The UCA Bears football team is approaching its 2015 season after a grueling offseason.
The Bears will begin their season away against the Samford University Bulldogs on Sept. 3 in Birmingham, Alabama. Their first home game will be against the Northwestern State University Demons on Sept. 26, opening conference play.
Coaches and players said after an impressive showing last season, they hope to take that momentum and apply it toward wins and, ultimately, a national championship.
The 2015 Bears have 24 returning fourth- and fifth-year seniors, led by All-Conferernce defensive end Jonathan Woodard. The returning seniors are spread evenly throughout the team; there are five offensive linemen, four receivers, three defensive linemen, three defensive backs, two linebackers, two running backs, one quarterback, one tight end and three specialists.
Offensive lineman senior Kyle Stouffer said the senior players are motivated to make big plays.
“As a senior you want to leave behind a legacy of winning,” Stouffer said. “That includes winning big games like Homecoming and the red beans and rice game. The ultimate goal is to win a national championship, but in order to do that we have to take it one game at a time and not look too far ahead.”
Coaches said senior players such as Stouffer, Woodard and wide receiver senior Blake Gardner will give the Bears strong leadership on all parts of the field. That experience, along with a supporting cast full of fast, experienced players such as juniors Jatavious Wilson and Desmond Smith will be putting points on the board, they said.
The Bears’ running backs, led by senior Blake Veasly, should also make major contributions to the 2015 season. Coaches expect younger players such as sophomore Dominique Thomas and junior Antwon Wells to make strong plays, as well.
Senior quarterback Taylor Reed will return for his final campaign after throwing seven touchdowns and running for five last season.
Strength and Conditioning Coach Robert Steiner said he spent offseason training with players and that the boys are ready to conquer a challenging season and win games.
“We as a strength staff do things that mimic those struggles in the weight room,” Steiner said. “We put barriers in front of our athletes and watch them conquer them. We teach that they have to train through being uncomfortable.”
He said that process also cultivates players for their life away from the field. Gardner said he agrees and that working hard off field is equally necessary for the Bears’ success as working hard on field.
“There’s been a lot of commitment to working out, a lot of learning plays and the game, and a commitment to doing things right as a person because a lot of things you can’t partake in as a college athlete because you are held to a higher standard and must conduct yourself as such,” Gardner said.
Senior players and coaches said they have high hopes for the 2015 season as they head into the first game against Oklahoma on the Sept.12 before they return to Estes Stadium.
image via thecabin.net