they got it right,” said first-year UAPB Coach Cedric Thomas. “Based on preseason, we should be. There’s no way to gauge spring practice. There’s no way to gauge the new attitude. There’s no way to gauge these young men right now.”
The “new attitude” has been Thomas’ primary project this summer, correcting a behavioral habit that stems from a 10-41 conference record (.196) in the five seasons since their last SWAC championship.
“It’s just when bad things arrive,” he said. “Everything’s fine when everything’s good and on the up-and-up. But as soon as you run into adversity or a coach is digging into you, you need to be able to understand that it’s not punishment, it’s protection. We’re trying to protect these men from doing things wrong, so that when they get out into society, they know that there’s repercussions to everyone’s actions.
“I can see it engaging now, you have a 6 a.m. workout and you have 100 percent participation. You go to study hall and kids [are] where they’re supposed to be. You go to the throwing and running, everybody’s excited. Nobody’s complaining. That’s the small things right now that as coaches we’re saying behind the scenes, ‘Hey, they might be starting to get it.’”
Thomas was hired to save the program that he said once saved him.
Senior running back KeShawn Williams was named to the preseason All-SWAC First Team, and Thomas talked about how he played at UAPB with Williams’ father, Kevin, from 1998-1999.
“On them weekends when I couldn’t get home, I was over at his pop’s crib,” Thomas said. “Their family took me in and fed me and made sure I didn’t make bad decisions. It was a home away from home.”
Williams, a Pine Bluff Dollarway High graduate, led the Golden Lions with 703 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns in 2017, with an additional 332 yards receiving.
Williams is a centerpiece in UAPB’s new Spread offense, which will need to improve on a scoring offense (21 points per game) that ranked 84th out of the 123 teams in the Football
“This thing has changed completely,” Williams said. “First year, we were like, ‘Man, we can compete, but we’re probably not going to win.’ Now, we have confidence. We’re gonna whoop some butt.”
Thomas, who spent the last six seasons as a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Alcorn State, said the UAPB defense will use multiple defensive formations: 4-25, 4-3, 3-3 Stack, depending on the situation.
Defensive end Jalen Steward, 6-4, 260 pounds, will be used as both a traditional and standing defensive end in the various fronts, and Thomas expects the junior will build on the nine tackles for loss and three sacks he recorded last season.
The Golden Lions ranked 107th in scoring defense (34.5 points allowed per game) in 2017.
Thomas said UAPB will officially open fall practice Aug. 4, and the Golden Lions will open the 2018 season at home Sept. 1 against Division II opponent, Morehouse College.
It will be the third meeting between the schools in the past four seasons, and the Golden Lions have beaten the Maroon Tigers each time.
In the last three seasons, UAPB has only won three other games: Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State and Jackson State.