(Sports Network) - When it was suggested quarterback D.J. Williams regressed from his freshman to sophomore season last year, his head coach at Grambling State went on the defensive to suggest why his team will be on the offensive this year.
That Doug Williams is D.J.'s father and played the position as a Super Bowl- winning quarterback had nothing to do with his reaction.
Doug Williams responded that there wasn't sufficient talent surrounding D.J. Williams, a function of graduation losses from the 2012 SWAC championship squad, injuries and, as he said, young players trying to lead other young players.
The SWAC preseason poll released on Monday didn't suggest Grambling State's program will get back on track after suffering their first winless season in conference play last year, but that won't deter the Tigers.
Defending champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff was selected first in the West Division and Alabama State topped the prediction for the Eastern Division. UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson and Jackson State cornerback Qua Cox headlined the preseason all-conference team as the offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively.
Grambling State is never an after-thought even though the team was picked a distant fourth in the five-team West Division. Despite watching his team's record plummet to an uncustomary 1-10, Doug Williams leads the most storied program in SWAC history.
He just wants the Tigers to live up to such history again.
"You want to win," Doug Williams told SWAC Radio at the conference preseason media day. "At the end of the day, that's what it's all about - winning. But at the same time, when things weren't going the way that you like for them to go, you can't get down (because) you have the young guys that you're dealing with. I think the most important thing is looking at those guys and wondering how they are handling it. And they really handled it a lot better than you would expect young guys to handle it.
"The players who are working hard now understand that's not what they want to go through this year. And they know what it's going to take to get over that hump. We were close in a lot of football games, but, like I tell them all the time, close only counts in millionaires and horse shoes."
During spring practice, Williams focused on the Tigers getting stronger and more aggressive on both sides of the ball. He also turned the defense over to new coordinator Dennis "Dirt" Wilson, who was an assistant in the program during the 1990s.
More importantly, the Tigers had time to grow up this offseason. In addition to D.J. Williams, a junior, the offense features such returning players as leading rusher Cedric Skinner, wide receiver Anthony McGhee and offensive lineman Clint Marsh, the team's only preseason all-conference selection.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff led the SWAC with 11 all-conference selections, including nine on the first team. The Golden Lions finished with a 10-2 mark last season to set a program record for wins in a season.
"It's going to be a hard task to repeat," UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. "I think we're poised as a team. One of the key ingredients for us to repeat this year or to be contenders this year is basically we've got to stay healthy."