Arkansas-Monticello will have its Great American Conference and season opener today when it faces the East Central Tigers at Norris Field at 6 p.m. in Ada, Okla.
“The main thing that I’m excited about is going up against someone different than ourselves,” UAM head coach Hud Jackson said. “It has not been the longest fall camp, but it has been a very physical one.
“Our guys are locked in and ready for this.”
East Central lost 10 award-winning players from its 6-5, 2012 team, and returns a total of 12 starters. One of them is Fred Gains, who grabbed two interceptions against UAM a year ago.
“They are always a talented football team and that is no exception this year,” Jackson said. “They are very talented and have some good football players.
“They lost some good ones, but they replaced them with more.
“They are going to be aggressive and well coached.”
Last year, the Tigers earned a 31-17 win over UAM. ECU’s offense combined for 366 yards of total offense, including 143 yards passing and 223 rushing.
Spencer Bond earned his first career start and went 11 for 20 passing and rushed for 28 yards.
“Offensively, they are very talented,” Jackson said. “They had a wide receiver that missed last year due to an academic problem, I believe but in 2011, he had a ton of touchdown catches.
“They are going to be talented.”
Senior George Robbins, who sat the entire 2012 season, earn All-GAC Second Team honors after leading the team with 12 touchdown catches in 2011. He caught 30 passes for 487 yards and had three games in which he caught two TD passes.
“The biggest thing we have to accomplish is minimize our mistakes,” Jackson said. “When you go up against an aggressive team, they are going to try to force you into some mistakes.
“Obviously, we are going to have to be smart and not get flustered to overcome those things.”
Jackson added that the biggest key to the game is controlling the line of scrimmage on the defense side of the ball.
“The whole key will be our guys up front,” Jackson said. “The last couple of years, we have had some good players and I think we have some depth.
“If we aren’t putting pressure on them, then we ain’t got a chance.”
Jackson said with no pressure, even an average quarterback can sit in the pocket and have success.
“Our front four will have to put pressure on them and control the line of scrimmage,” Jackson said. “If we don’t, it could be a long day for us.”
Junior strong safety Anthony Hughes returns this year after leading the team with a total of 60 tackles. Also returning is junior nose guard Jalen Garmon, who totaled seven tackles for loss and led the team with 4.5 sacks last year.
Sophomore Colton Morrison, a transfer from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, was named the starting quarterback last week and will make his debut for the Boll Weevils today.
“He is a talented football player,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to put more pressure on him than he has already put on himself, but he has some talented people around him and he has to get the ball in their hands and let them work.
“He has to be consistent and give our team a chance. He has to be fundamental and do the little things right.”
The Boll Weevils enter the fall with 38 lettermen and 15 starters returning from last year’s 1-10 squad. Among the top returners is senior receiver Jamal Nixon, who was UAM’s lone all-conference performer.
Nixon had a team-high 59 receptions for 771 yards and five touchdowns last year.
“We have to play smart football, understand our assignments and do the fundamental things right,” Jackson, who is in his third season at UAM (6-16 overall), said.
Today’s game marks the third straight season for UAM to visit ECU. With new teams being added to the GAC, the conference schedule has been changed each year. ECU will make its first trip to Monticello next year.
Weevils to honor Barnes with helmet decal
MONTICELLO — When the Arkansas-Monticello football team takes the field today, each of the Boll Weevils will be dedicating their performances in honor of the late Tommy Barnes, the all-time winningest football coach in UAM history, with a decal displaying Barnes’ initials.
Barnes, who coached more seasons and won more games than any coach in UAM history, passed away this past March following a long-running battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 61.