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7 Lions, coach make All-America Team

by Special to The Commercial | April 30, 2021 at 2:49 a.m.

The honors continue to roll in for the spring 2021 SWAC Western Division Champion University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football team Thursday, as seven standouts and a coach were named to the BOXTOROW HBCU All-America Team.

UAPB Head Coach Doc Gamble was named National Coach of the Year. Offensive lineman Mark Evans II, linebacker Isaac Peppers, defensive back Jalon Thigpen, and return specialist Tyrin Ralph were named first-team All-America, with Ralph also named as the National Special Teams Player of the Year. Wide receiver Josh Wilkes and tight end Jeremy Brown were named as Honorable Mention All-America. Quarterback Skyler Perry earned the Impact Award for his play this season.

All eight were named to the All-SWAC team earlier Thursday, with Gamble named league Coach of the Year, Evans, Thigpen, and Ralph named first-team All-SWAC, and Peppers, Wilkes, Brown, and Perry named second-team All-SWAC. Offensive lineman Noah Hayes and linebacker Kolby Watts, also of UAPB, were named second-team All-SWAC.

Gamble led the Golden Lions to the program's second undefeated season ever and first since 1937 (7-0-3), and to the first SWAC Western Division title since 2012. UAPB turned back the clock to the 2012 SWAC championship season in 2021, defeating Southern, Grambling, and Prairie View A&M in the same season for the first time since 2012.

Evans earned first-team All-SWAC honors for the second straight season, anchoring a unit that again allowed the second-fewest sacks in the conference (four) in 150 pass attempts. The offense ranks third in league in touchdown passes with 12 as the offense gained 382.5 yards per game in scoring 30 or more points three times, including season-high 48 points at Grambling.

Thigpen leads the SWAC and is tied for second in the FCS in interceptions with four picks, returning one for a touchdown while leading the SWAC in pass breakups (seven) while ranking third on team in tackles (25). He made a career-high two interceptions along with six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup against Prairie View A&M. Thigpen made a season-high eight tackles and returned an interception 35 yards for touchdown at Grambling.

Ralph leads the SWAC and is third in the FCS in all-purpose yards with 727 yards (181.8 per game), is second in the FCS in combined kick returns (461 yards), leads the SWAC and is third in FCS in punt returns (17.5 per return), and leads the SWAC and is tied for ninth in the FCS in kickoff returns (26.9 per return). Ralph gained a career-high 279 all-purpose yards at Mississippi Valley State (142 punt return yards on five returns, including game-winning 77-yard return for a touchdown; 85 kick return yards on four returns, and 61 receiving yards on four receptions.)

Peppers is second on the team with 27 tackles, leads the SWAC in forced fumbles (three), ranks second in the league with 5.5 sacks, and is fourth in tackles for loss with 6.5. He recorded six tackles, with a career-high 3.5 sacks and a career-high 4.0 tackles for loss and a forced fumble against Prairie View A&M.

Wilkes ranks third in the SWAC in receiving yards (293), is tied for second in TD receptions (five), and ranks sixth in receptions (19), catching at least one touchdown pass in every game this season. He had a season-high tying six receptions for season-high 131 yards and one touchdown at Grambling, and tied a career high with two touchdown receptions vs. Prairie View A&M.

Brown caught six passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns this season. He had season highs with two receptions for 59 yards and a career-high tying two touchdowns at Grambling.

Perry ranks second in the SWAC in TD passes (12) and third in passing yards (1,005) and has also rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns, and caught one pass for 17 yards. Perry threw multiple touchdown passes in every game this season. He passed for 201 yards and accounted for career-high five touchdowns (career-high tying four passing / one rushing) in the West Division title win over Prairie View. Perry completed 18 of 30 passes for a career-high 346 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes at Grambling.

Hayes manned the right tackle position on the offensive line that yielded only four sacks in 150 pass attempts while protecting Perry's blind side for an offensive unit that gained 382.5 yards per game. The offense scored in 13 of 16 quarters this season.

Watts made a team-high 29 tackles with one sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one pass breakup. Watts made a season-high tying nine tackles, a career-high 4.0 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one pass breakup against Prairie View A&M, and made nine tackles with one tackle for loss at Southern.

The Golden Lions (4-0 overall, 4-0 SWAC) will face the Eastern Division Champion Alabama A&M Bulldogs (4-0, 3-0) Saturday in the Cricket Wireless SWAC Football Championship Game presented by Pepsi Zero Sugar at 2 p.m. in Jackson, Miss.

The game will be televised on ESPN2 and on the ESPN App. The UAPB Sports Network Radio Broadcast begins at 1 p.m. on KPBA-FM 99.3 The Beat in Pine Bluff; KARN-AM 920 The Sports Animal in Little Rock; Sirius XM ESPNU Radio chanel 84, on the OpenMic Broadcast Network and on the UAPB Athletics App.

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