(Editor's note: This is another in a position-by-position series on University of Central Arkansas football, from the players and assistant coaches' perspectives from post-spring interviews, as the Bears go into the summer).
BY DAVID MCCOLLUM
LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER
The University of Central Arkansas offensive backfield will be led this season by two seniors and one junior, all of whom have had to overcome different challenges.
Brent Grimes, a 5-foot-9, 196-pound senior, and the leading rusher last season with 879 yards and 18 touchdowns, has had to learn how to be a stronger leader.
Junior Leonard Ceaser, a 5-9, 184-pound junior who rushed for 264 yards (second best), is coming back from a late-season demotion from the first team after a bout of fumbilitis.
Senior Nick Cowger, a former all-state quarterback at Vilonia, has come a long way physically and mentally from an up-and-down career and has find a home a fullback, both as a blocker and receiver.
"Grimes and Ceaser set the tempo for the offense in practice every day this spring," said backfield coach Hud jackson. "The younger backs see that and it makes them work that much harder.
"Brent's our most experienced back, so naturally he's a leader," Jackson added. "He reminds me a lot alike Kentrell Rogers (one of the leading rushers in UCA history). How Kentrell played determined a lot to how well we played. Brent just does special things. He's not the biggest guy but he's versatile. He's improved on pass protention."
"I'm more of a lead-by-example guy," Grimes said. "I work hard and my teammates can see me working hard. I try to set the example for my teammates to follow."
"I'm not as much of a vocal leader as much as one who makes sure we do everything right," Ceaser said. "I practice hard and try to have a good spirit every time. I try to practice hard even though I don't feel like it, but I try not to let it show."
"I've got to become quicker and faster to get to holes," Grimes said."I would like to make moves faster to get into the open field."
Toward the end of last season, Ceaser faced a major challenge as he dropped on the depth chart because of sub-par performances.
"When things were not going my way, coach Jackson, who was with me the whole time, said I could either keep going bad and let it get to me or work harder and get to where we want to be," Ceaser said. "I tried to stay positive. I knew to get into the rotation I had to have a good spring."
"Best spring he's ever had," Jackson said. "How unique is that nowadays?. Many athletes face that type of situation, lose their job and they tend to go the other way. Leonard's attitude went the other way. We got his attention. He determined to be better and he had a great spring."
Cowger, who caught eight passes at fullback last season, also had a struggle physically, academically and mentally during his first couple of seasons.
"But he stayed with it and he's come a long way," Jackson said. "He's the most genuine kid you'll meet. He looks the part of a fullback. He came out in the spring and gave us everything he had."
"In my five years here, I've gone through a lot of phases in life and I don't do a lot of the stuff I use to do," Cowger said. "When I first got here, I was a back and I expected to score. I've learned to appreciate the other things. I've learned to appreciate hard work.
"I've learned as much from coach Jackson as any coach I've played for. He's given me the confidence to go out there. And our backs are good. We miss a block; they find another hole."
Through it all, the UCA backs talk about a special type of bonding.
"We've been trying to spend time together," Ceaser said. "We all get along good. As a group I feel we're together as much as any group I've been on. It's like if one back carries the ball and gets close to the goal line and another scores. It's not like we feel he took away our TD. We share in the effort. And we've got good chemistry with our fullbacks. They trust us and we trust them. They getting the holes and escort us."
Grimes added, "We are as close as any guys on the team. We help each other. We each see things on the sideline the other doesn't see. Coach Jackson makes sure we stay close. He's taught us the right way to compete and stay on board. Coach Jackson is a players coach and we all have so much respect for him. It's not too much yelling and screaming or talking at you. A lot of coach will yell and when you hear yelling, you just might just hear the yelling and not be listening. You listen to coach Jackson. He will take you aside and talk to you about what you are doing wrong and won't go out and yell and embarrass you publicly."
"I'm strong about chemistry," Jackson said. "Playing hard and working hard has never been an issue with our experienced backs and the younger guys watch that."
With their younger players, the Bears are staying to develop depth in the backfield.
Terence Bobo, a 6-0, 198-pound sophomore, rushed for 135 yards in 11 games last year. C.J. Chaten, a transfer from Tulsa, played in two games before being injured. He showed improvement in the spring.
Jackson describes Anthony Blackmon, a 5-10, 182-pound redshirt freshman, is the most improved of the backs.
"He's understanding what the line is doing," Jackson said. "The good backs are carely not to make their cuts too early and Anthony is staring to see that." Backing up Cowger is Chris McKnight, a 5-10, 235-pound sophomore from Mayflower who has also seemed to find a home at fullback whom Jackson says in "naturally a physical player."
"I tell the backs that they all are an injury away from being 'the guy,'" Jackson said. "They have to get ready and stay ready. And they're learning from each other." NEXT: Defensive line.