MONTICELLO — For the first time in about three years, Arkansas-Monticello head coach Hud Jackson is seeing a focus from his team that he has never seen before.
“I think it has a lot to do with the maturity of our players,” Jackson said. “Having guys that have played on the team the last couple of years.
“We also have 20 seniors this year and that is huge. The majority of those guys have been with us for three or four years now.”
Wednesday was the first day of practice for UAM, but Jackson said he was real pleased with how his players responded.
“Today’s practice was not a disappointment,” Jackson said. “I was real surprised with how smooth it went.
“… All in all it was a good productive practice. We felt good about it.”
Jackson said when he would visit with him some of his players on campus — before fall camp started — he said he could see a difference in their attitude.
“It was just a difference,” Jackson said. “A focus there. Guys were looking forward to the fall.”
UAM won five games last season, including a 5-1 record at home. The Boll Weevils have 12 starters returning this season and already Jackson has begun to see a difference in his team.
“It has been real exciting leading up to the fall camp,” Jackson said. “I already feel like we are way ahead of schedule.
“We have some older kids and more mature kids. A lot of kids with experience.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
Junior quarterback Colton Morrison returns to an offense that ranked eighth in the Great American Conference in scoring and ninth in total yards a year ago. Morrison passed for 1,051 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Senior running back Rod Smith of Dumas led UAM last fall with 514 yards and six touchdowns on 158 carries. But Jackson said the team’s real strengths lie with its defense.
“I think we got a lot experience in our defensive backfield,” Jackson said. “We are also expecting a lot from our wide receivers.”
Jackson said the team’s kicking game will continue to be a positive.
“We have an All-American (in Jamie McGee) returning as our kicker,” Jackson said.
McGee hit 17 of 19 field goals last fall to lead the GAC. The sophomore converted 28 of 31 PATs and scored 79 points to lead UAM.
“Today’s practice went well,” Jackson said. “By the time we get through with fall camp, we will know what we have to improve on.”
The Weevils were picked to finish ninth in the conference, something Jackson said has become a motivational factor for the team.
“We are trying to be a good football team and improve every week,” Jackson said. “But there is a motivation there.”
UAM is scheduled for two intrasquad scrimmages. The first will be held on Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. and the second is Aug. 26, also at 6 p.m. UAM’s season and home opener is scheduled for Sept. 6 against East Central (Okla.).
“From an installation point of view, I would like the majority of what we put in to be ready by the scrimmages,” Jackson said. “It should be pretty close.”
Jackson said he would also like to have a good understanding of who the starters and backups are going to be.
“Division II moves fast,” Jackson said. “We have to move quick, because before you know it, we are getting ready for ECU.”