(This is the second in a position-by-position Q&A series on UCA football as the Bears break for the summer. Interviews with selected players were conducted after spring practice)
Willie Matthews, a 5-9, 194-pound junior from Memphis (Barlett High School), is the only running back the Bears have with significant experience.
That’s not much. As a fourth-string back last season behind three seniors, he rushed for 236 yards on 35 carries, including an 83-yard touchdown.
Thrust to the No. 1 position, he had a breakout spring.
What kind of adjustment has it been to go from fourth string to first-team back?
"Just working harder and lifting harder and knowing my role."
How do you feel you’ve grown this spring?
"I got a lot stronger. I got better catching out of the backfield. I improved in my pass blocking."
Is it a different mindset you have to have now as a starter?
"I feel I haven’t got that down pat. My mental aspect of the game is better as far as being a leader. Last year I had three backs in front of me and I didn’t have to talk to anybody or motivate anybody to be better. I’m learning to be ‘that guy’ sometimes. My teammates sometimes are looking to me for advice and motivation and to uplift them. I have to get better at being a better teammate."
How do you feel about the backfield because obviously you’re not as deep right now as you’ve been?
"We’re still strong. Since I’ve been here, it’s always been two main backs who have played in the game. We’d have a third-down guy who would come in every now and then. We have three talented freshmen coming in. They’re gonna be there and competing."
How much has the experience of playing behind the three (Jackie Hinton, Terance Bobo and Anthony Blackmon) last year helped you?
"Watching how they played the game and what mental aspects they took prior to the games really helped me. Mainly, it’s trying to play as hard as they did."
POSTION ANALYSIS: Sophomore Blake Veasley (6-0, 210), who had one carry for 8 yards last year, is the only other back with any experience. Depth is needed but three top-notch freshmen recruits are expected to address that.
NEXT: Wide receivers.