(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
There is more to the University of Central Arkansas defensive front than just Hart.
The marquee player for the UCA defense this year is defensive end Larry Hart, an All-America candidate who had 12 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. He's become a focal point for opposing offensive coordinators.
But the Bears seem to be strong at the other end with junior Markell Carter and sophomore Carson Knowlton and are solid in the middle with senior Taylor Scott, sophomore Trey Lippe, sophomore Marshall Loyd, senior Uriah Perry and junior Hutton Andrew. That's a combined 66 tackles, six tackles and 12 for loss.
"I tell our players in the line that because of Larry Hart, there will be a lot of chances to have a breakout season," said Brian Early, an assistant coach who handles the line and end. "As capable as Larry is, we've got capable people on the other side and in the middle. Larry is so athletic and demands so much, that he's hard to handle one-on-one."
"They all (the defensive linemen) help me out," said Hart, a 6-1, 248-pound senior. "You can't double me and leave those other guys alone. We're deep and we're talented."
"Larry is gonna get his attention," said Carter, a 6-5, 272-pound junior who is No. 1 on the depth chart on the other side.
The other side is wide open."
Senior Taylor Scott has earned all-conference honors at end and tackle and can play either position.
"The defense is so experienced we like to mess around a lot," Scott said. "Larry Hart might rotate to tackle and I might go to end. We can do some different things to confuse a defense."
"With Larry, the other team may not concentrate on players inside," said noseguard Uriah Perry, who is coming back after a season's disciplinary suspension. "The players outside have to be reckoned with and that could leave the middle open. If you concentrate on the middle, there's Larry, Carter and Marshall (Loyd). We have people with pass rushing skills in the defensive line."
"We're as deep as we've been in the defensive line," Early said. "We're pretty good in our top eight or nine. There is a lot of competition and our depth chart flip-flopped a lot during the spring. In our two-deep, there's not much of a dropoff in quality of play."
Scott, one of the most experienced of the defensive linemen, has a hands-on inside perspective.
"I've seen a lot of good defenses," Scott said. "One thing about this defense is the chemistry is unreal. We have a lot of veterans. There's not a lot of gap between 1 and 2. There's a lot of competition and a ton of depth. It's always better when the 1s can play about 60 percent and the 2s play 40 percent and you don't lose much on the field."
"It's talented with good character," Hart said. "Everybody plays well with one another.It's a mature defense with talent and speed and we're continuously coming together. We know each other well and when everything is going good, we feed off one another and play harder."
"With the 1s and 2s, there is no difference," said Loyd, a 6-3, 282-pound sophomore who saw limited action last season. "Everybody has certain strengths. Later in the games, it could make us stronger. I played about 10 snaps a game last year and now I'm competing for a starting spot. It's good competitiion with Taylor Scott and should make us stronger."
"The defense pretty much stuck out in the spring because of our depth and there's little difference between the 1s and the 2s," said Hutton Andrew, a 6-1, 272-pound junior, who played in seven games last year and had 10 tackles. "Larry Hart is so good is makes us all better. He inspires you do do better and take your game to a high level."
"The people we have back just know a lot more," Trey Lippe, who played in 12 games and had eight tackles as a freshman last season. "I know I have come a long ways. When I came in as a freshman, I knew there was a strong bond. Everybody pushes each other. The experienced players push you to do the right thing because they are doing what is right."
Even Hart sees room for improvement.
"I can improve as far as understanding what the offenses are doing more, being more sound and not as untamed," he said."I need to do work on change of direction and steps. I love stopping the run and getting to the passing down. There's nothing like third down and being able to get to the quarterback. There's nothing like an offensive lineman in front of you and you both know it's going to be a pass and he's thinking 'oh gosh, I've got to block this guy.' We both know it's pass but it comes down to who's gonna win the individual battle."
Lippe played defensive end and tight end in high school at Vinita, Okla.
"For the first time in three years, I had to learn to use my hands and not worry about people coming at me instead," said Lippe about the transition from high school. "I learned that in Division I football, everybody is on the same page. In high school, people are either a step better or a step worse. In college, there's not a humongous difference in the people you face. You have to learn to use your hands and eyes more. This summer, I want to get to where my eyes can keep on my target. Your eyes can take you where it's happening."
One of the brightest parts of the spring for the Bears was the return of Perry after a year's absence.
"He's really looking like a dominant defensive tackle," Early said. "Even though he couldn't play, he continued to work hard. He didn't miss much as far as technique. At his position, you have to be able to do everything exactly right to be successful."
"it feels great to be back on the field; I missed it a lot," Perry said. "It really felt like long time. I worked the whole time in the weight room and worked on fundamentals. We have a good defensive line. We're very experienced, all phases. Most of us have played a lot of snaps. It's competitive and that will make us better. We have guys behind guys who'll push us. They're pushing me."
After Denzil Cox's retirement, Matt Williamson, who coached some of the defensive linemen, is the new defensive coordinator.
"No problem," Hart said. "We loved coach Cox. It's pretty much the same defensive staff. Coach Williamson is more emotional. When you have a coach run around so excited, it makes you want to play for him."
"He is so high energy about football and his excitement spreads," Andrew said. "It's awesome to play for that kind of coach. You don't want to disappoint."
Carter added, "He gets right in the middle with us. He's chemistry."
"Coach Cox recruited me and when he left, I was sad," Perry said. "Coach Williamson has exhibited a live style of defense. It's physical, high-active and be relentless. We've developed a bond on defense. We all play together. It's a bond that develops from playing together for years.Everybody knows what to do and we play together."
"Coach Williamson has brought a high tempo to the defense," Scott said."I had expectations when coach Cox left. I knew the expectations that coach Williamson put on us. I want to go beyond expectations.I think we expect more out of ourselves than the coaches do."
The defenders all realize the challenge in the SLC this season after a 10-2 campaign last year and a first-place finish in the SLC with a 6-1 record.
"I know there's a target on our chests," Scott said. "It does tend to make me more hungry knowing this is my last year and the seniors are driving hard not to have anything taken away from us. People are dedicated and still hungry and that makes for a dangerous combination."
"I want to be able to have success when people know we are coming," Hart said. I think we snuck up on people last year. It's a challenge when they they know it's coming and still have trouble stopping us."
"Coach Conque tells us that the wind blows hardest at the top of the mountain," Andrew said.