Jackson State ran the ball 60 times on Arkansas-Pine Bluff two Saturdays ago, so UAPB’s linebackers had to prepare for a big.
“The number of times they ran it, I would have to say, yes,” junior Jer-ryan Harris said.
He and Xavier Lofton each had 15 tackles to lead the team. Bill Ross, who lines up in between the two, had 14. Even safety Jarvis Webb got in on 11 stops.
But Lofton, a first-year starter for the Golden Lions, had his biggest game to date on the college level. He could only recall three games in high school where he had that many tackles.
The work he had to put in against Jackson State was nothing overwhelming.
“If you do technique enough, your body is going to relay (the movements),” Lofton said. “Every tackle is just another tackle. You just keep working at it.”
At 5-feet-10 and 205 pounds, Lofton has thrived in his starting role, adding to a corps that includes two players — Harris and Ross — who’ve had 100-tackle seasons. Lofton is tied with Harris for the second-most tackles on the team with 52, including three tackles for losses.
Harris, a junior from Lexington, Miss., caught his big break at the start of the season when he moved into the first string at weak-side linebacker for then-injured senior Joe Dalton. Dalton has since been ruled academically ineligible, and Lofton has evolved into a key cog in the Lions’ defense.
“He hasn’t looked back,” coach Monte Coleman said. “He’s been a pleasant surprise. He’s had the ability to play, but because he didn’t get a chance to really play in games, you never knew how good he could be.
“When you lose a starter, a guy you count on, you’ve got to have a second team guy who can step in and play. He hasn’t missed a beat for us all season.”
Lofton replaced a player who led UAPB in sacks last season, filling some big shoes behind the line.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Lofton said of Dalton. “To fill his shoes is an understatement. I’m just trying to fit in where I get in.”
Lofton says he has to play more aggressively because of his size. That fits in well with the Lions’ goal of being the most physical and most intense team on the field.
“That’s our number-one priority,” Harris said.
Against Jackson State, Lofton didn’t have much of a chance to let up.
The Tigers rushed for 319 yards at an average of more than 5 yards per carry. The more they ran, the more Lofton let his technique take over each play.
“You have to know your assignment,” he said. “You have to know the plays that are being run and anticipate where the play is going to be run, which is the big part of the defense. Once you process all that, you just line up, shoot your holes, and your technique is reactions after that.”
Coleman also said Lofton has great speed and runs to the ball each play, letting his instinctive trait show.
“When you find someone who has the instincts like he has, Jer-ryan has or Bill (Ross), for that matter, that has the ability to run to the football, they’re going to get 10 or 12 tackles,” Coleman said. “That’s a great trait to have.”
Billings day-to-day with nose injury
Coleman said Wednesday that UAPB running back Justin Billings is day-to-day after recently having his nose readjusted by doctors.
Billings suffered a broken nose during the 34-24 victory over Jackson State and missed all of the second half. He had one carry for 7 yards.