One offseason removed from his first season as University of Central Arkansas’ head football coach, Nathan Brown is confident his team will bounce back from a rough season.
Last season, the Bears faced injuries that quite possibly caused the team’s 6-5 overall record and a 5-4 record in Southern competition that left UCA in a four-way tie for fourth place.
At Thursday’s Southland Conference Media Day in Houston, Texas, Brown said his team went through a lot, but they were three to four possessions a game to having a much different season.
Perhaps the biggest blow to the team was sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith breaking his ankle in the closing moments of UCA’s 34-31 overtime loss to Sam Houston State on Sept. 29 in Huntsville, Texas.
A couple of plays later, backup quarterback senior Kirk Baugh got injured and was out for a few weeks, which meant freshman Luke Hales was thrusted into the starting spot, where he went on to go 4-3 as a starter.
“I think at multiple levels of football, your team is as good as your starting quarterback and that’s why you put more than one on scholarship,” Brown said. “Coach Ken Collums did a great job getting Luke prepared every week and I think our team handled it well.”
Brown also mentioned that his team ran into a couple of buzzsaws at home last season in back-to-back weeks against Lamar and Incarnate Word on Nov. 3 and Nov. 10 respectively, addressing the parity in the league.
That parity has led Brown and his staff and team to know that there are big challenges ahead of the 2019 season.
“We play four of the first five on the road,” he said. “We get the typical powers of the conference at home and that is Sam Houston, McNeese and Southeastern Louisiana. And then, we play the top three teams from last season on the road. It’s a testament of where this conference has gone in the last few years. You want to play in big games, win on the road and play in the playoffs and it’s going to be a challenging season to get to do that.”
And, after last season, his first at the helm, Brown said he did a lot of self reflection and said he wanted to cover every detail and leave no stone unturned.
He said strength and conditioning coach Alex Fotio has ramped up several things so the team can be prepared for a postseason run into December.
“Our goal every season is to win a championship, so we’ve gotten more strength and stress levels higher than before,” he said. “We have to put our best foot forward every week in the weight room, classroom and on the field. That’s why we have been going full force since the beginning of June summer session.”
It seems with a second-place in the SLC preseason polls that many around the conference expect UCA to bounce back with eight starters returning on offense and seven returning on offense.
The Bears’ season kicks off Aug. 29 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, against Western Kentucky.