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UWA poses real threat

LIVINGSTON — For the first time in quite a while there is preseason buzz surrounding the University of West Alabama as the Tigers look to build on a 2009 season that saw their first playoff berth in more than 30 years.
As UWA readies for its season opening date against NAIA Shorter College — a game that will be played in Demopolis’ Tiger Stadium — head coach Bobby Wallace has spent the last couple of weeks putting his team through two-a-days.
“I’m pleased,” he said of where his team currently stands. “We’ve got 120 players out here that are fairly healthy.”
While the Tigers have plenty of players, Wallace is confident that UWA may also have plenty of depth as he considers the 2010 group among the most talented D-II teams he has ever coached.
“We’ve probably got more good athletes than I’ve ever had in Division II, even on the championship teams at UNA,” Wallace, who was selected to the NCAA D-II Hall of Fame earlier this year, said.
Ranked among the best in teams in the Gulf South Conference, UWA is positioned as high as 12th in some national polls. Given Wallace’s impression of his roster, those numbers may not be inflated.
“After we had such a good spring and then filled in some offensive and defensive linemen, we don’t have any questions in the starting 22,” Wallace said.
If the West Alabama roster has any questions, they may be revolve around depth. Wallace admits he would like to find more help in the linebacking corps.
While the team returns plenty of starters across the board, none is more important to UWA’s success that incumbent first team quarterback Deon Williams. The Tuscaloosa County High product rushed for 359 yards and six scores in 2009 while also throwing for 2,804 yards and 25 touchdowns.
“He’s a very cerebral quarterback,” offensive coordinator Will Hall said of Williams. “A lot of people look at him as being an athlete playing quarterback. He’s really not. He’s a quarterback.”
“I think I see natural improvement and the natural improvement being experience,” Wallace said of his starting signal-caller. “He’s a good leader and has got a great arm. We need him to have a great year for us and he has the ability to do that.”
Williams headlines a group of returning skill players that Hall believes will prove dynamic for  UWA this fall.
“We got all our skill guys back, a lot of retention there,” Hall said. “Their capacity to handle more offense is there.”
While the names of the guys throwing, catching and carrying the ball have not changed much, the names of the guys creating space have. And while that would be cause for concern for many coaches, Hall feels UWA’s staff has done a remarkable job of filling holes quickly.
“Up front, we have brought in a few offensive linemen that have made a difference,” Hall said. “We feel like we’ve got a program now with three recruiting classes.”
The excitement surrounding the program is at an all-time high and the faces that make up the roster have seen some changes but, according to Hall, the biggest difference between the UWA Tigers in 2010 and their 2009 predecessor may be something that does not appear on a stat sheet.
“We were a football team last year that learned how to stop doing the things that cause you to lose,” he said. “We beat some really good football teams and lost to some really bad ones. I think our program believes we can win now.”