FRISCO, Texas – The University of Central Arkansas Bears had a league-high 12 players named Thursday to the 2017 Southland Conference preseason football team.
The Bears outpaced defending league champion Sam Houston State, which had 11 picks.
UCA, which was SLC runnerup last season and finished 10-3 overall, had seven first-team selections and five more make the second team. Of the first-team Bears, five were on the defensive side of the ball. SHSU, on the other hand, had six first-teamers on offense.
UCA’s first-team selections on the defensive side include: senior cornerbacks Tremon Smith and Jaylon Lofton, senior rover George Odum, senior defensive end Cardell Best and senior punter Patrick Ponder. Sophomore defensive end Chris Terrell and Smith as a punt returner made the second team.
On offense, senior lineman Stockton Mallett and junior lineman John Cook were first-teamers, along with senior quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, senior lineman Gilberto Garcia and sophomore running back Carlos Blackman named to the second team.
Odum, from Millington, Tenn., was a two-time SLC Defensive Player of the Week last season and led the Bears and was ranked eighth in the league with 86 total tackles (league-high 60 solos). Smith, from Anniston, Ala., is a two-time All-SLC cornerback who finished the 2016 season with 36 tackles, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions. He also returned a league-high 25 punts for a 9.0-yard average.
Best, from Little Elm, Texas, was a second-team All-SLC pick a year ago when he had 12 tackles for loss, which ranked seventh in the SLC, and added 5.5 sacks. Lofton, from Forest, Miss., ranked seventh on the team with 42 tackles and added three interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Ponder, from Bay St. Louis, Miss., averaged 41.3 pers per punt, fourth in the league, and was a second-team All-SLC selection. Terrell, from Pensacola, Fla., had 31 tackles (17 solo) and 10.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman last fall. Smith averaged 9.0 yards per punt return and was the SLC Special Teams Player of the Week after returning one 47 yards for a touchdown in UCA’s win over FBS Arkansas State.
Stockton (Harrison), Garcia (Morrilton) and Cook (Grenada, Miss.) helped the UCA offense finish second in the Southland in rushing offense and scoring offense, and fourth in total offense. Blackman, from Gosnell, was a big part of that as a true freshman, leading the Bears in rushing with 616 yards, including a season-high 128 yards in the win over Samford.
Hildebrand, from Bossier City, La., passed for 3,051 yards and 19 touchdowns last fall, ranking seventh nationally and second in the SLC in passing yards. He also rushed for 216 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bears open the 2017 season at Big 12 Kansas State on Sept. 2 in Manhattan, Kan. Their home opener will also be their conference opener against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday, Sept. 16.