The UAPB Golden Lions went 2-9 in Cedric Thomas’ first year as head football coach in 2018, but Thomas and his staff have been working hard on the recruiting trail and with the team during the offseason in hopes of improving their record in 2019.

The 2019 season will be here soon, and Thomas is looking forward to getting to work on the gridiron on Aug. 31 after what he considers to be a successful offseason.

“With just getting defensive impact players, I thought Coach [Torenzo] Quinn and the defensive staff did a great job of getting some junior college transfers that I thought was enough to come in and help rebuild the culture, but to also be impact players,” Thomas said.

“These are guys who have played 20 college football games and came from one of the toughest junior college leagues in America. That part I think really helps. We got the transfers in, enough to maintain what we have in house, but not enough to saturate what we have with some of the younger guys. I thought that was the biggest transition – getting some older players that can come in and help us right now.”

All of the junior college transfers went through spring ball with the team, and that is something that is important to Thomas when he looks at bringing in players from the JUCO ranks.

“Every last one of them was here this spring. I’m not big into JC kids if they cannot get here now,” Thomas said.

“I want them to get a chance to get acclimated to the classroom, but also to get acclimated to the football, the coaches and the culture we are establishing. We are big into the mid-year junior college kids, but my thing is with the time that they have I would rather have a high school kid if we can only get a junior college kid in the summer, because by the time he gets in and kind of figures things out, he is out the door. So, we want to make sure we get mid-year kids in.”

Thomas said he was pleased with how the spring went for the Golden Lions, and he noted some of the offensive players who stepped their game up.

“There were a lot of them because we had so much retention,” Thomas said. “Taeyler Porter, a kid who led the league in rushing, he had the chance to really get healthy. Then, Skyler Perry was our quarterback last year that started about seven games, and we wanted to make sure he could use his athleticism once the play breaks down and be great with his legs, but also just get that throwing accuracy up, and he made some big-time throws.

“You also have Tyrin Ralph, who started 10 games last year. Those guys just did a great job. Jayden Glover did a great job at center. We put a lot on him as far as checks and recognizing defenses, and we thought he did a great job maximizing his intelligence with recognizing different looks.

“I thought, overall, the offensive line did a great job just taking it to another level. Those guys were part of an offense that led the league in rushing. When you think about the Alcorn’s of the world and Grambling’s who do a great job with running the football we led the league in rushing, so I thought they did a great job establishing the running game this spring.”

There were several defensive players who stood out to Thomas and his staff as well.

“Overall, those mid-year kids came in and really helped us,” Thomas said. “Jalon Thigpen started at Southwest, and he came in and we have Shawn Steele, who started every game for us last year. Paul Reeves was awesome, an All-Conference kid. Jalen Steward really played at a high level. I think this kid really has a chance to play on Sunday’s if he keeps dominating the off the field things such as the weight room and the knowledge of the game.”

“I just thought the entire defensive staff put guys in the best position to be successful,” Thomas continued. “Overall, I thought the defensive side of the ball with the structure and the system are light years ahead of where there were last year. It’s just kids understanding the why. That is the mantra on defense, just understanding why we are doing what we are doing, and how does it constitute towards being successful?”

The Golden Lions have some big shoes to fill on special teams with Jamie Gillan graduating and heading to the NFL.

“The kid we had kicking tweaked his hamstring, so we had to put a lot of him,” Thomas said. “We still have our overall system. We still block field goals, we still block PAT’s, and we still did all of the kicking game things, just without the kicker. Special people play special teams, and I was proud of it. There is always going to be an emphasis on special teams first, then offense and defense.”

Thomas also outlined his biggest goals for the Golden Lions in his second year as head coach.

“We are just establishing that mindset and continuing to build a culture of a thought process that I can,” Thomas said.

“These kids work their tails off. We are doing constructive work. We want players to be able to do it. The average play is about five to eight seconds, and we want to be able to do 25 seconds of things where processing information as much as possible. The psychological part is more, so what we want to go into this year understanding that we are just as good as some of the upper tier programs in this league. We are not taking a backseat to anyone. That is really what I want to put emphasis on. Our bodies look like everybody’s bodies in the league. The coaches did a great job of establishing depth, going from a roster of 65 to 67, to now having a roster with 85 kids. That is huge. That the Southern game where we ran a 4-2-5 [defense] and we have seven DB’s. Now we have 16 DB’s.

“Just that psychological edge is first and foremost. We want our kids to understand from the weight room, to the classroom, to the football field we are not taking the backseat to anyone, and we are good enough.”

Thomas also noted the key things the Golden Lions have to accomplish once fall camp begins in August in order to see success on the football field this fall.

“Just retention. I’m going to be expletive on retention,” Thomas said.

“I don’t believe in that dumb jock, or dumb football player. We put an emphasis on understanding information. We do it in the classroom – they do it with all of this technology and all of the rap songs they learn – so we have to put the same emphasis on football. I’m going to challenge them to do that, and I think they will. You see them now leaving the film room with Coach Gales, and they are understanding protections and things of that nature. So, they are getting it. We are going to put a lot on them, but the biggest thing is I want to see retention. We always say if we have to do it a million times just to offset the times they have done it wrong, so now we start to get to 1.5 to 1.7 to be able to do it right. We are starting to see retention coming into the fall, and it is becoming second nature to them.”

A major key to building a successful program begins on the recruiting trail. Thomas believes he and his staff did a solid job with the Class of 2019, but there is still more work to do moving forward.

“We want football players who want to be here,” Thomas said.

“We have a great brand that is out there. We are going to recruit this state as hard as we can, but we want kids who want to be here, and we have kids that want to play football. You look at the transfer portal and you have kids who are transferring in and out left and right, and a lot of that is just that they don’t want to be at the institution that they signed that contract to.

“We just want to make sure all of the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed as far as bringing kids who want to be here. We are going to get out, and we are going to recruit and put the experience on their mind so that when the touch campus with some of the support staff it will give them an experience of home, and place them can be the next 40 years. We don’t look at four years, we want to be a part of their lives for the duration.”