(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a position-by-position series on UCA football, from the players’ perspectives, as the Bears head into the summer. Interviews were in April after spring football practice).
Prompted by a sense of urgency for his senior campaign and partly from a zest for survival after taking a physical pounding for three seasons, Conway wide receiver Isaiah Jackson revved it up and became one of the stars of the University of Central Arkansas’ offseason program.
Jackson had as successful a campaign in the weight room as any UCA receiver in history, leading the team in the 40-yard sprint, NFL shuttle run and vertical jump and have the third best bench press.
During the offseason, Jackson, 5-11 who has played barely over 160 pounds most of his career, earned his longtime nickname of "Magic."
"I think I’ve made enormous strides and have more experience," said the junior who averaged 13.2 yards per catch on 31 receptions for 405 yards last season.
"I’ve gained 20 more pounds. I have a better knowledge of the game, like an upperclassman should be. I think I’m more of a leader."
He says he a more confident player after breaking some records in the weight room.
"It’s a confidence boost knowing there’s no other receiver done as much as you’ve done," he said. "That gives me confidence in my ability to make plays. I need to work on stay healthier. I’m working on exercises to improve flexibility."
He also realizes, like the other veteran receivers, that the corps, because of experience and playmaking ability, has an increased leadership role on this team.
"We’ve got some leaders and we have to step up," he said. "We’re confident, we’re faster and 23 know our plays. We just have to be more fluid in what we’re doing, execute better."
"We need to take control. (Quarterback) Nathan Dick, he’s our man. Anything he does, we try to build off it."
Jackson, who looks entirely different physically than when he first reported to campus, is still trying to get stronger.
"It’s my senior year and I want to stay healthy so I will be able to play every game," he said. "This is my last shot. I’ve got to make it count. I also need to get stronger so I can block better on the perimeter. I want to be able to hold my blocks for our backs."
Dominque Croom, a junior who was thrown into the regular rotation as a freshman because of a preseason injury to Willie Landers in 2009, is the Bears’ leading returning receiver with 42 receptions for 446 yards and two touchdowns last season.
"Mainly, I’ve grown paying attention to details and better route running," he said. "As a group, I feel we’re pretty strong at receiver. We have upperclassmen leading us. That’s where our playmakers are. When we get the ball, we can get upfield and make plays."
"I feel like we can have a good offense. Sometimes we might start out slow. But when we are clicking and get things going, we can have one of the best in then conference.
Another veteran player who made a lot of progress in his playmaking ability this spring was senior T.J. Adams, who caught 17 passes last season for 171 yards.
"I’ve grown a lot," he said. "I know the schemes and offense in and out. I think I became more of a teacher in helping the young people out. I’ve gotten a lot better as student of game.
"I know what’s going on rather than one asking the questions. My route-running is lot better as well as my hands."
He’s also excited about the receiving corps that appears a solid two deep coming out of the spring.
"We’ve got playmakers across the board, but we’re all real close so it’s like a friendly competition," he said. "We make each other work and everybody gets the job done.
"We have so many things from putting Jackie (Hinton) back in backfield: Croom Isaiah (Derrick) Steele. The way we run screens and everything, any given time is a big play opportunity."
Steele, a senior, who played mostly on specialty teams last season after transferring from East Mississippi Community College, came on strong in the spring after a year of learning the offense.
"I know just about everything now," he said. "I can play outside, inside. Last year I had big problem learning the plays. This spring, I’m more comfortable in the offense and are learning the concepts of the offense. I came here to make plays, win games, win championships."
He also is impressed with the dynamics of the entire group of receivers.
"We’re coming together as a group, more like brothers," he said. "We all hang out outside of football. We catch a movie, go by somebody’s house amd play video games, hang around campus together."
I want to work on my footwork and strength, my hands and route running. I’ve got to get stronger to block those linebackers."
NEXT: Offensive line