Last Friday, the 2017 Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day was held at the newly-renovated Birmingham-Marriott Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions football was represented by head coach Monte Coleman, senior tight-end Jalean Collins, and junior linebacker Je'Kevin Carter.
Collins (6'3, 230) is a junior college transfer from Contra Coast College in Vallejo, California. As a junior with UAPB, Collins accounted for 11 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
Carter (6'1, 215) is a native of Ruston, Louisiana, and he serves as the returning leader of the linebackers group. Last season in his sophomore campaign, Carter accounted for 42 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback sack and two forced fumbles.
"Both of these guys are veterans," Coleman said. "One is a senior, and one is a junior, so they know the ropes. "It was a good experience for them at SWAC Media Day. I've never taken the same person twice, and I always choose guys who I consider as leaders. They did a good job by answering questions and representing our football team and university."
"These guys are preseason all SWAC candidate nominees, and that speaks to what they're capable of," Coleman said. "Their numbers from last year prevented them from making the all SWAC teams, but if they play well this year they can position themselves for those accolades. By coming with me to media day they got a better view of the league, they met other players, and all nine coaches."
The Golden Lions have finished fifth in the West in the past two seasons, so around the conference they aren't quite viewed as world beaters at this point. In this year's preseason predicted order of finish, UAPB was picked to finish fifth again. Coleman expected to be picked toward the bottom, due to the fact that these rankings have a lot to do with what you did in the past season.
"It's based of your record last year, so we anticipated being picked last," Coleman said. "What we can't do is allow the picking this year to indicate what type of team we have. In 2012 we were picked third or fourth and we went on to win a championship. In 2013 we were picked to win it and we finished dead last. It's a prediction and not a reality. Everyone is on an even playing field and we have the opportunity to win a championship."
When asked about the vibes and energy he felt from other coaches, Coleman explained that there wasn't any negativity, and it was more of a fellowship.
"The one thing about the coaches in the SWAC is we're friends," Coleman said. "We compete during the season and try to rip each other apart, but we all have a friendship. I didn't feel any disrespect from any coaches. It was a good time to get together, and I think they respect us a football team. They know we've had a couple down years, but we'll be fighting to get back."
Now that the talking is over, it's time for the Golden Lions to walk the walk. There isn't much Coleman and company could say to persuade the SWAC that they're a better team, so they'll have to make believers out of their conference members with actions. Team health is a big concern for Coleman heading into training camp, as injuries decimated the team last year.
"The thing that we have to do now is make sure we're preparing ourselves in the right matter," Coleman said. "We have to stay healthy, because a healthy team wins a lot of football games. Last season we got beat up pretty bad. One of the things we want to do is protect ourselves before we start SWAC play."
"What I'm looking for from our guys in fall camp is hard work, dedication to the football team, becoming a disciplined team, and a smart team," Coleman said. "Those are the things that our coaches will instill in our guys so we can hit the ground running."
The Golden Lions report to fall camp on Aug. 2, and the first game of the season is set for Sept. 2, when UAPB will play host to Morehouse College at Golden Lion Stadium.