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Crossley familiar with UCA

by Erick Taylor | September 17, 2021 at 2:06 a.m.

There may be a nostalgic moment or two for Kierre Crossley when he steps on the field inside Estes Stadium on Saturday night before the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff renews its rivalry with No. 25 University of Central Arkansas.

Just don't expect him to be overemotional -- at least after the ball is kicked off at 6 p.m.

"It's definitely going to feel really weird, I can almost guarantee that," said Crossley, who transferred to UAPB in the offseason after spending the previous five years at UCA. "I played there for so long and spent so much time with those guys over there. Me going against them now is definitely going to feel different.

"But I'm excited for it, and it's going to be a good game."

Good games came in bunches for the 5-9, 180-pound Texas native during his time with the Bears.

Crossley redshirted in 2016 before emerging the next season when he garnered Southland Conference Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for a team-high 780 yards and four touchdowns. He followed that up with three more productive years to help the Bears win two league titles (2017, 2019) and become a national FCS power.

During his stay in Conway, he also established what he described as a "great" relationship with UCA Coach Nathan Brown.

"It wasn't just great on the field, but it was great off the field as well," said Crossley, who carried 452 times for 2,159 yards and 10 touchdowns during his career at UCA. "He's going to always be one of my favorite coaches ever. He always pushed us, and he's got a great offensive mind. When I first got there, he was the offensive coordinator, but I was really excited when he took over as head coach.

"Me and him have a lot of history there, from my first year up until now. And it'll always remain that way."

On Saturday, the circumstances will be a tad different.

Instead of Brown and his offense exploring ways to use Crossley on the field, they'll try to figure out how to defend him.

UAPB Coach Doc Gamble wanted to improve his backfield situation after the Golden Lions finished seventh in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in rushing in five games last spring by averaging just under 120 yards per game. Quarterback Skyler Perry actually led the team with 216 yards rushing so solidifying that area was of the utmost importance for the second-year coach.

Enter Crossley, who made a huge impression on Gamble and his staff during fall camp. He backed up that eye-catching preseason with an 11-carry, 54-yard, 1-touchdown performance in UAPB's season-opening 34-16 victory over Lane College two weeks ago. The Golden Lions ran for 275 yards in the game, which was nearly 100 yards more than what UAPB generated on the ground in any contest during the spring.

Brown, who's in his fourth season as UCA's head coach, expressed the amount of admiration he has for Crossley and knows firsthand the kind of impact he former tailback can have on a game.

"I told KeKe, I said 'Man, I'm rooting for you 10 games, but I'm not rooting for you on Saturday,' " he said. "He's just a great kid, has a great family. The timing was just right for him to leave, and I'm glad he landed at a place like Arkansas-Pine Bluff with Coach Gamble and Coach [Larry] Warner, who was here before with us and is his running back coach now. He had a great career here, had a lot of big runs for us.

"I hope he rushes for 1,000 yards on the year, but we've got to bottle him up and do a good job [Saturday]. I know what his strengths are, he's a good player. He's a competitor, and that's probably his biggest strength. He's going to come in here with a lot of energy, a lot of fire, a lot of passion. That's just how he plays."

Crossley is familiar with how the Bears play as well, particularly on the side of the ball that'll be focusing on him and the rest of the Golden Lions' offense.

"I've always been impressed with [UCA] defensive line," Crossley noted. "I've always felt their line was great. They've got great skill players, and they always played together as a team with passion. With that type of team, the game is never over.

"The last game they played, they started making big plays and made it close. They're the type of team that you can never slack on. I know what they're going to bring, so nothing about them will surprise me."

UAPB had 216 yards rushing the last time it played UCA in 2008, and the Golden Lions would love nothing more than to establish a similar ground attack this time around, which could open things up on the outside for Perry. Crossley believes it's possible but said that UAPB has to do its part.

"Just execute," he said. "I think we've got everything it takes, but we have to execute. I've got trust in our offensive line, our quarterback, our receivers, our running backs of course. ... we have everything we need.

"But none of it will matter if we don't execute."

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At a glance

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF

AT NO. 25 CENTRAL ARKANSAS

WHEN 6 p.m.

WHERE Estes Stadium, Conway

RADIO KPBA-FM, 99.3, in Pine Bluff; KARN-AM, 920, in Little Rock; KUCA-FM, 91.3, in Conway; KKPT-FM, 94.1, in Little Rock

INTERNET ESPN3, uapblionsroar.com/live

RECORDS UAPB 1-0; UCA 0-2

SERIES UCA leads 10-2

LAST MEETING UCA won 41-17 in 2008

Print Headline: Crossley familiar with UCA

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