The most prolific quarterback in the history of the University of Central Arkansas is now tasked with carrying the momentum from the program's first undefeated Southland Conference football championship.
Nathan Brown, 31, stood behind the podium inside a Houston hotel at the Southland's media day Thursday morning, and laid out his expectations for a program that he helped build as a player and assistant coach.
"I think at UCA, we developed a culture of winning," said Brown, a three-time All-American quarterback who led the Bears into their first NCAA Football Championship Subdivision season in 2007. "We've won championships at the NAIA level, and we can push nationally with the group at hand."
UCA went 10-2 last season under Steve Campbell, who left to become the head coach at South Alabama, and the Bears lost 21-15 to New Hampshire in the FCS playoffs after earning a first-round bye.
Nine days later, UCA promoted its four-year offensive coordinator to replace Campbell.
"I never wanted to be the convenient coach, I wanted to be the right choice," Brown said. "I gave them my vision, the things we've done great here. It can be a national championship team. I believe we've got the pieces in place."
UCA was picked to finish third in the conference's preseason poll, and the Bears return 8 starters (3 on offense, 5 on defense). That includes junior running back Carlos Blackman, who was named Southland preseason first-team all-conference after rushing for 787 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2017.
"He may be the most dynamic player in the conference," Brown said.
Brown isn't concerned about replacing quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, the Southland Conference Player of the Year last season.
Brown said UCA received "numerous" calls about transfer quarterbacks who wanted to come play in Conway, but the coaching staff was comfortable with the players already on the roster.
"We did not field those calls," Brown said. "We felt like we did a good job recruiting, where we feel like we have quality depth."
He said sophomore Breylin Smith (Conway) is the frontrunner going into fall camp, among junior Kirk Baugh and true freshman BeSean McCray, an Orlando, Fla., native who has "true 4.4" speed.
The 6-3, 210-pound Smith was 3 of 7 passing for 78 yards and a touchdown in 6 games last season, and Brown said the coaching staff had to "pinch ourselves" watching Smith during spring practice because the former Wampus Cat "looked like a two-to-three year starter."
"We've had a track record of having quality at quarterback," Brown said. "And that's not going to change."
Brown hired the last quarterback to win a national championship at UCA to be his offensive coordinator: Ken Collums, who led the Bears to an NAIA title as a freshman in 1991.
Collums was the offensive coordinator while Brown quarterbacked UCA, and Collums was most recently the head coach at Abilene Christian from 2012-2016, when he recorded a 24-32 overall record.
"We're going to run Ken Collums' plays," said Brown, who said Collums was his first call when assembling his staff. "Don't get it twisted: Collums has been brought here to run the offense."
On Dec. 19, Brown announced Max Thurmond as the team's defensive coordinator.
Thurmond played cornerback at Jacksonville State from 1996-2000 and spent 11 seasons as a defensive assistant at his alma mater. He spent last season as the co-defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator at Austin Peay University.
UCA will run a 3-4 defense under Thurmond, with preseason first-team all-conference players junior defensive end Chris Terrell, senior defensive lineman Eric Jackson and junior defensive back Juan Jackson.
The Bears ranked 14th in the FCS last season by allowing 17.5 points per game.
"The defense is ready to do the same thing as last year," said Terrell, who shared the team's lead with 11 sacks in 2017.
Sports on 07/20/2018
Southland Conference preseason predictions
Team (First place votes);Points
1. Sam Houston State (10);96
2. Nicholls State (6);173
3. Central Arkansas (5);170
4. McNeese State (1);159
5. Southeastern Louisiana;119
6. Stephen F. Austin;90
7. Abilene Christian;89
8. Northwestern (La.) State;86
9. Incarnate Word;53
Preseason All-Southland teams
QB;Chase Fourcade;Nicholls State
RB;David Hamm;McNeese State
TE/HB;Lawayne Ross;McNeese State
WR;Davion Davis;Sam Houston State
WR;Nathan Stewart;Sam Houston State
WR;Damion Jeanpiere;Nicholls State
OL;Mitchell Watanabe;Sam Houston State
OL;Ryan Hanley;Nicholls State
OL;Chandler Arceneaux;Nicholls State
OL;Eric David;Sam Houston State
OL;Tristan Wendt;Sam Houston State
AP;Davion Davis;Sam Houston State
PK;Gunnar Raborn;McNeese State
P;Alex Kjellsten;McNeese State
DL;Sully Laiche;Nicholls State
DL;Kenny Dotson;Nicholls State
LB;Allen Pittman;Nicholls State
LB;Hezekiah White;Nicholls State
LB;BJ Blunt;McNeese State
DB;Raphael Lewis;Houston Baptist
DB;Alize Ward;Stephen F. Austin
DB;Corey Abraham;Nicholls State
DB;Ahmani Martin;Nicholls State
KR;Juwan Petit-Frere;Southeastern Louisiana
PR;Davion Davis;Sam Houston State
QB;James Tabary;McNeese State
RB;Kyran Irvin;Nicholls State
RB;Marcus Cooper;Southeastern Louisiana
WR;Tamrick Pace;Stephen F. Austin
WR;Kody Edwards;Incarnate Word
WR;Dai’jean Dixon;Nicholls State
OL;Alfred Beverly;Southeastern Louisiana
OL;Grant Burguillos;McNeese State
OL;Eddie Houston;Nicholls State
AP;Alize Ward;Stephen F. Austin
PK;Lorran Fonseca;Nicholls State
P;Caleb Lewallen;Stephen F. Austin
DL;Chris Stewart;Sam Houston State
DL;Chris Livings;McNeese State
LB;Tamarcus Russell;Southeastern Louisiana
LB;Ryan Woods;Stephen F. Austin
DB;Trenton Gordon;Stephen F. Austin
DB;Bolu Onifade;Abilene Christian
DB;Darion Dunn;McNeese State
DB;Zyon McCollum;Sam Houston State
DB;Colby Burton;McNeese State
Print Headline: UCA hands reins to Brown in 2018