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Updated: August 22, 2003, 2:15 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK -- Gregg Ricono hopes that what he experienced as Arkansas-Monticello's first-year coach was just part of the cycle -- the one where a team bottoms out before climbing back up.

The Boll Weevils started 2-1, with its loss by one point in overtime to Division I-AA Southeast Missouri. Then came the seven-game Gulf South Conference losing streak to end the season and each loss was worse than the previous one.

"I've been in the state of Arkansas for six years now and I've watched every program, and this is a great conference, I've watched every program suffer," said Ricono, who came to Monticello after being an assistant at Arkansas Tech. "There's not one coach who hasn't gone through tough seasons, but they've all been able to rise up from it."

Ricono said the downfall started in the 42-41 loss to uninspired Southeast Missouri. The Boll Weevils' five offensive linemen played all 94 plays and the team had no depth to play like that all season.

Arkansas-Monticello came out of the game with a higher impression of itself than it should have, Ricono said.

"I think it tricked our offense into thinking this is how it's going to be," he said. "It gave us a false sense of security. We were not strong enough in character to be able to overcome that."

The Boll Weevils start the season seeking to replace two prolific offensive stars.

Corwin Elliott left after rushing for a school-record 3,642 yards in his career, including 1,192 last year. The next best rusher had 67 yards last year. Quarterback Fred Leonard played in Monticello for one year, but it was a good one. He threw for 2,249 yards with 16 touchdowns.

Ricono is looking at one of six running backs he signed to fill Elliott's role, including Rivercrest's Cedric Vaughn. Redshirt freshmen Travell Steib and Ricky Williams took most of the snaps in the spring, but both are small.

Junior Cory Allred won the starting quarterback job in the spring. He took a redshirt year in 2002 after throwing for 2,256 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2001 at Antelope Valley (Calif.) College.

"I feel like he's going to be good. He can make a lot of things happen," Ricono said.

Senior right tackle Darrick Sanders (6-4, 350 pounds) leads an offensive line that includes converted defensive lineman Andy Caruthers at left tackle.

While the offense spends the first couple of games filing holes, Ricono will lean heavily on his defense.

The unit returns possibly the best cornerback duo in the Gulf South with Daniel Henderson and Eric Helloms. Henderson was first-team all-conference last year and both are listed on the preseason team.

Linebacker Daniel Morris led the Boll Weevils with 76 tackles last year.

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