LITTLE ROCK — In his annual appearance before the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, University of Central Arkansas coach Steve Campbell, referred to his preseason schedule poster, which featured four players the Bears were counting on for 2017.
Two of them (offensive lineman Stockton Mallett and defensive lineman Cardell Best) were lost for the season during the first week of practice.
That set the stage for this year’s theme of "guys stepping up" that has propelled the Bears to an 8-1 mark, a 7-0 Southland record and a No. 3 ranking in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the highest in history.
"It looked bad in preseason," Campbell said. "But folks didn’t know how the other guys had been working."
He noted how players such as wide receiver Brandon Coxs and Roman Gordon, defensive linemen Chris Chambers, Chris Terrell, Eric Jackson and Javian Anderson have emerged from the shadows to play key roles and move among the Southland Conference statistical leaders at their positions.
"This year’s team knew the areas of concern," Campbell said. "They knew what might be a weakness and they have done a good job turning weaknesses into strengths."
It’s part of his coaching staff’s emphasis on taking advantage of opportunities.
"The people we need to play really, really good have played really, really good," he said in an interview after his talk. "We thought they could do it, but they had never done it here before."
That creates a mindset among the current backup players. They’ve seen last year’s backups become some of this year’s stars.
"It gets contagious," Campbell said. "They see the guys ahead of them bide their time, then excel when they have gotten opportunities. They see what can happen if they bide their time and wait their turn.
"We tell them their opportunity will come and they have to be ready when their number is called."
In his fourth season, he enjoys this football team.
"They are a fun bunch to watch and a fun bunch to coach," he said. "There are a lot of special guys on this football team. What we have accomplished so far has been because of selfishlessness and be able to play for each other."