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With Dick back at QB, UCA Bears raising expectations
The University of Central Arkansas Bears are coming off a third place finish in Southland Conference play in 2010 and were picked third by both the league coaches and sports information directors preseason polls.
The Bears, led by head coach Clint Conque in his 12th season, return 19 starters including nine on offense, seven on defense and three on special teams.
“We are excited about the season,” said Conque on the 2011 season. “I actually think this is the highest we’ve been picked in the conference after winning the league in 2008, finishing second in 2007 and third last year.
“We’ve raised those expectations and have been picked by some of the national publications in the top-10 or top-20.”
The Bears will be led in 2011 by second-year starting quarterback Nathan Dick on offense and senior middle linebacker Frank Newsome. Dick is the Bears’ first returning quarterback in three seasons while throwing for 2,589 yards with a 63-percent on completions with 12 touchdowns.
“I think Nathan feels much more comfortable in our system,” said Conque on his senior under center. “He’s been here for three years now and I think he has embraced the expectations of played quarterback at UCA. He’s much more comfortable in the system and much more confident.
“I think that we have a skill set around him that can be dynamic in both in the backfield and at receiver.”
Conque continued and said that the Bears offense is going to be dictated how the offensive line performs upfront.
“We want to be able to run the ball more effectively and efficiently,” Conque said. “Our offensive approach is the very similar to McNeese’s over the years. I like to spin it and throw it as much as anyone in the country, but I also realize that you have to be able to run the football at times and dictate the physicality of the line of scrimmage.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bears are led by Newsome at linebacker, sophomore Jestin Love at strong safety, and junior Larry Duvall at tackle lead the way for the defensive unit.
“There’s a guy in the middle up front, a guy in the middle at linebacker and a guy in the middle at safety and you can branch out from there,” said Conque. “I like our speed and have some experience.”
Central Arkansas will need to replace Markell Carter at defensive end from 2010 who was drafted by the New England Patriots. Carter is the third defensive end from Conway to be drafted into the NFL in five years including Jacob Ford (Tennessee Titans) in 2007 and Larry Hart (Jacksonville Jaguars) in 2010.
“That’s three defensive ends drafted in the past five years,” said the Bears’ head coach. “I don’t know if we have that one dynamic individual up front, but collectively we may be deeper.”
One of the main issues the Bears will need to sort out quickly in fall practice will be on special teams. Two-time All-SLC selection Eddie Carmona has graduated, but junior college All-American Kevin Buford and Arkansas transfer Eddie Camara will be vying to fill the role.
“We have to get that sorted out very quickly in camp so we can start refining those areas,” Conque said.
Central Arkansas has gained attention all over the country for their new turf design. The Bears will be playing on an artificial surface that features alternating purple and grey stripes every five yards with the Bears’ logo at midfield.
“It’s really been exciting for our players, and especially our recruits,” said Conque on the design. “It’s brought a new vibe to the program.”
Pick up the Sunday edition of the Swouthwest Daily News to read the next article in this series on the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
By Mickel Ponthieux, Southwest Daily News