CONWAY -- Preparation for next week's season opener at Arkansas State University isn't the only thing that's been heating up for the University of Central Arkansas.
Practices -- in more ways than one -- have been the hottest since fall workouts began Aug. 7.
"We're like anybody else in the South," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said Monday. "We're dealing with the heat every day ... really hot. Our guys are battling through it. There's not many days that you can hide from it, so we're trying to make sure that we stay fresh, which is hard to do.
"We'll start game prep [for ASU] starting this Wednesday, but we've got two practices before then that we're going to continue to, one, get some last-minute evaluations on maybe some young guys that can help us here on offense and defense or even special teams. And then also, continue to iron out some position battles."
The Bears want to make sure all I's are dotted and T's crossed when they travel to Jonesboro on Sept. 4 to take on intrastate rival ASU at Centennial Bank Stadium. ASU pulled away in the second half to win last year's game 50-27, but UCA is intent on not allowing a repeat situation.
Brown acknowledged he's been pleased with the team's overall performance through the first 13 practices of the preseason, particularly at the running back and defensive back positions. UCA lost contributions in both areas, with Kierre Crossley -- last year's leading rusher -- transferring to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Robert Rochell -- a first-team FCS All-American last spring -- being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams nearly four months ago.
The fourth-year coach revealed that the additions the team acquired in the offseason, along with some talented returners, will help fill those voids. According to Brown, transfers Willie Langham from Tulane and Kylan Stribling from Middle Tennessee State will mesh well with preseason all-conference picks Deandre Lamont and Cameron Godfrey. True freshmen Kylin James of Dumas and Darius Hale of Pearland (Texas) will provide an added dimension on offense with returning running back Cameron Myers.
One of the more important aspects that Brown has been excited about centers on the Bears getting back into a familiar routine. Fall classes have started, too, which he feels has done wonders for a team that went through so much back and forth last season because of covid-19. UCA had a scrimmage last week as well, one that Brown believes may have had a record attendance for students.
"That allows us to get more of a normal gamelike atmosphere," he said. "I'm just excited because football is on the horizon. We've got college football games coming up this weekend, and that's exciting. From all accounts, it looks like it's going to be 100% capacity at most venues so it's going to be fun to see that again.
"There's a lot of juice and a lot of energy around this football team, and I think we're excited and looking forward to the challenge of starting the season off with Arkansas State."