Ryan Shaw won’t be on the field when Arkansas-Pine Bluff takes on Arkansas State to open the football season on Saturday.
UAPB coach Monte Coleman on Monday confirmed the status of the free safety from Monticello during the first SWAC coaches’ teleconference of the season. Shaw had been let off the team since the second week of preseason camp to tend to academic business.
Coleman said there is a “slight possibility” Shaw will become eligible at some point during the season, but he didn’t give a timeline for a possible return.
“From a coaching standpoint, we’re moving on without him,” Coleman said. “If by chance he’s eligible, we’ll welcome him back with open arms.”
Shaw was a first-team All-SWAC defender last year. He had one interception, but he broke up 13 passes and made 62 tackles.
Sophomore Kevin Rucker Jr. will get the start at free safety with classmate Antonio Jenkins backing him up, Coleman said. Jenkins, a Watson Chapel graduate, also will share time at linebacker.
Shaw’s absence is a big hit to the UAPB defense, which is going into the opener without much knowledge about Arkansas State’s offense, Coleman pointed out. This is the first year of the Bryan Harsin regime at A-State, which includes new co-coordinators Eliah Drinkwitz and Bush Hamdan, and the Red Wolves just named Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy starting quarterback last week.
“We’re going in blind about the offense because they changed coordinators, but we know about their defense because they still have John Thompson (as coordinator),” Coleman said.
But the coach doesn’t think the Lions will be at a disadvantage because they usually have to make adjustments during the game, anyway. They’ll have to adjust against a unit that’s been highly productive in each of the past two Sun Belt Conference championship campaigns.
“We have to gauge them from the first quarter,” Coleman said. “I don’t think we’ll see anything we haven’t seen. We play in a great conference with different sets of offenses.”
As for how the game will turn out, Coleman’s confident this FCS vs. FBS showdown will come down to the fourth quarter, with the FCS Lions having a shot to win.
“I feel we’re evenly matched with them,” Coleman said.
It’ll be the first meeting between the two programs.
Toney quits Golden Lions
UAPB running back John Toney, who would have been a senior this season, has decided to leave the team, Coleman said Monday.
Coleman added Toney, who hadn’t practiced during this training camp, didn’t say why he decided to quit, but the El Dorado product had been nursing a severe groin injury that limited him to six games last season. He was expected to challenge sophomore Aaron Lagrone for the top backup role to senior Justin Billings when his health improved.
Toney was a starting true freshman in 2009 and played in a backup role behind Adrian Moore and Dhabion Woodfin the next season. He redshirted during the 2011 season and had 102 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts last season.
Sixth-year senior receiver Thomas Winters will not travel with the Lions to A-State “unless he shows improvement” in his health, Coleman said. Winters has been sidelined for much of preseason camp with a career-threatening right knee injury.
Sophomore wideout Cody Swain (bruised hip) is expected to be available for the Lions on Saturday. He moved into the first string when it was first learned Winters would be out.
Valley taking to national stage Sunday
The SWAC championship didn’t net UAPB a trip to Disney World to start the season, but next-door conference rival Mississippi Valley State is gladly taking the trip.
The Delta Devils, who were 5-6 last year, will represent the conference in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge game against Florida A&M on Sunday in Orlando, Fla. The game is set for a 10:45 a.m. kickoff at the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium and will air live on ESPN.
Valley defeated Southern on ESPNU last season.
“When we beat Southern, that did a lot of good things for the university,” fourth-year coach Karl Morgan said. “A lot of people called me and called the school saying they saw us beat Southern. Playing on the main (ESPN) channel, it’s big.”
Last year’s record is the best under Morgan at Valley, after winning just one game in the previous two years.
Asked if the Devils are poised for a breakout season, Morgan said: “I would like to think so, but there are a lot of questions. We have questions at quarterback.”
Morgan must name a starter between juniors Carl Davis and Jeremy Collins for the opener.
Odums’ first season opener to be challenging
Southern is one of three SWAC teams to open up against an FBS team this weekend. The Jaguars will play Houston at the NFL Texans’ Reliant Stadium on Friday. So, Southern coach Dawson Odums knows the challenges he’ll face as he enters his first full season. (He coached nine games in 2012, replacing the fired Stump Mitchell.)
“A hundred and 20 players, a $17 million budget, … want me to keep going?” Odums said, asked about the challenges of taking on the Cougars of the American Athletic Conference. “At least we know conditions will be favorable. It will be good football weather.”
The home game is Houston’s first since closing down 70-year-old Robertson Stadium at the end of last season. The 2013 Cougars are playing five games in Reliant Stadium, one at BBVA Compass Stadium (where Texas Southern also plays) and one at rival Rice Stadium.