Sam Houston, UCA players dominate All-Southland team

FRISCO, Texas — After sharing the Southland Conference championship this season, Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas accounted for half of the 58 spots on the two all-conference teams that were announced Tuesday by the conference office.

Sam Houston led all teams with 16 all-conference selections, while Central Arkansas had 13 picks. Each team had 10 first-team honorees, headlined by Bearkats’ running back Timothy Flanders, who was named the Southland Conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Wynrick Smothers, the Bears’ quarterback, was named the conference offensive player of the year, while Sam Houston linebacker Darnell Taylor was named the defensive player of the year for the second straight season.

The other individual award winners are Central Arkansas’ Corey Howard, who was named the inaugural offensive lineman of the year; UCA defensive lineman Jonathan Woodard, who was voted the freshman of the year; UCA coach Clint Conque, a Baton Rouge native who was named the league’s coach of the year; and Lamar receiver Kevin Johnson, who was named the league’s newcomer of the year.

Flanders, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, leads the conference with 1,151 rushing yards on 187 carries for an average of 6.2 yards per carry and 104.6 yards per game. He has scored 17 touchdowns and leads the Southland in scoring with an average of 9.8 points per game.

Smothers is the second UCA player to be named the league’s offensive player of the year, joining his current position coach Nathan Brown, who claimed the award in 2007. The junior from Destrehan is completing 67.6 percent of his passes (261 of 386) for 2,852 yards and is a finalist for the Walter Payton Award.

Smothers has thrown 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Taylor is the fifth player in Southland history to be named the league’s defensive player of the year in back-to-back years and the first since former Central Arkansas defensive end Larry Hart in 2008 and 2009.

Taylor has 79 tackles this season, which ranks 13th in the Southland. The senior from Mesquite, Texas, has 54 solo stops and 25 assists.

Howard is first winner of the offensive lineman of the year after garnering the most votes among all offensive linemen on the all-conference ballot.

Conque picked up his second coach of the year honor after leading Central Arkansas to a 9-2 overall record and a share of its first Southland Conference championship with a 6-1 league record. Conque previously won the honor in 2008 after guiding the Bears to a conference-best 6-1 record, though the team was ineligible for postseason play and the conference championship in the midst of its transition from Division II. e_SClBUCA made its first NCAA Division I playoff appearance as an at-large selection last year in only its second year of eligibility.

The Bears will make a return trip to as the league’s automatic qualifier into the playoffs after a 24-20 victory over Sam Houston State in September. Now in his 13th season at UCA, Conque, who is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, boasts a 98-53 overall record, which includes a 46-24 record since joining the Southland in 2007. He has guided the Bears to a 29-13 mark in conference play during that same span. Ten of his 13 teams have finished with a winning record and five have won at least nine games. His 2005 team tied a school record with 11 wins, while his 2008 team won 10 games.

Woodard was tabbed freshman of the year and is only the second UCA player to earn the award in school history, joining Jestin Love, who shared the award in 2010. Woodard, a defensive end, finished fourth in the conference with seven sacks and was the only freshman among the conference’s top 20 players in the category. Woodard concluded the regular season tied for seventh in the conference in tackles for loss with 10.5 tackles for losses of 50 yards. The defensive lineman recovered three fumbles on the season. The freshman scored a touchdown against Stephen F. Austin on a 72-yard fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter. Woodard registered three tackles for loss in a 34-14 victory over Nicholls State.

Johnson earned the newcomer of the year award following a historic year for the Cardinals. The Oklahoma State transfer totaled 13 touchdowns this season, including two kickoff returns for touchdowns while finishing third in the conference in total touchdowns. Johnson, a receiver from Houston, Texas, accounted for four touchdowns in a Lamar win against McMurry to match a Lamar single-game records for touchdowns and points scored. The sophomore scored nearly half the time he caught the ball with 10 touchdowns on 19 receptions with an average of 16.3 yards per reception. His 10 receiving touchdowns equal the second best single-season in Lamar history. Johnson notched a 23.1 yards per kick return average against conference opponents including one touchdown. He finished eighth in the conference with 86.1 purpose yards per game including a rushing touchdown in Lamar’s victory of Prairie View A&M.