UAPB wide receiver Isiah Ferguson makes a catch in front of Dezmond Beverly during Monday’s practice. (Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers)
Joel Porchia hauls in a pass. (Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers)
From the West Coast to the East Coast, Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Ben Anderson has plenty of options.
Isiah Ferguson and Joel Porchia are just about as different as the parts of the country they hail from, but each has his own way of making the Golden Lions’ coast-to-coast collection of wide receivers go. As the season goes along, it’ll be seen who turns out to be the favorite target — the New Yorker whose height is a welcome addition to the Lions, the Californian who’ll count on his speed, or the experienced Lion from the Gulf Coast who’s helping both settle into their roles.
“It’s a lot of competition at the wide receiver position,” said Ferguson, a 6-foot-6 junior transfer from Mount Vernon, N.Y. “I feel like I have to stay on my toes every day. Every little slip-up, the person behind me is just as hungry to step in and take my position, so I just try to keep working and stay in my playbook.”
Right now, the starting job at split end belongs to Ferguson, who’s worked out with the team since January.
And Porchia, a 5-foot-10 sophomore from Los Angeles, is lining up with Ferguson on the first string. Porchia saw limited action last year but did not record a catch.
This could be a breakout year for him.
“He was heavily recruited,” receivers coach Craig Raye said. “He tweaked his knee his senior year (of high school) and kind of fell under the radar.”
He jumped into UAPB’s radar for a starting role with a strong spring game, doing more than showing off speed.
“From learning what the veteran guys have taught me, I think I can improve and help the team out by catching the ball, blocking, doing a lot of little stuff so I can help us get a SWAC championship,” Porchia said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
They both have been challenged during preseason camp by Dezmond Beverly, the junior from Alexandria, La., whose 34 receptions led the team last year. Raye said Beverly’s leadership among the wideouts has come naturally.
“I really push them hard, making sure they run their routes and they’re doing everything they’re supposed to work as a unit,” Beverly said. “ We better each other by doing what we’ve got to do.”
Sometimes, he likes to remind Ferguson and Porchia which coast is better at football.
“As far as that goes, I tell them the best football is in the South,” he said. “But as a group, we’re all cool. It’s different cultures coming together working as one.”
Said Porchia: “When we’re on the field, it’s all business.”
Raye said Porchia’s speed makes up for his lack of height. Porchia has the ability to turn up the speed after beating the first-level defender.
Ferguson is a big-play threat who starred at ASA College in Brooklyn. In a game last season, he caught five passes for 193 yards, 87 of which came on a touchdown reception.
Ferguson said he’s been able to react to plays better at UAPB.
“As far as the spring to now, I think I’ve gotten better with the plays, because over the summer, I had time to study,” he said. “In the spring, I was learning everything on the go.
“I feel like, now, I have an advantage because I don’t have to do a lot of thinking, just reacting.”
The wideout corps is also strengthened by the play of five freshmen in camp and the return of Mareo Howard for his senior season. Senior Wesley Hawthorne has missed time with a hamstring injury just before reporting to camp, Raye said.
But a friendly coastal battle could be the highlight of the Lion wideouts’ season.
“It’s good to just come together as a unit and continue to work to get better each day,” Ferguson said.
UAPB loses offensive line coach
Coleman said Monday that Bruce Johnson stepped down from his position as the Lions’ offensive line coach.
Coleman said Johnson would accept a position at Ole Miss, but Johnson was not listed among the coaches on Ole Miss’ website as of Monday. Johnson was on the staff at UAPB for three seasons, helping Terron Armstead earn second-team All-SWAC honors last season.
Coleman is running the offensive line in the meantime and hopes to have Johnson’s replacement hired within two weeks.
It marks the second coaching change for UAPB this season, following secondary coach Marty Biagi’s departure for Southern. Henry Miller was hired back in that role last week after a 3 ½-year absence.