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Monday, July 15, 2024

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UAPB’s pride-seeking mission gets a ‘Classic’ opportunity

Terry Davis

Head coach Alonzo Hampton’s big-picture mission for the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff (UAPB) football team is a work in progress.

The Golden Lions finished with a 3-8 record last season and are looking to rebound in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

“We are trying to restore the pride,” said Hampton, who has returned to UAPB, where he was an assistant coach from 2006 to 2010. “That is what we are trying to do.”

Hampton and the Golden Lions take another step toward restoration when UAPB makes it first appearance in the Southern Heritage Classic, with the kickoff against Tennessee State University (TSU’s) set for 6 p.m. at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium at 6 p.m. UAPB was slotted for the Classic after Jackson State University pulled out of the arrangement that had pitted JSU against TSU since 1994.

“Anytime you are picked for a classic it is a different feel,” said Hampton. “Mr. (Fred) Jones (founder of the Classic) has done a great job. For us as a fan base, we are excited. Our fans have been talking about this all summer.”

Hampton played defensive back in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His 19-year coaching career includes successful stints as a high school coach in Arkansas and Georgia and a two-year stint coaching defensive backs at Western Kentucky, where he helped helping the Hilltoppers post back-to-back, 7-win seasons, including the program’s first postseason bowl appearance in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (against Central Michigan). 

The Golden Lions lost their season opener (42-7) at Tulsa.

“We started the game right and got a turnover and went up (7-0),” said Hampton. “The first possessions we had takeaways. We had the chance to be up 13-0, but that is what’s frustrating. In the second half, we let the game get away from us…. Overall, our kids played hard.”

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff defenders had a tough time reeling in Tulsa’s offense during the first game of the season. (Courtesy photo)

There are three Memphians – all sophomores – on the UAPB team. Wide receiver Kenji Lewis is from East High School. Safety Marcus Askew II played at Germantown High School. Offensive lineman Rolando Jones played at Southwind High School.

For Hampton and the Golden Lions’ coach staff, the visit to Memphis for the Classic doubles as an opportunity to make more recruiting inroads.

As for facing TSU, Hampton said, “It is an opportunity for two good football programs. I am looking forward to playing in the Southern Heritage Classic.”

Overall, TSU and UAPB have split the three games the programs have played, with TSU winning the first two and the Golden Lions claiming a 37-31 victory in 2019.

The Southern Heritage Classic game featuring TSU and UAPB can be streamed on HBCU GO.

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