Arkansas Pine-Bluff was one play away from winning what would have been an unlikely SWAC championship for the program this past spring.
But their 2021 resurgence during a shortened season in which the Golden Lions knocked off both Southern and Grambling en route to a West Division championship and a trip to the conference title game hasn’t translated into leaguewide respect heading into the fall.
Despite landing 11 individual players on All-SWAC preseason teams, UAPB was picked to finish fifth in the revamped six-team division.
“I guess some people’s minds don’t change overnight,” said head coach Doc Gamble. “It’s a process in everything. For our guys, we know what our expectations are. For those who don’t know us, I can’t think for them … I can’t vote for them.”
UAPB finished 4-1 during the spring, with the lone loss coming in the SWAC Championship Game against Alabama A&M, a contest the Golden Lions led at halftime before the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half. That run — not so much the lack of preseason acclaim — is a motivating factor in what will be an 11-game fall grind.
The Golden Lions will bring a formidable roster back to defend its division championship.
Among them are five preseason first-team All-SWAC selections, including offensive lineman Mark Evans, wide receiver Josh Wilkes, linebacker Kolby Watts, defensive back Jalon Thigpen and return specialist Tyrin Ralph.
Skyler Perry, who leads the way on the offensive side of the ball at quarterback, is among six second-team All-SWAC picks. The senior joins Issac Peppers, offensive linemen Noah Hayes and Atondre Smith, wide receiver Ralph and kicker Zack Piwniczka.
The preseason prognosticators have not deterred the Golden Lions from believing they will be playing football late into December.
“Our confidence has always been there. Our confidence is through the roof said,” Peppers. “There is nothing stopping our confidence.”