NWADG College Football


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28 NWA COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW | 8.28.2022 SAM LANE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE CONWAY — Nathan Brown felt like his team needed a refresh. A 5-6 record, his first losing season in four years as head coach of the University of Central Arkansas, wasn't indicative of the true talent Brown felt his team possessed. So, he turned to the transfer portal, bringing in 15 players from it alone — more than any season since taking over as head coach. "We needed a little bit of a roster turnover after last year," Brown said. "I felt like we were getting a little stale. … I felt like last year we were an old senior- led team and I think, to a certain extent, that hurt us. That may sound crazy, but you know, as I evaluated our program and our season last year, I just felt like we were worn out. "I felt like I [wasn't sure] we had the fire that some of these young new faces have in our program this year. I think it's been refreshing in all three aspects of the game … I think you're gonna see a great version of what UCA Bear football can be this year." That refresh starts at quarterback, where UCA is having to replace the face of its program over the last four years. Breylin Smith played in 44 games for the Bears, passing for 2,884 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2021, but now, the one constant through Brown's tenure in Conway is gone. "Breylin is a young man that was the face of our program for three or four years," Brown said. "The ability he had on the field to lead, and then the tangibles he had are obviously something you can't replace." But thankfully for Brown, it didn't take long to find a successor. Arguably the marquee acquisition from UCA's portal activity was Northern Iowa quarterback Will McElvain. The junior played in 24 games for the Panthers, highlighted by a 2019 triple- overtime win against Iowa State to begin his freshman season. Brown has had Football Bowl Subdivision players transfer to UCA before and he's had plenty of junior college transfers, but said that securing a transfer from a fellow Football Championship Subdivision school was the rarest kind — and one that he felt said something about what direction the Bears' program is headed in. Smith isn't the only offensive playmaker Brown had to replace. The Bears enter 2022 without their top two wide receivers from last season in Tyler Hudson and Lujuan Winningham. The duo was responsible for 67% of UCA's receiving yards in 2021. To find replacements for them, Brown added eight wideouts, highlighted by University of Arkansas transfer John David White. White, along with Christian Richmond, who leads all returners in receiving yards, will provide a steady paring in the slot. On the outside, Colorado transfer Trustin Oliver has separated himself as the first name on the depth chart. Alongside him will be sophomore Myles Kitt-Denton, redshirt freshman Myles Butler and junior Jarrod Barnes, who is returning from a knee injury. Brown said he believes having eight new wide receivers acclimating at the same time as a new quarterback has been beneficial to everyone involved. "I think it helped [to have] a new quarterback because you go back to square one," Brown said. "You go back to an old guy, let's say Breylin Smith comes back or you got a fourth-, fifth- year guy coming back. Well, you know, his expectation level is to know exactly where everybody's gonna be. And he's got this certain expectation level. Well, when you're teaching a whole new room of quarterbacks, and you're teaching a lot of new receivers, you're starting from square one. So I think it's made us better as an offense. I think it's made us reevaluate ourselves on offense a little bit." Giving his team, particularly his offense, a shakeup was important to Brown following last season's showing. Three of the Bears' six losses came by 10 points or less — all of which came as they were outscored in the second half. Brown has high hopes for what his team can achieve this season, but they will remain just that, hopes if UCA can't maintain the leads it creates. "I think [losing games like that] allows you to wake your team up a little bit," Brown said. "It allows you to say, 'Hey, you know, we've got to learn to finish. What we do in the first quarter, second quarter may not matter if we're not able to finish the game in the fourth quarter. If you look at 2018 and 2019 … we've been known as a fourth-quarter team. I think that's the frustrating part. We'll get it figured out. "I think our guys are excited about it. They understand what's at stake, and I think they're looking forward to the opportunity to avenge some of those losses that we feel like we had a chance to win last year." BEARS GO TO PORTAL TO UPGRADE ROSTER "WE NEEDED A LITTLE BIT OF A ROSTER TURNOVER AFTER LAST YEAR... I FELT LIKE WE WERE GETTING A LITTLE STALE… I FELT LIKE LAST YEAR WE WERE AN OLD SENIOR-LED TEAM AND I THINK, TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, THAT HURT US. THAT MAY SOUND CRAZY, BUT YOU KNOW, AS I EVALUATED OUR PROGRAM AND OUR SEASON LAST YEAR, I JUST FELT LIKE WE WERE WORN OUT..." NATHAN BROWN HEAD COACH OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL ARKANSAS

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