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Bears start fresh with new coach

Last Modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 12:26 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Sometimes present-day adversities actually serve as preparedness for the days ahead.

Central Arkansas hopes that is the case after a somewhat tumultuous 2013. The Bears were devastated by injuries last year, most notably to senior all-conference quarterback Wynrick Smothers.

Then the returning players were dealt an offseason jolt when 14-year head coach Clint Conque bolted for Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin.

But new head coach Steve Campbell appears to be just as familiar with winning as the Bears have been in recent years, if not more so.

He won a Division II national title at Delta State in 2000, then spent a couple of years as an assistant at Middle Tennessee State and Mississippi State before returning to the head coaching ranks at the junior college level.

Campbell was 87-22 in his nine seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before landing the UCA job.

And the first thing he noticed about his new team was how well they appeared to have handled their trials and tribulations.

“I’m excited about the leadership we have on this team. They have stepped up and taken care of everything that has come up,” Campbell said. “When any type of adversity has raised its head, they have taken it upon themselves to handle it. They’ve stepped up and taken it up a notch. And that’s exciting as a coach.”

One of last year’s blessings in disguise was backup quarterback Ryan Howard’s development after Smothers’ injury. Howard appeared in nine games, throwing 18 touchdown passes against four interceptions.

He’ll be getting competition from Taylor Reed, who started his career at Memphis before transferring to Arkansas and then to UCA. Reed played in nine games last season and had five touchdown passes while finishing third on the team in rushing with 196 yards.

Surviving last season’s challenges doesn’t guarantee this year will be all milk and honey for the Bears. UCA starts the season at Texas Tech, then plays 10 consecutive games before getting a bye on Nov. 15. If injuries crop up again, they could derail a promising season.

Because of the Southland’s new unbalanced schedule, UCA will not face McNeese State this season — unless, of course, both teams can find their way deep into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

HICKEY’S PICK: 8-4, 6-2 in Southland.

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