The University of Arkansas-Monticello football team opens up the season with its first preseason practice at 3:45 p.m. today.
This year should be a completely different year for the Boll Weevils, and not just in terms that they have new football jerseys. UAM coach Hud Jackson has ditched the black jerseys in favor of green jerseys, which matches the school’s colors.
While the new jerseys will offer an appeal to the fans’ eyes, Jackson is looking for a considerable improvement on the field during his second year with UAM. Last year the Weevils finished 5-6 with a 3-3 record in the newly formed Great American Conference. The Weevils were 5-1 at home and 0-4 on the road with one loss at a neutral site.
UAM opens the season at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1 at home against College of Faith.
Then the Weevils will kick off eight straight GAC games, the first-year of full slate conference games for the league. The season wraps up with a nonconference game against Northwestern Oklahoma State at home.
As camp opens, the Weevils have five major questions to answer for the upcoming season.
1. Who will the quarterback be?
Last year freshman Hunter Leppert was all set to be UAM’s future at the quarterback position and he was looking the part early on in the season before a torn ACL ended his season after just three games.
Leppert showed potential in those three games, though, as he was 72 of 119 through the air for a 60.5 completion percentage and 771 yards. He threw five touchdowns and no interceptions.
The torn ACL forced Leppert only practicing during a small portion of UAM’s spring season. He was able to gain a redshirt for the past season and will have four years left for the Boll Weevils.
Damon Wicker and Kyle Manning took over in Leppert’s absence during the fall and both have since graduated.
Jacob Lennox, who was formerly a minor league baseball player, battled transfer Tyler Copeland for snaps in the spring season, but Copeland has since left the program.
UAM recently added Itawamba Community College quarterback Canden Dallas for this fall to go along with Texarkana freshman Elgie Richards, who all could battle for the starting job.
If Leppert is 100 percent back from his knee injury, he seems like Jackson’s guy with the promise he showed last year. If he isn’t healthy, it could be anyone’s job by the first game against College of Faith.
2. What differences will there be in Jackson’s second year?
Jackson was hired in December of 2010. He did not get a full offseason of recruiting and was installing his system in that spring and preseason camp.
After a full year of getting acclimated to Jackson’s schemes, it could be a whole different look on the field with how the plays are executed.
Jackson is young and has the pedigree and knowledge of how to win at the Division II level. He is just 44 years old and was the associate head coach at Central Arkansas.
Jackson has been trying to get a sense of enthusiasm around the UAM football program and would like them to become a power in the GAC just like Central Arkansas was a power at the Division II level.
Now the progress will have to be shown on the football field. Can Jackson get this team to be better than .500 in his second year since the players now fully understand his schemes and his ideals?
3. How will UAM fare in the GAC?
Last year the Weevils finished 3-3 in the newly-minted GAC. After a year in flux, there will now be a full slate of conference games for all of the members of the GAC.
The league even has two new members — Southern Nazarene, of Okla., and Northwestern Oklahoma State. Since both schools are provisional members, they are not eligible for the championship this year.
The .500 conference record put UAM in fourth place last year as Ouachita Baptist clinched the league title with a 6-1 record. Henderson State went 4-1 and East Central was 6-2. Ouachita beat UAM 38-20 and East Central defeated the Weevils handily 34-9. UAM did not face Henderson State.
The Weevils face all three schools with Ouachita as the homecoming game. Henderson State and East Central are both road games.
While the rest of the league is not chopped liver, UAM will have to fare significantly better to become a force in the conference in year No. 2.
4. Will the defense show improvement?
UAM’s defense gave up an average of 28 points per game, which is a high number. Especially since the Weevils scored an average of 26.27 points per game.
However, UAM had an average of more yards per game than its opponent. Plus, the 28 points given up a game ranked UAM fifth in the then-nine team conference and the 362.5 yards per game was third best.
Those stats were helped, though, by shutting out Texas College, allowing just five points to West Georgia and holding Valdosta State to nine points.
UAM gave up at least gave up at least 20 points to every conference opponent last year.
If the Weevils are going to compete for a GAC title, it will have to stop conference opponents from finding the end zone on a consistent basis.
5. What kind of impact can the running backs have?
While UAM did not have a 1,000-yard rusher last season, Nakita Myles gained 778 yard on 132 carries — good enough for an impressive 5.69 yards per carry. He also scored eight touchdowns.
Wicker added 552 yards on 125 carries and six touchdowns. Both Wicker and Myles are gone along with Greg Taylor (374 yards and four touchdowns).
UAM has eight running backs on the preseason roster, including McGehee’s Kendall Lambert, who is a redshirt freshman, Star City freshman Drue Harvey and Stuttgart freshman Keith Humbert.
Blake Prince, a senior, is the only upperclassman for the running back group and worked out on the defensive side of the ball, too, during spring camp.
The position could be up for grabs and whoever gets it is expected to take a good amount of pressure off whoever gets the starting quarterback job.