Even before the 2017 season started, University Central Arkansas Coach Steve Campbell said he knew there were at least two NFL candidates on UCA's roster -- senior defensive back Tre Smith and senior linebacker George Odum.
Six games into the season, Campbell said the count is up to four -- Smith, Odum, senior defensive end Chris Chambers and senior quarterback Hayden Hildebrand.
Odum, 6-1, 190 pounds, and Smith, were first-team All-Southland Conference selections last season and were named to the this season's preseason All-Sun Belt team.
Scouts have routinely asked about both over the past two seasons, Campbell said.
Chambers, 6-2, 228, was named second-team All-Southland last season, but his play thus far as a senior has begun to turn heads. His eight tackles for loss, including 2½ sacks, ranks tied for fourth in the Southland Conference.
"Chambers is a very good football player," Campbell said. "He was very good last year, but he's gotten even better. He's playing very good against the run, and he's very good at rushing the passer."
Hildebrand said last fall he expected to join his father's financial advisory firm in Bossier City, La., after he graduated, but Campbell said scouts speak as if he might have a different job opportunity.
"They're starting to ask about Hayden," Campbell said.
Hildebrand leads the Southland in pass efficiency and is second in passing yards a game to Sam Houston State's Jeremiah Briscoe with an average of 270.0.
Nine UCA players have been selected in the NFL draft since 1960. Eleven have made NFL rosters.
Central Arkansas' defense is ranked second in the Southland Conference in both yards and points allowed, giving up an average of 21.8 points and 354.7 yards a game.
"I've gotten spoiled, because our defense is really good," Coach Steve Campbell said after last week's 24-20 victory over Stephen F. Austin. "The problem is, every time the other team gets a first down, I go, 'What happened,' because I'm used to our guys not letting them get anything."
Senior linebacker George Odum leads the way, as he has throughout much of his and Campbell's four seasons at UCA. He has averaged 9.3 tackles a game, second-most in the Southland, and had 13 -- 10 unassisted -- against SFA.
"He's playing as good as he's played since we've been here," Campbell said.
Campbell praised most of UCA's defensive roster Monday as he sat in his Estes Stadium office.
"They're playing very well," Campbell said. "Again, I got spoiled, because when we're playing the way we're capable of playing, they don't give up yards at all."
Coming up short
Central Arkansas Coach Steve Campbell searched for consolation after his offensive line failed to give sophomore running back Carlos Blackman room for a first down on 4th and inches at the Stephen F. Austin 16 in what would become a 24-20 UCA victory at Estes Stadium on Saturday.
Six minutes were gone in the first quarter of a then-scoreless game. Campbell is the team's offensive line coach and said he felt confident enough in his unit and Blackman to forego a field-goal attempt.
Blackman was stopped for no gain, and SFA took over on downs.
"We had that fourth-and-6 inches deal, and I said, 'Well, if we can't get 6 inches then we're going to be in for a long night,' '' Campbell said. "Then we didn't get it and it was a long night. At least I knew right off the bat that, all right, this is the way it's going to be. It got us prepared for it mentally, and it turned out that way."
Midway through the third quarter, freshman running back Kierre Crossley was stopped for no gain on third-and-1 from the SFA 10. As a consequence, UCA junior Matt Cummins kicked a 27-yard field goal to tie the score at 17-17.
"Our short-yardage wasn't good," Campbell said. "That's something we're working on, because I'm a short-yardage coach."
Sports on 10/20/2017
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