Many years, the selection of the winner of the L.B. Jackman Award as the most outstanding player for the University of Central Arkansas in its homecoming game, comes down to a couple of major entrees.
Some years, it’s a very limited menu.
One year, it was just finding somebody who did anything appetizing.
In UCA’s 66-31 victory over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday, we had a buffet of tantalizing offerings.
Quarterback Ryan Howard won it with a 403-yard, four-touchdown passing effort, only the eighth player in UCA football history to pass for more than 400 yards in a game.
But we had about six years’ worth of bonafide potential winners of the award on the table Saturday, the best selection this reporter can remember in more than three decades of covering UCA football:
Jatavious Wilson produced a school-record 314 all-purpose yards, including an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Dezmin Lewis had 160 yards of receptions and two touchdowns.
Justin Heard was all over the field and had 15 tackles.
Linebacker Marvin Mitchell returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown.
Freshman running back Kelton Warren rushed for 106 yards becoming the first UCA back this season to pass the 100 mark. That was highlighted by an 81-yard touchdown run.
In a couple of years, backup quarterback Taylor Reed’s 45 yards rushing and one touchdown and four of five passing for 43 yards and another touchdown would have been enough.
The Bears, with a hastily repaired machine of many new moving parts, clicked on most cylinders in overpowering a high-powered opponent.
But what we witnessed Saturday in the winner of the award was the changing face of this UCA team, which is amazingly still in the SLC title chase with postseason possibilities despite a MASH unit of veteran players, including one of their greatest quarterbacks in school history (Wynrick Smothers) no longer available.
The new face of this team seems to come right out of a fishing hole in Mayberry.
Conque fondly calls Ryan Howard "Opie" because he looks like Ron Howard’s character on the old "Andy Griffith Show."
If you stood Howard in a lineup before a stranger, it would be hard to guess what he did in college, certainly not a football player.
He could pass for the class biology whiz.
Folks might think he was a library worker.
Maybe some would think he was one of the major players in a Shakespeare production.
As far as an athlete, the guesses might be slanted toward a golfer or a point guard in basketball.
But the Bears are fortunate, in the face of all the adversity, that the emerging leader, a fourth-year junior, is one of the most mature player on the team, a well-grounded individual who is a son of a coach (Mike Howard) whom Conque once worked with as assistant coaches on Terry Bowden’s staff at Samford.
"You look at him and you say, ‘And that’s your quarterback?’" Conque said. "He’s unassuming. He doesn’t say much but he works hard and has waited for his opportunity. The big thing is he knows his weaknesses and he doesn’t try to be someone he is not."
So, it’s interesting how the Bears have retooled and reinvented themselves in the face of adversity at midseason.
They are a resilient bunch, a more creative team with players who have learned to lean more on the various skills of the whole — whether young or old.
Howard is a symbol of the remodeled-on-the-fly UCA team. Looks are deceiving. A team may think the Bears are vulnerable and staggering and don’t pack a punch.
Until they get on the field and try to beat them.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)