The University of Central Arkansas earned four individual awards and had 13 all-conference picks as the All-Southland Conference football team was announced Tuesday.
Sam Houston State, which shared the championship, led all teams with 16 all-conference selections, while Central Arkansas had 13 picks. Each team had 10 first-team honorees, headlined by Bearkats’ running back Timothy Flanders, who was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Wynrick Smothers, the Bears’ quarterback, was named the conference offensive player of the year while Sam Houston linebacker Darnell Taylor was named the defensive player of the year for the second straight season.
The other individual award winners were UCA’s Corey Howard, who was named the inaugural offensive lineman of the year; UCA defensive lineman Jonathan Woodard, who was voted the freshman of the year; UCA coach Clint Conque, who was named the league’s coach of the year; and Lamar receiver Kevin Johnson, who was named the league’s newcomer of the year. Smothers is the second UCA player to be named the league’s offensive player of the year, joining his current position coach Nathan Brown, who claimed the award in 2007.
The Bears (9-2) are recognized as the SLC champions because of their head-to-head victory over Sam Houston.
The junior from Destrehan, La., is completing 67.6 percent of his passes (261 of 386) for 2,852 yards and is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award. Averaging 259.3 passing yards per game, Smothers has thrown 31 touchdowns against nine interceptions and ranks second in the conference with a pass efficiency rating of 151.5.
He has added 370 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 97 carries to account for 292.9 total yards of offense per game. He threw for a season-high 358 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Murray State and topped 300 yards two others time with 318 against Sam Houston State and 358 yards in the regular-season finale against Eastern Illinois. He tossed four touchdown passes in each of his last two games, including in the championship-clinching victory over Northwestern State.
Howard becomes the first winner of the offensive lineman of the year after garnering the most votes among all offensive linemen on the all-conference ballot. Howard, a senior from Wichita Falls, Texas, has played all three positions on an offensive line this season, enabling the Bears’ quarterback to throw for 268 yards per game and an offense that averages 132.6 yards rushing. The Bears’ offense ranks fourth in the Southland in total offense, averaging 400.6 yards and 36.5 points per game, a figure that ranks second in the Southland and 11th nationally. Howard is a four-year starter who has started at least eight games each season.
Conque picked up his second coach of the year honor after leading Central Arkansas to a 9-2 overall record and a share of its first Southland Conference championship with a 6-1 league ledger. Conque previously won the honor in 2008 after guiding the Bears to a conference-best 6-1 record, though the team was ineligible for postseason play and the conference championship in the midst of its transition from Division II.
UCA made its first NCAA Division I playoff appearance as an at-large selection last year in only its second year of eligibility and now Conque has the Bears to a return trip as the league’s automatic qualifier into the playoffs by virtue of its 24-20 victory over Sam Houston State in September. In his 13th season at UCA, Conque, who is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award along with former UCA standout Monte Coleman of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, has a 98-53 overall record, which includes a 46-24 record since joining the Southland in 2007. He has guided the Bears to a 29-13 mark in conference play during that same span. Ten of his 13 teams have finished with a winning record and five have won at least nine games. His 2005 team tied a school record with 11 wins, while his 2008 team won 10 games.
Woodard was tabbed freshman of the year and is only the second UCA player to earn the award in school history, joining Jestin Love, who shared the award in 2010. Woodard, a defensive end from Brentwood, Tenn., finished fourth in the conference with seven sacks and was the only freshman among the conference’s top 20 players in the category.
Woodard concluded the regular season tied for seventh in the conference in tackles for loss with 10.5 tackles for losses of 50 yards. The defensive lineman recovered three fumbles on the season. The freshman scored a touchdown against Stephen F. Austin on a 72-yard fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter. Woodard registered three tackles for loss in a Central Arkansas 34-14 victory over Nicholls State.
Smothers, Howard and Woodard were joined on the first team by seven other Bears, including receivers Jesse Grandy and Dominique Croom, kicker Eddie Camara, linebacker Seth Allison and Love at defensive back. Grandy also picked up first-team honors as both a kick return and punt return specialist. Three UCA players earned sec ond-team mention, including running back Jackie Hinton, offensive lineman Cole Caruthers and defensive lineman Matt Hornbuckle.
Wide receiver Dezmin Lewis, tight end Chase Dixon, linebacker Justin Heard and defensive back Dillon Winfrey earned honorable mention honors.
Voting was conducted by the league’s coaches.