As the check-in period for Arkansas-Pine Bluff football players arriving for preseason camp wound down, the man with the highest offensive preseason accolades in the SWAC arrived.
But junior quarterback Ben Anderson is the kind of player who prefers wins more. (And of plenty of them.) That’s not to say he wasn’t happy about being named the conference’s preseason offensive player of the year.
“I’ll take a 10-win season and self-accolades over those accolades and not win,” Anderson said. “It’s good because it was hard work and I know it was earned, but we still got to play the season. We’ve got games to play, so I’m not going to say it’s irrelevant, but the actual season is more important to me than any individual accolades.”
Anderson also was named most outstanding offensive player of the SWAC championship game last December, won by UAPB 24-21 against Jackson State in overtime, and was selected first-team postseason All-SWAC. So, the preseason honor didn’t come without merit.
Neither did a bigger target on Anderson’s back.
“I’m the quarterback, and, with the quarterback, it’s always that much more (importance for the defense) to hit him or try to get a tackle on him,” he said. “And then, just getting that award, I’m sure quarterbacks and defenses got a bull’s-eye on me.”
The Golden Lions reported to campus Friday afternoon, a day before they start their first preseason camp as conference champions. They will take a team run test Saturday morning and begin practice in the afternoon.
This is the first time the entire team has been together since the death of Lydell Hartford Jr., a former UAPB walk-on linebacker who was killed in an accidental shooting outside his mother’s home just outside of New Orleans on July 23. Hartford left the team after last season and did not participate in spring drills.
A funeral service for Hartford will be held Saturday morning in New Orleans.
“It was difficult because he was a freshman, and I knew most of the freshmen were closer to him,” Anderson said. “I was just trying to reach out and touch them because they were not here and it was over the summer. So, it was tough. My heart went out for his family and all my teammates who were hurt over the loss.”
Just seeing the rest of his teammates make it back to campus safely made sophomore wide receiver Willie Young, a New Orleans native whose 95-yard touchdown reception forced overtime in the title game, feel good.
“We’re just trying to grind for (Hartford), trying to get another championship, trying to repeat,” Young said. “That’s what he wanted for us, and as a team, we’re going to try to achieve that for him and dedicate it to him.”
Plans for the team to officially honor Hartford during the season aren’t yet known, but Anderson said the death “almost adds fuel to the fire” in terms of seeking a championship repeat.
“I think everyone is recovering well. I think we’re actually going to use this as a tool to play the season for him. My heart goes out to his family.”
Friday also marked defensive line coach Dwayne Curry’s first opportunity to meet some of the players since he was hired in May to replace now-Grambling State defensive coordinator Dennis Winston.
“I’m coming into a good situation,” said Curry, a former Mississippi State linebacker who spent last season as D-line coach at Division II West Alabama. “They won the SWAC last year and a national championship (as the No. 1-ranked historically black FCS team by Heritage Sports Radio Network) and the expectation is very high. I plan on coming in and working hard, learning the system, coaching my guys and getting ready to play for Arkansas State (on Aug. 31 in Jonesboro).”
Maybe Curry’s biggest task will be to find out who can fill the shoes of Brandon Thurmond, the reigning SWAC defensive player of the year who is on the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp roster. Three starting D-linemen in UAPB’s 4-3 scheme return from last year’s team.
“The great thing about it, I don’t know any of the guys,” Curry said. “I’m coming into a situation where everybody’s going to have a chance to come in and compete for a starting job. Brandon was a great player, great pass-rusher. He’s going to be hard to replace, but at the same time, I’m pretty anxious to see who’s going to be that next man.”
Key dates in UAPB preseason camp
NOTE: Team does not practice Sundays
Saturday — First practice (helmets only)
Tuesday — First day with helmets and shoulder pads
Thursday — First day with full pads
Friday — First two-a-day workouts
Aug. 10 — First scrimmage
Aug. 12 — Second two-a-day workouts
Aug. 15 — Third two-a-day workouts
Aug. 17 — Fourth two-a-day workouts
Aug. 19 — Fifth two-a-day workouts
Aug. 21 — Sixth two-a-day workouts
Aug. 22 — First day of class
Aug. 24 — Media day (no practice)
Aug. 31 — Season opener at Arkansas State