For at least the third straight year, Arkansas-Pine Bluff will go into a football season with a linebacker who registered more than 100 tackles the previous season.
No, it’s not Jer-ryan Harris this time, but he came pretty close.
It’s Xavier Lofton, and his performance in 2012 only indicates how far he’s come as a key contributor.
Not only does the senior from Lexington, Miss., let his game talk, he’s established himself as one of the Golden Lions’ most vocal leaders in preseason camp. He draws maybe as much attention challenging his teammates in practice as he did last year with 107 tackles — which was second to Bill Ross’ 127.
Not bad for someone who had 11 tackles in 10 games as a sophomore reserve.
The way Lofton figures: “The more you work, the more vocal you can be.”
“To be honest with you, he’s always had that in him,” said Harris, Lofton’s classmate who had 98 stops last year. “ It’s just that he’s got his shot, and he just proved himself.”
Lofton had to prove himself from the start of the 2012 season. That’s when he moved into the first string for injured senior Joe Dalton.
From there, he built a campaign good enough to give UAPB its fourth 100-tackle player in three years. Harris had 129 in his 2010 SWAC Freshman of the Year season, and Ross preceded his 127-tackle season with 107 in 2011.
“They take a lot of pride in what they do, and they’re really good athletes,” UAPB linebackers coach Earl Buckingham said. “They run hard to the football. I think we run as hard as anybody in the country. When you do that, you’re going to make a lot of plays.”
The expectation of Harris and Lofton being constant hitters isn’t expected to change, especially with one trying to outwork the other.
“Jer-ryan Harris is my biggest competitor, to me, because he knows the same things I know,” Lofton said. “I know we know the best technique; it’s just, can I do it better than him? We’re always in competition with each other.”
The competition is helpful because they’re the only two seniors among a linebacking corps that has addressed its depth needs with plenty of freshmen.
Redshirt sophomores Antonio Jenkins and Kyle Walker are the only other linebackers with UAPB experience. They’re competing for the third and final starting spot in the 4-3 scheme along with freshmen Brian Anderson (redshirt), Willie Duncan III and LaFarrell Franklin. Jamal Smith and Marcell Barnes are the other freshman linebackers on the roster.
So far, Harris likes what he sees from the younger players.
“The young guys came in from day one busting heads,” Harris said. “It’s exciting to see them play, practice and see what they can do.”
UAPB just shy of
Sports Network poll
UAPB will begin the 2013 season where it finished 2012 in voting for The Sports Network’s preseason FCS Top 25 — just three spots out of the poll.
The Golden Lions, with 174 voting points, earned more than any other SWAC team, but it was not enough to crack the poll, which was released Tuesday. The poll is voted on by sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters and writers throughout the country.
North Dakota State is ranked No. 1, while Central Arkansas — No. 10 in last year’s final poll — will start at No. 7.
A top-25 position would have given UAPB its second national ranking in a poll that covers all Football Championship Subdivision conferences. The Lions are ranked No. 16 in The Sporting News’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
UAPB, which won the Heritage Sports Radio Network national championship last year as the top-ranked historically black college FCS team, is also ranked No. 2 in the Boxtorow FCS HBCU Preseason Coaches’ Poll, released Monday.
The Lions worked out Tuesday at the Watson Chapel indoor practice facility, as heavy rain from earlier in the day made their practice field behind Golden Lion Stadium unsafe. UAPB does not have artificial turf to work out or play on.