The University of Central Arkansas football team experienced its first head coaching change in 14 years when Coach Steve Campbell was hired on Dec. 20, 2013.
Campbell took over for former UCA Head Coach Clint Conque, who made a lateral move to Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin State University.
The Bears played a Purple/ Grey game Aug. 20 for the final tune up of the season.
Redshirt sophomore tight end Cody Dauksch said the scrimmage gave Campbell his final look at the team.
“The scrimmage served as a chance for projected starters and older players to really polish up their technique and fundamentals,” he said.
This upcoming season will be Campbell’s first at the helm and the team looks to finish strong in the Southland Conference.
Campbell’s offense will likely look differently than Conque’s because Campbell wants to run a no-huddle, spread, high-tempo offense.
Early preseason polls have UCA finishing fourth in the league behind defending SLC champions Southeastern Louisiana University, McNeese State University and Sam Houston State University.
UCA lost several leaders during the offseason to graduation, but is returning 19 players with starting experience.
On offense, all are returning but three starters from last season, including quarterbacks senior Ryan Howard and junior Taylor Reed, senior wide receivers Damien Watts and Dezmin Lewis and senior running back Willie Matthews, offensive lineman and preseason All-American senior Cole Caruthers.
Howard and Reed traded snaps after former UCA quarterback Wynrick Smothers broke his leg Oct. 12, 2013, in the game against the University of Nebraska – Kearney.
Lewis led UCA in receiving last season with 50 receptions, 721 yards and seven touchdowns. He was named to College Football Performance Awards watch list for wide receivers.
On the defensive side of the ball, the team returns its No. 2 and No. 3 tacklers in junior cornerback Dillion Winfrey (56 tackles) and junior defensive end and preseason third-team All- American Jonathan Woodard (49 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks), respectively.
Also returning for the Bears’ defense is the leader in interceptions senior safety Marvin Mitchell, who had three.
Kickers senior Eddie Camara and junior Jace Denker, sophomore kick returner and preseason third-team All- American Jatavious Wilson will return for the Bears.
Howard completed 18 of 30 passes for four touchdowns and 403 passing yards.
Campbell talked about the players returning this season.
“We have a lot of great leaders returning and some of our best players are returning,” he said.
Last season, UCA was met with several key injuries, which contributed to the team finishing 7-5 overall and 4-3 SLC.
The Bears, however, finished third in the conference in total offense by averaging 452.9 yards per game, and finished sixth in the conference in scoring by averaging 33.2 points per game.
UCA will open the season against Football Bowl Subdivision Big 12 foe Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock, Texas on Aug. 30.
Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury led the Red Raiders to an 8-5 record and a 37-23 win in the Holiday Bowl against No. 16 Arizona State University.
The Bears play their first home game against the University of Tennessee at Martin at 6 p.m. Sept. 6.
These two teams met up last season in the third week, which saw UTM defeat UCA 24-23.
The Bears start season play on Sept. 27 at home against Nicholls State University. In last season’s contest, UCA took a 17-10 win in Thibodaux, Louisana.
The Bears take on the Conque-led SFA Lumberjacks on Oct. 4 in Nacogdoches, Texas. The two teams met in a 66-31 win for UCA at home last year.
The next road game the Bears will play will be against SLU. UCA lost 58-31 at home to the SLC Champions last season.
The first game on the stripes is against the University of Tennessee at Martin at 6 p.m. Sept. 6.
The Bears round out the season against rival Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas at 3 p.m. Nov. 22.