Amid a tough season for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a junior linebacker has stood out as one of the best defenders in the conference.
Rico Dozier has been at or near the top of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in tackles throughout the season. He has made 118 tackles this season, including 82 in conference play. Both numbers are best in the SWAC.
UAPB (1-9, 0-7 SWAC) coach Alonzo Hampton said Dozier has done a great job at middle linebacker.
"He's just a really good football player," Hampton said. "He loves the game, loves his teammates. He's been trying to play some safety, so every time somebody goes down, he volunteers to play that spot. He's a really good football player for us. Excited to have him on our team."
Dozier was a preseason second-team all-SWAC selection back in July. The Abbeville, Ala., native has played for the Golden Lions since 2021.
He played in five games as a freshman and made five tackles before becoming a defensive force last season. As a sophomore, he led UAPB with 78 tackles and three sacks. He has two sacks this season with one game to go.
He has made more than 10 tackles in seven of UAPB's 10 games this year, including 17 at Alabama A&M. He also recovered a fumble during that game and forced one the week before against Miles College.
Dozier and the Golden Lions travel to Houston for the second time in three weeks to face Texas Southern (3-7, 2-5) in both teams' season finales Saturday. TSU head coach Clarence McKinney said the Tigers must keep Dozier away from whoever has the ball.
"He's a guy that's going to be around the ball making plays and getting the ball on the ground," McKinney said. "We know we gotta have someone harassing him, blocking him and trying to keep him away, but he always finds the ball. He's always around it, and we just gotta assign a guy to him, and hopefully we can keep some of those tackles that he's accustomed to having down."
TSU also has a couple of top linebackers. Dozier leads the SWAC in tackles in conference play, but two Tigers are right behind him. Junior Jacob Williams has 7 and sophomore Isaiah Bogerty has 74.
These talented linebackers are key players on defenses that have struggled this season. In conference games, UAPB ranks last in the SWAC in scoring, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards. Texas Southern ranks 11th in total yards and rushing yards and 10th in scoring. The Tigers' defense ranks fourth against the pass.
Hampton said having the leading tackler in the conference doesn't necessarily translate to success.
"We're on the field too long," Hampton said. "We don't want Rico to lead the conference in tackles. That don't do us any good. We'd like to be able to score touchdowns, keep him off the field, keep him fresh. But he has done a good job. He's one of our better football players."