By DAVID MCCOLLUM
LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER
With the seeds of a Southland Conference championship and two straight NCAA FCS postseason appearances firmly planted, University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque said the recruiting season has gone “extraordinary.”
“Our program’s success on the field, the continuity of our coaching staff and our academic success as a Division I program has certainly been very appealing to parents and prospects,” said Conque, who will announce his 14th recruiting class Wednesday.
That class should include players from nine states, three mid-year transfers and 17 to 20 high school athletes.
The recruitment process involved some battles with some BCS institutions, including the University of Arkansas.
“Each year, as our profile grows, the athletes we’re recruiting or in conversation with is a more challenging process,” Conque said. “The kids we’re recruiting have more and bigger options.”
The major selling points have been consistency of success in Division I and a high level of success against Louisiana and Texas rivals in the recruiting footprint — plus have the highest Academic Progress Rate (APR) in the conference two years in a row with the strong prospect of a third. APR is a formula that measures graduation rates and retention of athletes. The UCA program has been near 98 percent in graduation and retention the last three years, one of the top public institution programs in all of Division I.
“APR is real; there are penalties for falling below the standard; UConn is ineligible for postseason basketball this year because of APR,” Conque said. “Immediately and long term, it has forced schools to be smarter in their recruiting. In addition to athletic ability in our profile, we look at the old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic and try to recruit players with a strong attitude toward that. Elibility and retention is important.
“We’re going after football players who meet our academic profile, but we’re also seeing the athletic quality enhanced. Our board this year is longer, bigger, faster and maybe academically stronger than any we’ve had in the past. Kids are seeing proven success. We’ve had an unbelievable response from young men who want to be a part of this program.”
Although the Bears return 16 starters with one of their best senior classes in years, Conque is excited both about the new recruits and 14 players who were redshirted and a few who walked on last year.
“Our redshirts are a different caliber of player than we’ve had with redshirts in the past,” he said. “They’ve had a driven mindset in the offseason workouts. They worked hard (on scout teams) and made a contribution last year. They’ve seen the success and they want a taste of that themselves. We’re got the foundation and I think we’re building on a solid foundation.”
This weekend, which is another recruiting weekend for the UCA coaches and staff, enters a tnese phase. Every year, major college program, when given an opening when a recruited prospect decommits or elects to go elsewhere, dip into some of the prospects on the mid-major list in the final days.
“It can be nerve-wracking; this whole week has been interesting,” Conque said. “You have to brace yourself for cherry-picking. You have to have a plan in place to react and adjust. The higher profile the class, the more likely there will be some cherry-picking. But we feel very good about where we are right now and the young men we’ll bring in.”
Conque and his staff will announce and review the class during a news conference at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Hall of Fame Room at Estes Stadium. It is open to the public.
(David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)