LITTLE ROCK -- Zak Clark set just about every single-season school passing record in his first year at Central Arkansas.
A broken bone in his right index finger will keep him out of the lineup to start the season, but it hasn't put a damper on the Bears' hopes for returning to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Clark, who set a collegiate state record with 3,157 yards, had pins inserted to help the bone heal, but he still could be ready for the start of Gulf South Conference play Sept. 20 against Henderson State. He will miss UCA's game at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sept. 11.
"You hate that something like this happens to anyone, especially someone like Zak," Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque said. "He's worked extremely hard to be ready for his senior season."
It's a season where the Bears will try to improve on an 8-3 record in 2002. Their losses came in three straight weeks to Southern Arkansas, Valdosta State and North Alabama, which was 4-7 last year.
The Bears' offensive output slipped to 21 points per game during that stretch, while the defense gave up an average of 40 points.
"We lost our focus and we picked a bad time to do it," Conque said. "We lost our focus with as well as we played at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year."
Central Arkansas will start the year with either senior Henry Young or junior Chris Reil playing against Abilene Christian on Sept. 4. Young has been a reserve the past two seasons, while Reil transferred from Northwestern State. Reil was the 2000 Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year at Henderson State after throwing for 2,477 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Even though last year's top two receivers are gone, there will be plenty of talent for whoever plays quarterback. Sophomore Michael Norvell missed last year with a knee injury after catching 63 passes for 832 yards to earn the 2001 Freshman of the Year award.
Steven Nolan caught 44 passes last year and tight end Landon Trusty had six touchdown receptions.
Also, Korea McKay ran out of eligibility under Division I-AA rules at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, where he caught 66 passes for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns last year. However, under Division II rules, he still has one year left, so he transferred to UCA.
Sophomore Kentrel Rogers from Fordyce takes over the starting running back position after gaining 220 yards and averaging 6.9 yard per carry.
Conque said he's excited about a big and mobile offensive line led by three-year starters Jason Masters and Raymond Koonce on the left side. Depth was helped with the transfer of Jon Rodriguez (6-6, 335 pounds) from Texas Tech, where he started six games last year.
"We're going to be big and hopefully we'll continue to improve our running game," Conque said. "That's going to open up our passing game and take some pressure off our quarterback."
The defense returns eight starters and it returns two players who weren't eligible to play. Linebackers Stacy Hill and Fa'Quan Harris have taken care of their academics and their lives so Conque let them come back. Hill was one of the leading tacklers in 2000, while Harris was a first team all-conference selection in 2001.
Sophomore safety Cory Cangelosi was second last year with 59 tackles and Conque said he was the best defensive player on team by the end of the season.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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