Six University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football players have earned 2021 preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors.
Four players earned first-team honors: offensive linemen Mark Evans II and Atondre Smith, wide receiver Harry Ballard III, and return specialist Tyrin Ralph. A pair of players – defensive lineman Xavier Mitchell and defensive back Shawn Steele – earned second-team honors.
The anchors of the offensive line, left tackle Evans (6-4, 295; junior, Houston) and left guard Smith (6-3, 320; senior, DeSoto, Texas), helped the offense post seven 30-plus point scoring games in 2019, including back-to-back 50-point games vs. Alabama A&M (52-34) and Langston (53-9). The offense ranked third in the SWAC in total offense (446.7 ypg), including three 500-plus yard games (519 at Tennessee State, 532 vs. Lane, 541 vs. Texas Southern), and one 600-plus yard game (645 at Alabama A&M) while allowing the second-fewest sacks in the conference (18).
Ballard III (6-3, 205; senior, St. Louis) was fourth in the conference in both receptions (52) and receiving yards (938), and was fifth in touchdown receptions. He posted five 100-yard receiving games, and caught touchdowns in six games, including three multi-TD games. Ballard caught five passes for a season-high 147 yards and two touchdowns against Langston and had a season-high nine receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Grambling.
Ralph (5-8, 170; senior, New Orleans) was the most dynamic returner in the league last season, as he led the SWAC in punt returns averaging 10.5 yards on 14 attempts while averaging nearly 28 yards on nine kickoff returns. Ralph had four punt returns of at least 20 yards, and seven kickoff returns of at least 20 yards. He also caught 27 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns and rushed four times for 35 yards.
Mitchell (6-2, 245; redshirt junior, New Orleans) started every game in 2019 and finished second on the defensive line in tackles (48), tied for the team lead in sacks (5), tied for second in tackles for loss (10), and had one forced fumble and one pass breakup. Mitchell had at least a half-sack in three consecutive games and four of the last five games, and tallied career-high seven-tackle games against both Southern and Grambling.
Steele (5-11, 180; senior, Arlington, Texas) was tied for fifth in the SWAC in interceptions (three), and first in the league in both pass breakups (15) and passes defended (18). He had four games of multiple pass breakups, including back-to-back games with three pass breakups at Tennessee State and vs. Southern. Steele recorded 46 tackles (36 solo), with 2.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, and one blocked kick on the season.
UAPB football, postponed in the fall because of the covid-19 pandemic, begins practice Jan. 29 and opens the season Feb. 27 vs. Texas Southern at Simmons Bank Field.