SWAC hunt goal for Golden Lions


Photographs by Staton Breidenthal

University of Arkansas Pine Bluff head football coach Monte Coleman.

Monte Coleman walked into the Birmingham, Ala., Marriott on Friday morning -- a golden handkerchief in the front pocket of the head coach's dark gray suit -- while the Southwestern Athletic Conference media day buzzed about a final conference championship game his UAPB Golden Lions were predicted to be nowhere near.

SWAC preseason predictions

Eastern Division

Alcorn State — 80 points

Coached by the late Steve McNair’s older brother, Fred, Alcorn State has played in the SWAC championship in each of the past two seasons, winning in 2015. The Braves have depth at quarterback and will have its pick between senior Lenorris Footman (1,134 yards, 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions) and sophomore Noah Johnson (1,116 yards, 11 touchdowns, 5 interceptions).

Alabama State — 66 points

Fourth-year Coach Brian Jenkins said at media days that one of the reasons he was hired away from Bethune-Cookman was to clean up a football program that was hit with NCAA sanctions in 2013 for violations that included academic fraud and extra benefits. “We’ve cleaned them up,” Jenkins said. “And that’s why I’m excited about this season. We’re able to operate without that cloud over our head.”

Jackson State — 59 points

Coach Tony Hughes compared his program to TCU, who the Tigers will open the season against Sept. 2. “We’re tough, hard-working, a chip on your shoulder, the little guy that nobody respects, but a school that has a tradition in winning football,” Hughes said. Jackson State defensive lineman Keontre Anderson was named SWAC preseason defensive player of the year.

Alabama A&M — 45 points

The SWAC’s fourth-leading rusher in 2016, Jordan Bentley, said at media days he hopes he can help his team close out games. Bentley rushed for 851 yards and nine touchdowns last season as A&M finished 4-7.

Mississippi Valley State — 20 points

The Delta Devils open the season at the Fargo Dome against FCS power North Dakota State on Sept. 2. They have not won more than two games in a season since 2012, when they went 5-6.

Western Division

Grambling State — 85

The defending SWAC champions will open at home Sept. 9 against Northwestern State University in newly renovated Robinson Stadium. The $2 million project upgraded the field turf and digital scoreboard. Grambling State Coach Broderick Fobbs said with the renovations, returning coaches and returning players, “When you add all that into a gumbo pot, you’ve got something good.”

Southern — 68

The Jaguars lost top running back Lenard Tillery, who rushed for 1,665 yards and 13 touchdowns, to graduation. The closest returning rusher is Herbert Edwards, who rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown. Coach Dawson Odums said the spring went well with his running back group. “We have guys back there that can carry the mail.”

Prairie View A&M — 59

The Panthers have their home opener this season against Sam Houston State on Sept. 7 on ESPNU. The BearKats made it to the FCS quarterfinals last season. This will be the second season in the $61 million Panther Stadium at Blackshear Field, which holds about 15,000 people.

Texas Southern — 37

TSU’s main focus will be at quarterback, where senior Jay Christophe returns from a noncontact knee injury that kept him out of last season. “Jay’s in great shape, great condition,” Coach Mike Haywood said. “His knee injury has fully recovered, and we’ve signed three quarterbacks this offseason to be sure we have backups in case he gets injured again.”

Arkansas-Pine Bluff — 21

The Golden Lions have finished last in the Western Division in each of the past three seasons, but Coach Monte Coleman is confident that senior quarterback Brandon Duncan will help change the direction. “We’ve been a very young team in the last few years,” Coleman said. “We do have a veteran quarterback coming back. A lot of the guys we’ve recruited are transfers from junior colleges. We’ve got a good mixture and that gives me nothing but optimism.”

SWAC Preseason All-SWAC Football Team

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year

Devante Kincade (QB) — Grambling State

Preseason Defensive Player of the Year

Keontre Anderson (DL) — Jackson State

First Team Offense

Quarterback: Devante Kincade, Grambling State

Running back: Martez Carter, Grambling State; Jordan Bentley, Alabama A&M

Offensive line: Trent Scott, Grambling State; Donovan Wheaton, Prairie View A&M; Timothy Gardner, Alcorn State; William Waddell, Grambling State; Sam Baptiste, Alabama State

Wide receiver: KhaDarel Hodge, Prairie View A&M; Devohn Lindsey, Grambling State

Tight end: Dillon Beard, Southern

First Team Defense

Defensive line: Keontre Anderson, Jackson State; Aaron Tiller, Southern; Michael Brooks, Alcorn State; DeVohn Reed, Prairie View A&M

Linebacker: Kenneth Davis, Alabama A&M; Sean Jones, Texas Southern; De’Arius Christmas, Grambling State

Defensive back: Danny Johnson, Southern; Everett Nicholas, Mississippi Valley State; Tere Calloway, Alabama A&M; Derrick Dixon, Grambling State

First Team Special Teams

Kicker: Nick Carden, Alabama A&M

Punter: Owen Hoolihan, Prairie View A&M

Return specialist: Martez Carter, Grambling State

Second Team Offense

Quarterback: Austin Howard, Southern

Running back: Sta’Fon McCray, Prairie View A&M; De’Lance Turner, Alcorn State

Offensive line: Skylar Prol, Southern; Deonte Brooks, Alcorn State; Vincent Hunter, Jackson State; Austin Simmons, Alabama A&M; Alvin Solomon, Mississippi Valley State

Wide receiver: Norlando Veals, Alcorn State; Darius Floyd, Prairie View A&M

Tight end: Jordan Jones, Grambling State

Second Team Defense

Defensive line: Christopher Johnson, Grambling State; James Harper, Prairie View A&M; Brandon Varner, Grambling State; Ramonte Bell, Alcorn State

Linebacker: Kentavious Preston, Southern; Malcolm Williams, Grambling State; Shawn Bishop, Jackson State

Defensive back: Ja’Terious Pouncey, Grambling State; O.J. O’Neal, Alcorn State; Jamar Mitchell, Southern; Percy Cargo, Grambling State

Second Team Special Teams

Kicker: Trevor Vincent, Alabama State

Punter: Jamie Gillan, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Return specialist: Joshua Simmons, Prairie View A&M

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