Spring ends with complete coaching staff

UNA offensive coordinator Steadman Campbell observes the football team’s Purple and White Spring Game March 19. Campbell accepted his coaching promotion March 14.

With spring training officially over and a complete coaching staff in place, the UNA football team is ready for action next fall.

The Lions, coming off their third straight Gulf South Conference championship, competed in their annual spring game March 19.

The players and coaches split into two teams, purple and white, for a competitive matchup. UNA defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Chris Willis, along with backup quarterback Blake Hawkins, led the white team to a 28-7 win.

“I thought the competition was great,” said head coach Bobby Wallace. “I thought the preparation for the game was great. The crowd for UNA was a big winner. It was a lot of fun for the players, coaches and everybody involved.”

The attendance for the spring game was over 3,100, according to Sports Information.

“It was a lot of fun for our guys to play in front of such a good crowd, which I think was a record for our spring game,” Wallace said.

While the game allowed athletes to emerge, it also gave the team’s new coaching staff a chance to make a game plan and evaluate the roster.

With former offensive coordinator Cody Gross leaving the Lions for the head coaching job at Athens High School, Steadman Campbell accepted a promotion to replace Gross.

Campbell, who has been an assistant with UNA for nearly a decade, said it was humbling for Wallace to even consider him for the job.

“This is a very big opportunity,” Campbell said. “It’s a big responsibility and one that I don’t take lightly. Coach Wallace obviously has a great record and great reputation at UNA, and we have the greatest fans in the world. They’re going to expect our offense not to fall off.”

Campbell said he plans to implement many of the things Gross did, but might make a few adjustments in the fall.

With Campbell vacating the wide receivers coaching position, Wallace hired former Auburn offensive graduate assistant Ryan Aplin.

Aplin, who played quarterback at Arkansas State from 2008-12, was the Sun Belt Conference player of the year in both his junior and senior seasons. Aplin played and coached under Southeastern Conference coaches Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn before arriving in Florence.

“I’ve never had my own office, so I’m excited,” Aplin said. “I’m very lucky to be here and work with some great coaches. It’s all about working with good people and having fun and helping these kids. I enjoy that camaraderie.”

Aplin, who is 25 years old, said earning his first full-time coaching gig as a young coach helps him connect with his players.

“I can relate to them, which I think is something that helps,” he said. “I played three years ago, I’ve been to study hall, I’ve had to go from one class to another with 10 minutes in between. That’s good for me.”

Becoming significant in a player’s life is important, Aplin said.

“Going to the coaching side, I enjoy getting a chance to meet these players and find out their story,” he said. “I want to be the guy they call when they get married and engaged.”

The players are receptive to the coaching moves, said senior wide receiver Coty Spurling.

“Coach Campbell is a great coach that gets along with all the players,” Spurling said. “I feel like he’ll just fit in like he was already the (offensive coordinator). (Aplin) seems like a great coach. He’s only been here a few days, but I feel like we’ve worked to get better. The sky is the limit for us this year.”