(This is the fourth in a position-by-position Q&A series on University of Central Arkansas football. Interviews were selected players were conducted after spring drills)
The University of Central Arkansas offensive line is the most experienced part of the offense this season, even though it is still dotted with younger players.
Those players, some of whom have had back-to-back playoff experience are bigger and stronger and more determined to take another step.
RS Sophomore tackle
What did you learn last year in getting into the rotation for awhile before you were injured at midseason?
"Game day is a lot different than practice. You’ve got to be ready to go every week because you are playing someone just as good as you are or better."
What do you like about your position?
"You are kind of on your own, have to rely on yourself. It’s usually a one-one-one battle and you have to beat the guy in front of you most of the time."
How do you feel about the offensive line?
"We had a lot of injuries and moving around last year. We had a lot of continuity this spring. Some of us have worked together and played together and worked a one unit this spring. We’ve gotten a lot better playing together. A lot of us were redshirt freshmen last year and we have a year of experience under our belt, so we know what’s waiting for us when season rolls around."
What about the offense?
"As an o-lineman, you want to have the team on your back and be able to control the line of scrimmage. We can dictate games."
What about this season?
"We are pushing beyond a conference championship. It’s still one of our goals but we’re pushing for the top of the pyramid. We know we can play with the teams that were in the playoffs last year. We’re one or two plays from pushing for a third-round game."
6-5, 226, Sr.
How do you like tight end rather than wide receiver?
"It’s a lot more contact. It takes a little bit getting used to, but since I’ve put on some weight (170 to 230 in four years), I feel a lot more comfortable. I really enjoy it, actually. I came in undersized, so most of the weight I needed to gain, anyway."
How does your experience as a receiver help at tight end?
"Now, I’m being matched up with linebackers and safeties and the linebackers are not quite as comfortable in coverage and the safeties are usually a lot smaller. As a former wide receiver, you know how to use leverage against them and get open on the linebackers. Safeties, it’s a matter of going up over them and making plays."
What’s the biggest thing you’ve had to learn at tight end?
"Blocking, the technique, staying low. The first two steps are a lot more difficult to get down than people imagine."
How do you like the offense?
"You see a lot of flashes. If we keep consistency and dash in big plays ever now and then, I feel we have a bright future."
What did you learn from the playoff experience last year?
"It takes a lot of hard work, most of it people don’t see because it takes place in the offseason. I believe we’re still hungry. We’re not satisfied with just making the playoffs anymore. We want to win. We have to be concerned with keeping our bodies in shape so we can be able to compete in a long postseason … Coming up short last made us even more hungry and made us realize we can win."
6-2, 281 So.
Are you comfortable about being able to play every game and start eight games last season?
"I think I kind of settled in toward the middle and end of the season. I started picking up the offense. Playing together with the rest of the linemen, we started to gel. Other than the spring game, I really thought we started to gel a an offensive line this spring."
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make last year?
"Dealing with the playbook. The scout team gives you a look every week. But it’s not exactly what you practice when you get in a game. Just knowing what adjustments to make. Once we got the chemistry in the offensive line, we were good to go. The communication was a lot to get used to. In the Southland Conference, every defense you see every week is going to give you trouble."
How do you feel about the offensive line?
"We’re still young but we have a lot of experience. Last year we had to play with a lot of young guys who didn’t have that much experience. I feel the sky’s the limit with what we can do with the offense. We have Wynrick (Smothers) back at quarterback and an arsenal of receivers. I feel confident we can be a more mix-it-up team rather than a throw-it-out team."
What did you learn from last year?
"Just staying into a ballgame and finding a way to win. I had watched numerous football games that got out of hand when teams got down. The will to win last year was at an all-time high. In the McNeese and Sam Houston games, I’ll remember those comebacks for the rest of my life. That stuff just doesn’t happen a lot of times. We want to carry that over. Two years in a row after reacjomg the second round of the playoffs, we’re trying to punch in the door. This offseason, we took it with great care. We put on the weight they asked us to put on. We put up good numbers in the weight room. We’re just looking to find that edge."
6-4, 284, Jr.
You’ve played a lot of football in the offensive line, how do you feel about this one?
"We’re going to be a lot better than last year. We had a lot of player playing who were freshmen and we weren’t as mature as we needed to be. This year, we’ve become a lot bigger, stronger, faster. By now, we’ve got some guys who have been playing three or four years. You can have a lot of stuff but experience really matters."
What about your offense?
"We’ve put in some good things this year. Our running game will be a lot better. We’ve done a lot of things to help our running game. We’ve taken it personally and we’re determined to run the ball this year.?
What did you take away from last year?
"We play in a conference that everybody throws the ball a little bit. We play Georgia Southern, which runs a triple option. They’re pounding us and we weren’t ready for that kind of ball. We want to carry momentum and be ready to pound with the rest of them."
Are young hungrier?
You know what you need to do to get to the point we got to. Now, we know how much more we need to do to go farther in the playoffs. The culture has changed here in the last few years. Before it was ‘we want to win conference, we want to win conference.’ Now we want to win conference on our way to winning a national championship. We don’t want to settle. We want the grand prize in Frisco. We’re not that far off as far as games. We’re farther off as far as doing the extra things."
POSITION ANALYSIS: Greater size, greater strength. Several young players have matured. More depth. Should be a strength.