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UCA Bears looking toward leadership as key for success
Leadership isn’t something University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque thinks the Bears are lacking as they prepare to head into the 2011 season.
With a group of 19 seniors and 47 players in all who have on-the-field experience, UCA will be able to build upon the foundation that was laid during last season’s 7-4 campaign.
“I see a lot of leadership in (the senior class),” said Conque, who is entering his 12th season with the program, Wednesday during Media Day activities. “We have seniors at virtually every position. The only one really is the secondary, which is a concern, but I like what I’ve seen out of this senior class.
In comparison, the Bears had just 13 seniors — one of the smallest classes in the Conque era — in 2010. But, there will no doubt be plenty of familiar faces on the newly laid purple-and-gray turf at Estes Stadium.
While the new playing surface has been getting a lot of attention over the summer, the action on the field should have a more mature look.
“We ended last season on a real good note (a 28-24 win over McNeese State),” said senior linebacker Frank Newsome, who led the team with 100 tackles in 2010. “We just want to continue to build on that. We were young last year, so with the experience we have back, we should be a really good team.”
Newsome helped lead a defense that was one of the best in the Southland Conference. The Bears were the top scoring defense, holding opponents to just a shade over 21 points per game. That’s been a feat UCA has held since 2008.
That’s part of an accomplishment that has helped compliment what’s been a solid offense.
“We’ve kind of been known as a good offensive program,” Conque said. “But in the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve learned you’ve got to have a strong defense. We’ve worked hard on recruiting that side of the ball.
“I’ve been very pleased with (defensive coordinator) Matt Williamson and his staff.”
UCA was tops in the conference in passing defense last season, allowing 204.2 yards in the air. However, the Bears ranked fifth in run defense, as opponents averaged 119 yards rushing.
“One of the biggest keys will be stopping the run,” Newsome said. “We were great at the pass. Now we’ve got to get better at stopping the run.”
That could especially hold true if you measure how competitive the SLC games have been.
“We’ve done a study, and 77 percent of the conference games we’ve played since joining Division I have been by eight points or less — just one score,” Conque said. “We’ve got so much parity in the league.”
There’s a good deal of speed and athleticism on the UCA roster.
“We’ve got a lot of team speed, especially at the wide receiver position,” Conque said. “We’re about as deep there as we’ve ever been since I’ve been here. We also have the chance to stretch the field more than we’ve ever been able to.”
Conque also said he was impressed with the athleticism on defense. He added that team size is still a work in progress, but this year’s group still has its own positive characteristics.
“I like our length, and I like our athleticism,” Conque said.
Leading the offense will be quarterback Nathan Dick, who transferred from the University of Arkansas three years ago. During that time, Conque has seen quite a development from his signal caller.
“He’s a different young man than when he showed up here,” Conque said. “He’s more fundamentally sound and a little more athletic. I’m very pleased with his progress.
“We’re going to go as far as his performance dictates.”
That’s a responsibility Dick doesn’t shy away from.
“I’m really confident,” Dick said. “I feel that as a quarterback, you need to be a coach on the field. I’m ready to take on a bigger role in that area.”
But again, that’s just part of the leadership this senior-laden team possesses.
“We’re expecting great things,” said former Conway High standout Isaiah Jackson. “Great leadership will carry us.”
As far as that goes, that’s a load the senior receiver and kick returner is ready to shoulder.
“Being one of the seniors at wide receiver, I just want to take on more of a leadership role and help the team be the best it can,” Jackson said. “We’re more focused this year and know what the prize is. We’ve been there before, and we just expect to win.”
The first chance at that will come Sept. 1, when the Bears host Henderson State for the first game on the new-look, multi-colored field.
By MARK BURKE, Log Cabin Democrat