Three players took on nearly 88% of the carries out of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff backfield during the spring season.
One of them is the returning starting quarterback, and he led the team in rushing yards. The second-leading rusher from the spring is no longer with the team.
That leaves Omar Allen Jr., a redshirt junior who prepped at Watson Chapel High School, as the elder statesman at that position for the upcoming season, which starts Sept. 4 at home against Tennessee’s Lane College. Allen rushed 42 times for 150 yards, but did not score a touchdown during the spring.
“I think Omar knows our offense very well,” running backs coach Larry Warner said. “Really smart kid, great leader and in the backfield. With those guys being young, he’s done a good job. I think those guys will push him to take the next step in the program and give everything he has.”
Warner, a 2008 Championship Subdivision All-American at Southern Illinois University, is working out a number of new faces to the UAPB backfield to take the running pressure off of fourth-year starting quarterback Skyler Perry, who rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns in five games last spring.
Warner said Allen has done well leading the backfield during preseason camp, but that doesn’t exactly mean the Golden Lions are trying to identify a full-time featured back, two seasons after Taeyler Porter capped off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing campaigns.
“I’m a little different,” Warner said. “I don’t believe in starters. I believe in guys who produce. We go as they produce. If we continue to produce and someone gets it rolling, he’ll be the guy for that game. We come back to work the next week, and whoever gets it going again, that guy will be the guy for that week and everybody comes in as rotators.
The Lions have brought in at least three new faces to the backfield, one of which Warner coached at the University of Central Arkansas four years ago.
Kierre Crossley, who was a senior last fall, rushed 115 times for 591 yards and four touchdowns during the Bears’ nine-game independent schedule. Warner coached Crossley as a freshman before moving on to the University of South Alabama.
True freshman Kayvon Britten has added to Coach Doc Gamble’s Cincinnati-to-Pine Bluff pipeline, although he played last year at Pittsburgh’s Steel City Preparatory Academy. Britten ran for 1,255 yards as a sophomore at Cincinnati’s Western Hills High School and finished his high school career with more than 3,000 yards and 38 touchdowns, according to statistics from FirstStarFootballReport.com and UAPB.
Daniel Ingram, a sophomore who played at Cincinnati’s Withrow High, was injured for much of the spring season but is the only other returning running back. True freshman Rico Dozier of Abbevile, Ala., started out camp as a linebacker but is now working out in the backfield.
“We’ve got a good number of linebackers, and we’re just trying to give guys looks,” Warner said of Dozier, who at one time was committed to the University of Tennessee. “He played running back in high school, so we gave him an opportunity to come over there on that side of the ball.”
Mattias Clark, who as a freshman was UAPB’s second-leading rusher (173 yards on 61 carries and two touchdowns), left the program and is now playing with Olivet Nazarene University, near his hometown of Kankakee, Ill.
In Clark’s absence, an entirely new backfield in Pine Bluff has come a long way since camp started eight days ago, Warner said.
“The guys are just paying attention to details, and I think we are moving in the right direction and improving every day like we talked about and getting the most out of them every day.”
UAPB is ranked fourth in the preseason BOXTOROW Media Poll for historically Black college football teams, released Friday.
The ranking follows up predictions that UAPB won’t successfully defend its SWAC Western Division championship from the spring. The Golden Lions — who were picked fifth in the division for the fall in the conference’s preseason poll — were the highest-ranked SWAC West team in the BOXTOROW poll, conducted by the national radio show “From the Press Box to Press Row” and voted on by media members who regularly cover Black college football. The Lions finished second in the final spring BOXTOROW poll, only behind SWAC champion Alabama A&M University.
Alabama A&M earned six of the 16 first-place votes and 142 voting points to take the top spot in the BOXTOROW list, followed by North Carolina A&T State University (eight first-place votes, 116 points), SWAC newcomer Florida A&M University (one first-place vote, 107 points), UAPB (94 points), Southern University (84 points), Alcorn State University (one first-place vote, 76 points), South Carolina State University (70 points), Jackson State University (42 points), Bowie State University (37 points) and Prairie View A&M University (27 points).