LAKE CHARLES, La. — During their session before the media Wednesday at Southland Conference Media Day, University of Central Arkansas players Jonathan Woodard and Dezmin Lewis had high praise for the strength and conditioning program under new coach Robert Stiner.
"The strength program is demanding but everything is done as a whole entity," Lewis said. "Everything depends on somebody else getting some things done."
"Everything we do is up-tempo and together," said Woodard. "It’s directed on bringing us together as one."
"The strength coach is one of your most important hires," said head coach Steve Campbell. "He’s with the players more than any other coach. He’s the guy who is with them all summer. He has to develop trust with the players and he knows more about them than almost any other coach."
"Coach Stiner is young and looks like any player so he blends in well with players," Lewis said. "He trains us hard but acts as a player — a teammate."
Conditioning is vital for this UCA team since the Bears play 11 weeks in a row beginning Aug. 30.
"That’s why we are working so hard," Campbell said.
The UCA players were asked about whether the Oct. 4 game at Stephen F. Austin was circled on the schedule. The Lumberjacks are coached by UCA’s former coach Clint Conque, who brought many of last year’s staff with him to Nacogdoches.
"Circled, underlined, highlighted, all of the above," said Lewis. "But we respect coach (Conque). We respect his team. It’ll be fun."
"I understand why he decided to go," said Woodard. "We realize that when we go down there, we’ve got to take it to them. But there are lots of games before that one."
"Coach Conque is a great coach," added Lewis. "All the coaches who went with him are very good coaches. They’ll get those players right."
"Coach Conque is a great leader," said Woodard. "He’s very passionate, every day, all the tine. He’ll have his team ready."
Former UCA quarterback and assistant coach Ken Collums will lead his team into its first full season in the Southland, although the Wildcats, a traditional Division II power, will not be eligible for postseason for a few years.
"We’re striving to be as good or better at this level as we were the previous level," he said. "But I also know this, the other coaches in the Southland don’t care what we’ve done in the past. We have to establish credibility within the league. The way you do that is you go about your business the right way, work hard, out-recruit people and win games."
Conque inherits a Lumberjack team that has been disappointing the last couple of seasons, including 3-9 last year.
"We inherit a bit of a wounded program, and everybody here recognizes that," he said. "That’s part of the challenge."
Nicholls State has been at the bottom of the league in recent years and is picked ninth this season by both the coaches and sports information directors.
But Charlie Stubbs, beginning his fifth season with the Colonels, has a warning.
When he inherited the job, he said Nicholls had 56 players and "most would not be the ones I would have picked," he said.
He now has 95 players on his roster and he expects 110 to 120 by fall camp. Included in those are some junior college transfers.
"What I hope people will say as the season goes on, ‘where did Nicholls get those guys’" Stubbs said. "I’ve got some players."
THE CELEBRITY COACH
Larry Kennan, coach of Incarnate Word, was asked about his famous assistant, former Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, and his reputation as an introvert.
"If you’re an introvert, and I’m one, too, it usually means you are a good listener," Kennan said. "When Ricky Williams speaks, I promise you those running backs are listening. And he doesn’t have to say much."
Southeasterm Louisiana, 7-0 in conference last season and returning most of its two-deep, has the clear bullseye in the league.
"You’ve got to enjoy that as a competitor," said coach Ron Roberts. "With a bullseye on your chest, you know your opponents are going to bring their best. Hopefully, that will bring out your best."
Roberts also offered these observations;
On transfers: "Not every kid out of junior college is an undisciplined kid. It is an unfair stereotype."
On the kicking game: "I don’t think any out there in college football neglects the kicking game."
On a player rejecting a scholarship offer in FCS and riding the bench for an FBS school in order to get a stipend: "If he is doing it for the money, I probably don’t want him, anyway."
SE Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett, the returning Player of the Year, is from California, played at Oregon and has adapted to a different culture in Hammond.
His new food favorites?
"Jumbalaya – wish we had that on the West Coast," he said. "I also had fried quail the other day. That was pretty good."
The Huskies are playing a full Southland schedule for the first time as a new program.
Vic Shealy intends to have a competitive group.
"I would be disappointed if we don’t find a way to win more than one football game in conference," he said.