To get an idea of how the 2013 Arkansas-Pine Bluff football team measures up to last year’s SWAC championship squad, consider what Monte Coleman told the Pine Bluff Rotary Club on Tuesday.
“We’re not quite as talented as last year’s team, but we have plenty of ability,” the Golden Lions’ sixth-year head coach said at the club’s weekly meeting. “This is where we as a coaching staff have got to start dealing with the minds of these players, that they can go out and be the best team in the SWAC again.”
With nine offensive and eight defensive starters listed as returning from last year — Coleman counts fewer because some non-starters saw plenty of time — the experience UAPB boasts on its team wouldn’t suggest less talent. But the coach explained that much of the 2012 talent came in the form of four seniors.
“When you lose a (Terron) Armstead … a Brandon Thurmond … a Bill Ross … and a Jarvis Webb … you lose a lot of talent,” Coleman said. “We lost a lot of real good football players.”
Armstead, Thurmond and Ross all have had a taste of NFL life during the spring and summer. Armstead enters Wednesday’s start of New Orleans Saints training camp with an opportunity to start at left tackle, while defensive lineman Thurmond made the training camp roster for his home-state Atlanta Falcons. Linebacker Ross was invited along with Thurmond to try out for the Falcons, but he did not make the cut.
Coleman said Ross will return to UAPB to finish his degree and serve as a student assistant for the Lions this season.
Media Day not so aggravating
On July 15, Coleman, receiver Dezmond Beverly and linebacker Jer-ryan Harris represented UAPB at the SWAC Media Day in Birmingham, Ala. And this Media Day left Coleman with a better feeling than in past years.
“Media Day aggravates me,” Coleman told the Rotary Club. “Usually UAPB is (picked) last or fourth. We (in past years) only have one or two who make preseason All-SWAC.”
This year, Coleman wasn’t so aggravated. UAPB was predicted to win the Western Division again and landed 11 players on the All-SWAC teams, including nine on the first team. Quarterback Ben Anderson was named the conference’s preseason offensive player of the year.
Coleman said Tuesday UAPB has agreed to play in the 2014 Gateway Classic, held at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, but declined to mention for the record any possible opponents.
UAPB has played in almost every Gateway Classic since the game’s inception in 1994. The school turned down an offer to compete in the 2012 game, citing it wouldn’t be financially beneficial, and will not play in this year’s edition.
If the game is a conference contest, UAPB will need three nonconference opponents to fill out a 12-game schedule, which is now permitted in the Football Championship Subdivision. Coleman confirmed last week UAPB will play Texas State in 2014 and said Tennessee State is expected to visit Pine Bluff then to fulfill a two-year deal.
He also said Tuesday there is a chance UAPB and Arkansas State will meet again in 2014. The two teams are playing each other Aug. 31 in Jonesboro under a one-year agreement. Coleman’s son, Kyle, is a linebacker at A-State.
“I think we’re going to beat them, pack our bags and they will never want to play us again,” Coleman said with a laugh.
During his speech with the Rotary Club, Coleman did not mention the death of Lydell Hartford Jr., who was a freshman squad member of the Golden Lions during the 2012 season. Hartford was killed in a gun accident early Tuesday morning in Waggaman, La. Coleman spoke shortly after noon Tuesday and UAPB announced Hartford’s death later in the evening.
Coleman said he’s hoping to secure some scholarship money to make it mandatory for his players to attend summer school. He said summer school will help each player meet NCAA degree completion requirements based on their classification.
Meeting the completion requirements has not been a problem for the team, he added.