Lions try to gain ‘slight edge’


One thing Monte Coleman has yet to accomplish as Arkansas-Pine Bluff head football coach is a season-opening victory.

This is Coleman’s fifth year at the helm, and the Golden Lions haven’t won an opener since beating Mississippi Valley State 49-14 in 2004. For the second straight year, they will get an opportunity to end that drought against Langston (Okla.) at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

“I mentioned in our team meeting the other day, it’s time to get off to a fast start,” Coleman said Monday during the first SWAC coaches’ teleconference of the season. “That’s one of our goals to success. If we can win the first game, from a psychological standpoint, we have a slight edge. You have a victory and you can build off that.”

A year ago, the Golden Lions had to find a way to bounce back from a 19-12 upset defeat to Langston of the NAIA. They did by winning their next three games — two of which were in comeback fashion — and finishing 6-5 for their first winning season since 2006.

“The team is looking at the outcome of last year (against Langston) and saying we can’t have a repeat this year,” Coleman said. “I would never let my team take anybody lightly.”

Quarterback Ben Anderson made his first start against Langston and threw for 278 yards, but also had three interceptions. Coleman said he never got down on Anderson because of the picks.

“With a year under his belt, I think he has matured to the point we can trust him more than we did last year,” Coleman said.

Coleman added the key to beating Langston this season is the same for all of UAPB’s opponents — consistency.

“We can’t turn the ball over and we can’t give cheap touchdowns,” Coleman said.

Whether UAPB will kick off with a full-time offensive line coach remains to be seen. Coleman has not yet made a full-time hire, he said Monday. Damon Nivens has been working with the line on an interim basis.

Alabama State takes shot at MEAC

Alabama State hopes to put on a better showing against Bethune-Cookman of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference than Prairie View A&M did last year in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge in Orlando, Fla. This year’s game will be played at 11 a.m. Central Sunday on ESPN.

Bethune-Cookman dominated Prairie View 63-14 last season, but Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said he doesn’t feel any pressure of making it a better game for the SWAC.

“It’s almost like a bowl game in terms of all they allow the kids to do,” Barlow said. Many of the game festivities are held at Walt Disney World, which sponsors the game.

Alabama State is favored to win the SWAC Eastern Division after falling just short to Alabama A&M in 2011. Sophomore running back Isaiah Crowell, the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year who transferred after being dismissed by Georgia, is expected to see action for Barlow’s club.

Where the Hornets may find a bigger challenge is on defense.

“Bethune-Cookman has a new offensive coordinator, so there will be a lot of adjusting on the fly after the first quarter,” Barlow said.

Bethune-Cookman, of Daytona Beach, Fla., finished second to Norfolk State in the MEAC last year.

Jackson State meets SEC

If one thing worries Jackson State coach Rick Comegy about Saturday’s meeting with Mississippi State in Starkville, it’s a common worry for Football Championship Subdivision coaches against Football Bowl Subdivision teams — depth.

“We can’t afford to have anybody hurt,” Comegy said. “We’re proud to have this opportunity to represent our conference. There’s nothing like a great challenge ahead of you.”

In such a challenge, there are some benefits for the Tigers. They receive money from the Southeastern Conference’s Bulldogs for playing the game and the regional television exposure (Fox Sports South is televising the game) allows recruits to give the Tigers a look.

Jackson State will go into the game without much experience at quarterback. Senior Dedric McDonald completed only 3 of 9 passes for 29 yards last year while playing behind SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Casey Therriault, but Comegy named McDonald the starter against the Bulldogs.

But how can Jackson State play with Mississippi State?

“If we can keep them under control and make it a football game, we’ll be all right,” Comegy said.

Hopson not worried about history

First-year Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson has often heard the question: Has he thought about the historical significance of his upcoming debut against Grambling State?

His response Monday: “I’m a football coach, and it’s kind of what I do. I know to a lot of people, it’s probably news, but to these kids, it’s just another football game. We’re playing the champs. To us, it’s a game we know we have to be prepared for.”

Hopson is the first white head football coach in SWAC history, and his Braves will start the season against defending SWAC champion Grambling State in Saturday’s Port City Classic in Shreveport, La. The former Memphis assistant was hired in May, leaving the Braves no opportunity to practice in the spring.

So Hopson has a long-range vision of success for his team, which went 2-8 and 1-8 in the SWAC under Melvin Spears.

“My deal is you go in every game to compete,” Hopson said. “The bottom line is, I’m not going to be a guy who’s overly excited with a win and overly depressed with a loss. It’s a longer vision, and we have to make sure our team is getting better every week.”