NWADG College Football


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30 NWA COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW | 8.28.2022 ERICK TAYLOR ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE Last year was one that University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Coach Doc Gamble would just as soon forget, sort of. The Golden Lions won the Southwestern Athletic Conference's West division during an unprecedented spring season before returning in the fall to limp – literally and figuratively – to a 2-9 finish. "It was definitely a tough fall, that's for sure," Gamble said. "It certainly didn't go the way we expected it to, but sometimes, things happen that you don't expect to happen. For us, it was injury after injury. But in football, those things happen, and you just have to deal with it." The cards the Golden Lions were dealt last season had a major impact on how they've approached this season, and the results have yielded plenty of optimism from their third-year coach. UAPB, which was picked to finish fifth in its division by league coaches in the conference's preseason poll, retooled at virtually every position during the offseason and according to Gamble, hasn't resembled anything like a team that finished seven games under .500 the year before. The Golden Lions have several veterans in placed, steered by four-time All-SWAC offensive lineman Mark Evans, and a surplus of new talent, especially from the junior college ranks, that could potentially put them squarely back in the league championship conversion. However, Gamble isn't jumping the gun with this pride of Golden Lions, especially with the way things unraveled 11 months ago. After a season-opening 34-16 victory over Lane College, UAPB dropped its next seven games and nine of its final 10 overall. The Golden Lions will again kick things off with Lane on Sept. 4, but they're intent on taking a much different route afterwards if they're able to clear that initial hurdle. "We want to be 1-0 each week," Gamble said. "That starts with Lane, of course, and then North American. After that, there's Oklahoma State, and then we start SWAC play. So the mindset is to win one game each week, and that's all we can do. "We just have to take care of business, and then move on to the next one. That's the approach we've got to have week in and week out." That mentality is strengthened by an abundance of experience on the roster. UAPB has 12 starters back, including quarterback Skyler Perry. The fifth-year senior threw for nearly 2,000 yards last season and 6 touchdowns, but he also had 9 interceptions. "[Coaches] have been challenging me," Perry said during the conference's media day event in July. "I've been challenging myself to be an even better leader. [Last year] injuries and not having enough depth, that hurt us and left a nasty taste in our mouth. We don't want to feel that anymore." The New Orleans native will have a returning starter in the backfield in Kayvon Britton, whom Gamble deemed as the unquestioned starter at running back, and familiarity in spots at wide receiver, with sophomore Dae'eion Dawkins logging heavy minutes during the second half of last season. But the most established unit Gamble has is up front, beginning with Evans, and he's banking on that group to help engineer a title run. "When you experience the highs of a championship-level team, you want to get back to that level," said the 6-4, 295-pound tackle, who joins junior Jordan Mack and sophomore Noah Hayes as returning starters. "Last year was definitely not the showcase of a championship team in no way, shape or form." Defensively, the secondary, which has no regulars returning, will be under the spotlight after allowing at least 290 yards passing in seven games during 2021, but second-team, all-conference linebacker Monroe Beard is back following a 78-tackle, five-sack season as a sophomore. Junior linebackers Isaac Peppers and Timon Akins also return after combining for 105 tackles a year ago. Despite having key players at pivotal areas, Gamble will also rely on newcomers at others. Their development could be essential by the time the Golden Lions enter the conference portion of their slate. "What's funny is that we've got a lot of new guys, and they don't know what SWAC play really is," Gamble explained. "They think they know until they get into it. That's when they find out it's the real deal because you can't circle anybody, and you can't look past anybody. "We've got a lot of guys that weren't even here at all last year. The older guys who played in the [league title game] during last spring, they were inviting, but not as inviting. It was more like the new guys joined them instead of the vets actually bringing them on board. But now, it's totally different. The veterans are like 'hey, this is how we do it around here, and we want you all to jump on board with us.' " In essence, Gamble is trying to make sure the Golden Lions stay on board by controlling what they can and doing the things necessary to get back into the SWAC final. "Nothing is going to be easy, but that's the beauty of playing in the SWAC," he said. "You've got to bring it every week." GOLDEN LIONS LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK BY STEPHEN HAWKINS AP SPORTS WRITER ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — New Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark is learning the NCAA's issues in real time and during a period of sweeping change and uncertainty. While Monday is Yormark's first day working full-time out of the Big 12 office, leaving behind Jay-Z's Roc Nation, the ex-CEO of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets has been steadily involved in conference matters since landing his first job in college athletics. He was named the Big 12's new leader on June 29. A day later, conference realignment became a pressing issue again when Southern California and UCLA said they would be leaving the Pac-12 in 2024 to join the Big Ten. Beyond that, Yormark has to get familiar with name, image and likeness compensation for athletes, the transfer portal, FBS conferences potentially splitting from the NCAA with their own governance structure for football, and the future of the College Football Playoff. "One of his best qualities is he doesn't pretend to know what he doesn't know … He asks a lot of questions, and listens," Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said of Yormark. "He hasn't been in the industry, so he's got to absorb all of that, which is, just under normal circumstances, difficult. But then throw on top of that conference realignment part two." When asked during his introduction at Big 12 football media days in mid- BIG 12'S NEW BOSS YORMARK LEARNING NCAA ISSUES IN REAL TIME

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