Adv00

Updated: August 22, 2003, 2:13 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK -- Southern Arkansas does such a good job running the ball with its flexbone offense it gives one of the nation's top receivers room to roam in opposing secondaries.

The Muleriders had the second-best rushing unit in the Gulf South Conference in 2002 with 234 yards per game, good enough to rank No. 12 among NCAA Division II teams.

While teams stacked the line of scrimmage, Nik Lewis found openings downfield to catch 65 passes for 1,239 yards and 14 touchdowns. His 112.6 yards per game ranked second in the nation behind Chris Brewer of Fort Lewis with 115.8 yards.

"We're basically a running offense with the best receiver in the conference," Southern Arkansas coach Steve Quinn said. "Because we run the football so much it leaves him on one-on-one coverage and he's able to beat that. He's a big-bodied receiver with good hands and he works hard to get open."

The Muleriders come back this year with the same two-quarterback system that put the ball in Lewis' hands last year with senior Ted Williams and sophomore Damian Melancon.

Williams, a two-year starter, has rushed for 1,061 yards running Quinn's flexbone the past two years, but he also has developed a strong throwing arm. Last year, he threw for 1,396 yards and 12 touchdowns with just five interceptions in 164 attempts.

Melancon is three inches taller than the 5-9 Williams and he has the better arm. He set a school record with 399 yards total offense and four touchdowns in an overtime victory over Ouachita Baptist last year. For the season, he passed for 601 yards and seven touchdowns.

Quinn has 13 seniors for his third year in Magnolia and he thinks the experience will be important.

"I think that's going to be key to how we are this year with how well our 13 seniors are able to pull this team together and how they lead this football team," Quinn said. "I'm putting a lot of responsibility on them."

Two of those seniors on defense are linebacker DeVares Campbell and defensive back Brian Davis, both preseason all-conference selections.

Davis is the Gulf South's top returning tackler after making 111 last year to go with five interceptions.

The Muleriders were 7-4 in Quinn's second year and had the best chance to beat conference champion Valdosta State during the regular season before losing 31-28. The team also had a chance to make the playoffs before closing the season with back-to-back losses to Harding and Henderson State.

"We should be coming together as one pretty good team because guys who will be starting this season were starters two years ago," said Lewis, another one of those 13 seniors. "Losing those last two games made people work hard during the offseason."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index