With one trophy secured, the fourth-ranked University of Central Arkansas football team has its eyes on two more.
The Red Beans & Rice Trophy, earned with a victory over McNeese State, is in the case four another year.
Now, the Bears, 6-0 in the Southland Conference, continue their drive for the conference title and are trying to set themselves up for a serious run toward the FCS title.
The dynamics in the backfield have been well-document. But the Bear have been driven by some largely unnoticed players up front — in the offensive line, which has thrived despite the loss in preseason of All-America candidate Stockton Mallett.
For the group he helps coach, head coach Steve Campbell likes to assemble a mature bunch, high in smarts as well as talent.
Center Micah Parten is the catalyst. If you’ve seen him drive a golf cart around campus, giving students a ride to class, handing out T-shirts and promoting Bear football, you know his fun-loving and personable nature.
“He’s a bigtime leader and bellcow, solid as a rock,” said Campbell.
Guard Gilberto Garcia has already graduated with a 3.75 GPA and will have his MBA by Christmas.
Adrian Harris is a redshirt freshman, who, along with Connor Wood, has stepped into the gap left by Mallett.
John Austin Cook has come on strong at tackle and has a 3.92 GPA. “The most upset I’ve seen him is when he made a B in organic chemistry class,” said Campbell.
Tackle Cade Camp has recently married and “you can see how marriage has helped him and he has matured,” said Campbell.
That group is smart, savvy and — as opponents will vouch — physical.
And unsung as good offensive lines often are.
Offenses look better and fans get more excited when the defense is push back and holes develop.
Campbell, a former offensive lineman, shrugs about the bunch he happens to coach.
The formula for success is recruiting high-character players, then challenge them.
“You get tremendous kids like that and you’re gonna have a chance,” he says.