The UCA football team had a conference-high 12 players recognized on the 2017 Southland Conference preseason team on July 13.
The Bears had seven first-team selections and five second-team selections.
Of the seven first-team players, five were on defense.
Senior cornerbacks Tremon Smith and Jaylon Lofton, senior defensive back George Odum, senior defensive end Cardell Best, and senior punter Patrick Ponder were selected to the first-team. The second-team selections were sophomore defensive end Chris Terrell and Tremon Smith as a punt returner.
According to Best, this is the reason why the defense has been so successful — it’s full of “go-getters.”
“We’re going to get the job done regardless of any circumstances or any situation,” Best said. “It’s a mentality. Regardless of the pain we go through, we’re determined to reach our goals we’ve set out.”
UCA had five players selected on offense, with three of them coming from the offensive line.
Senior lineman Stockton Mallett and junior lineman John Cook were selected to the first team, while senior quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, senior lineman Gilberto Garcia, and sophomore running back Carlos Blackman were selected to the second team.
The offense is expected to have success due to its talented leader, Hildebrand.
“On the field he stays calm and reassuring,” Cook said. “Even when things are going bad he never shows it. He’s a great leader and a major part in the team’s success.”
UCA’s talented offensive front plays a large part in its anticipated success as well.
According to Cook, the offensive line’s success comes from the leadership of Garcia, senior Cade Camp, senior Micah Parten, and Stockton, but also from the depth with players such as sophomore Hunter Watts, junior Will Jones, and senior Conner Wood.
“The recognition is just extra, because on the offensive line if one person looks bad, we all look bad,” Cook said. “That award just speaks to the quality of the group as a whole.”
Though players such as Best appreciate the league-wide recognition, it doesn’t draw the line of success that they hope to have this year.
“I am honored to receive recognition from the Southland Conference and my coaching staff,” Best said, “but I’m also hungry for what we are capable of accomplishing as a unit. I still have a lot of goals to achieve.”
The Bears look to continue their success from last season, but are coming into the new season with a different mindset than last year.
“The experience of the playoffs was very valuable,” Cook said. “It showed the team that we are capable of reaching that level. Instead of hoping to make the playoffs we are expecting it.”