CONWAY, Ark _ The University of Central Arkansas Bears will be playing without its top returning receiver when they open the 2009 season at Hawaii on Sept. 4.
Junior Willie Landers, who was injured on the opening day of practice on Aug. 7, had knee surgery on Tuesday and will be out for the season, according to head coach Clint Conque.
"Willie's surgery was successful,' said Conque, "but he had to have ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction and also had some meniscus damage as well.
"Obviously, we're optimistic that he'll make a full recovery, but I feel really badly for Willie. He worked awfully hard this summer to prepare for the season. But we have to press forward. It means it's an opportunity for other people in our program to step up.'
Conque also announced Wednesday that three players have been suspended for the first game and half of the season for violation of team rules. They are junior receiver Darrius McNeal, sophomore tight end Josh Ragland and sophomore defensive end Norvel Gabriel.
"All three of these young men are very important to our football team and to our success,' said Conque, who is entering his 10th season at UCA. "We want them to do things right, on and off the field. That will always be a staple of our football program here at UCA.'
Landers, a second-team preseason All-Southland Conference pick, was the top returning receiver for the Bears after catching 44 passes for 735 yards and 7 touchdowns a year ago. McNeal caught 23 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, while Ragland had no catches in nine games. Gabriel is a redshirt sophomore who played in four games and had six tackles in 2008.
"We have some players at the receiver position who have caught a lot of balls here at UCA and are playing well this fall,' said Conque. "(Tight end) Rico Moss is having a really good camp and it will be important that he stays healthy and on the field.
"(Senior) James Lovett (30 catches, 362 yards) and Preston Echols are two more with a lot of experience. But some others are definitely going to have to step up, like TJ Adams, Trae Cook and Isaiah Jackson.'
UCA has eight receivers returning who caught passes last season, along with senior Brandon Kennemer, who is returning from injury, and several backs out of the backfield.The top returnee now with the loss of Landers is running back Brent Grimes (35 for 332).
UCA will take Thursday off for the first day of school, then resume practice at 3:45 Friday. The final fall scrimmage is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
"We won't officially break camp until after the scrimmage on Saturday,' Conque said. "We are starting to rep the right people and get the right personnel in the right places in all phases of the game. We'll start game preparations Sunday night.'
UCA Sports Information