The University of Central Arkansas Bears began preseason practice Sunday with a full contigent of players for the first time this year.
And it left UCA coach Clint Conque smiling on Day 1.
The University of Central Arkansas Bears opened fall camp at full strength for the first time in quite some time, and that had head coach Clint Conque smiling after Day 1.
“It was really good to get started," said Conque, entering his 11th season at UCA. “And it was really good to have everyone out there; that was very encouraging to me. We had eight to 10 guys miss spring ball with various surgeries and rehabilitation. And everyone was back on the field today."
The newcomers hit the field an hour before the regulars.
“I certainly thought with our young players that the effort was there," he said. “The game is a lot faster and I thought some of them probably wore down a little bit down the stretch, both physically and mentally. As I told them after practice, there’s a big difference in Friday night and Saturday night.
“They have to understand the importance of the sense of urgency when it comes to meetings, how to practice and the speed of the game. That’s just going to take reps and time. But the effort was there, the want-to was there."
Conque was pleased with the effort of his veteran players.
“I was very pleased with the retention our young men had from the spring through the offseason and to the fall," Conque said. “That was definitely at a high level. I think our older players played pretty fast today, on both sides of the ball. I thought on defense, (junior linebacker) Frank Newsome moved around extremely well. (Junior linebacker) Jessie Sims did some good things.
“Defensive ends Trey Lippe and Markell Carter looked very explosive up front. Offensively, I can’t tell you how impressed I am with (junior quarterback) Nathan Dick, and how he’s transformed his body. He’s gone from 228 or 230 down to around 214. He’s much more athletic and quicker. He threw the ball extremely well today and made good decisions for the most part."
Willie Landers, from El Dorado, missed all of the 2009 season after injurying a knee on the first day of practice last fall. Senior tight end/fullback Rico Moss of Hope also returned to the field after missing spring practice after surgery.
“I tell you what, it was really good to have Rico Moss and Willie Landers back on the field today," said Conque. “Two fifth-year seniors with experience, big and strong, and very impressive today. Rico is moving very, very well, very quick at about 6 pounds lighter than he was last year. And he’s as strong as he ever was.
“Willie at 6-2, 216 pounds, I thought he made his presence known out there today. He looked very good today. Now the challenge for Willie , mentally and physically, is to be able to come back tomorrow and push himself through the soreness that’s going to happen. And we’re going to have to be careful with him, too, not to overuse him. But it was really good to have both of those guys on the field together today."
The players went through conditioning tests Sunday morning and Conque was happy with the results.
“Overall very pleased with the condition of our players,’ he said. “Coach (Henry) Briscoe has done an outstanding job with them this summer. We have just a handful of young men who are going to have extra conditioning work this week to try to bring them up to speed where we think they need to be."
The Bears will practice at 3:45 the remainder of the week, with the first scrimmage set for 4 p.m. Saturday.
(UCA Sports Information Director Steve East contributed to this report)