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story.lead_photo.caption Senior running back Carlos Blackman is one of eight starters returning on Central Arkansas’ offense. Blackman rushed for 786 yards and 9 touchdowns last season, while junior back Kierre Crossley had 600 yards and 2 scores.

CONWAY -- If it hadn't been before, the message became obvious during a rainy practice.

University of Central Arkansas Coach Nathan Brown's top-line objective during fall camp has been to focus on the small details that go into winning. So when the rain came down Aug. 5, Brown passed on moving practice to the Bears' adjacent indoor facility and kept going outside.

Central Arkansas schedule

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 29 at Western Kentucky 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Austin Peay 2 p.m.

Sept. 14 Abilene Christian* 6 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Hawaii 11 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Nicholls State* 3 p.m.

Oct. 12 McNeese State* 4 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Northwestern (La.) State* 6 p.m.

Oct. 26 Sam Houston State* 6 p.m.

Nov. 2 at Lamar* 3 p.m.

Nov. 9 Southeastern Louisiana* 3 p.m.

Nov. 16 Stephen F. Austin* 3 p.m.

Nov. 22 at Incarnate Word* 6:30 p.m.

*Southland Conference game

2018 results

DATE OPPONENT RESULT

Sept. 1 at Tulsa L, 38-27

Sept. 8 Murray State W, 26-13

Sept. 15 at Southeastern Louisiana* W, 33-25

Sept. 29 at Sam Houston State* L, 34-31 (OT)

Oct. 6 Houston Baptist* W, 66-35

Oct. 13 at Stephen F. Austin* W, 27-17

Oct. 20 Northwestern (La.) State* W, 38-17

Oct. 27 at McNeese State* L, 23-21

Nov. 3 Lamar* L, 38-24

Nov. 10 Incarnate Word* L, 40-27

Nov. 17 at Abilene Christian* W, 16-7

*Southland Conference game

"We could've went indoors, but he said we're going stay out here and work through it," senior cornerback Trai Mosley said the next day. "Because we had a few games last year where it was pouring, and we had to play through that. [It's] practicing in different situations."

Mosley cited it as an example of the more detailed-oriented approach UCA is taking under Brown this season, and he's not the only player indoctrinated.

"I think the big things for us this year is not letting the little things slip," sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith said. "I feel like last year at times we did that, and I did that. I feel like if we want to go and get over the hump and really make a run at championships, then we can't let little things get by."

Brown has seen his players take action on that philosophy.

"I walk throughout the stadium in between sessions, and I see them watching film on their phones or their iPads," Brown said. "You see little things like that that are starting to progress, that as a head coach makes you pleased, and you can tell your team's going in the right direction."

Last season was, to some degree, a letdown for UCA.

After back-to-back 10-win seasons from 2016-17, which included a Southland Conference championship in 2017, the Bears limped to a 6-5 finish under Brown in his first year as head coach.

Two of UCA's losses were by a combined five points, and Brown said he knows his team was just a few plays away from a couple of more wins.

"We had an opportunity, really, last year to win every game we played," Brown said. "It's not that they didn't buy in to what we were trying to do. We just let some things slip."

Brown, who turned 33 on Aug. 19, heads into Year 2 at the helm with a sharpened approach and high expectations.

In many respects, the former UCA offensive coordinator is still learning how to be a head coach, and what works for his program and what doesn't. Brown, who took over in December 2017 after formerhead coach Steve Campbell left for South Alabama, said he's trying to be more involved on defense and special teams this season while also developing better individual relationships with his players.

His responsibilities have changed tremendously in all aspects since his days as the Bears' play-caller.

"There's just a lot less X's and O's involved in being the head coach," Brown said. "I spend a lot of time monitoring our academics, making sure we're solid in that area, monitoring our social life, making sure that our guys are making good decisions.

"On the football side of it, I was fortunate enough to hire a great coaching staff. I trust those guys to handle a lot of the day-to-day game-planning rigors of a football season. But I want to try to jump in more and be more involved in all three aspects of the game this year, and really push this thing forward in what direction we want to go."

The Bears were picked to finish second in the Southland in the preseason coaches poll. Nicholls State, last year's champion, was picked to finish first again.

UCA has eight starters back on offense, including four on the offensive line. Both of the Bears' star running backs, senior Carlos Blackman and junior Kierre Crossley, have finished in the top 11 in rushing in the Southland the past two years.

But the biggest boost is having Smith healthy at quarterback. He broke his right ankle in the fourth game last year against Sam Houston State. Backup Kirk Baugh was injured later in that game, and the Bears played third-string redshirt freshman Luke Hales in the final seven games of the season.

The pieces are in place this year for a high-powered offense, so long as Smith and Co. can stay healthy.

"That was a big part of our downfall last year -- losing Breylin," Blackman said. "He's back, he's healthy and we're rolling, getting to it."

Junior wide receivers Brandon Myers and Joe Hampton, both projected starters, were injured during fall camp. Myers suffered a knee injury and Hampton suffered a high-ankle sprain. Myers likely will miss the season opener, and Hampton is questionable, Brown said. Junior nose guard A'Javius Brown also has been nursing a foot injury but is expected to play Week 1, Brown said.

UCA also has a new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach this season in Chad Williams, who played five seasons in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Williams was promoted after serving as the safeties and nickel backs coach last year. Outside linebackers coach Jacob Sisk and safeties coach Chaz Scales are also in their first year on staff.

"He's an aggressive defensive coordinator," Brown said of Williams. "He holds instant credibility playing [four] years with the Baltimore Ravens alongside Ed Reed, Ray Lewis. He's got a lot of intensity, a lot of fire to his personality, and our players, when he speaks, they listen."

Mosley said the biggest change Williams has instilled is mixing up coverages more often, whereas in the past UCA's defense played more man-to-man.

"I think our big improvement was our [defensive coordinator]," Mosley said. "He just comes with an aggressive defense. ... Since he's played in the NFL, he brings a lot of that NFL mentality on defense to us."

As for whether UCA can win a fourth Southland Conference title, the Bears remain confident.

"I definitely think so," Smith said. "I think the pieces are there. Now we just got to go out and do it."

Photo by Courtesy UCA
UCA offensive coordinator Nathan Brown

Sports on 08/25/2019

Print Headline: Brown makes impression with detailed precision

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