More than a week ago, the hot summer days of preseason camp weren’t hot enough for Monte Coleman’s taste. Not that he loves hot weather.
“I’ve got to burn out all the impurities in the team,” Coleman joked. “When we get to game day, game day’s easier than practice. The only way you do that is test yourself, and the only way to test yourself is through warm weather.”
Coleman’s Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions will begin this season with a pair of big tests. They’ll take on a rising Football Bowl Subdivision program — their first such opponent in three years — when they visit Arkansas State on Aug. 31 and square off against Football Championship Subdivision traditional power McNeese State on Sept. 7 in Lake Charles, La.
Going into the Arkansas State game, UAPB is riding a wave of success it’s never enjoyed before. The Golden Lions capped the 2012 season with their first-ever outright SWAC title and first-ever 10-win season. They’re one win away from a school-record streak of eight in a row.
But they got to this point weathering all obstacles Coleman could put in front of them in practice.
“The thing about last year’s team was, they never looked back,” he said. “They never complained about anything I put on them. This team here is the same. This team is doing what a good team does, and that’s ride the wave that was established last year.
“They’re kind of riding that in their own identity. They’re doing the same exact things that got us here last year, but just doing it with a little more effort.”
The Golden Lions have built an identity of working fast and effective on offense and being aggressive on defense. With nine returning starters on offense and eight on defense, Coleman expects much of the same on both sides of the ball — with just a little more effort.
Senior running back Justin Billings will go for a 1,000-yard rushing season. Senior defensive end Damien Lee hopes to exceed the 17.5 sacks that made Brandon Thurmond the NCAA’s leader across all divisions. And junior quarterback Ben Anderson will try to back up his preseason player of the year acccolades.
But the wave is going to have to be strong enough to take down one of the FBS’ hottest teams in the two-time defending Sun Belt Champion Red Wolves.
The game will be the two programs’ first-ever meeting, and it could be a pivotal one for the Lions.
“I think it’s going to be a stepping stone for us to get other FBS schools to play (us),” Coleman said. “Let’s look at it hypothetically: What if we win? That’s going to be broadcasted all around the nation. That’s going to definitely help the program.”