For many Arkansas football fans, Michael Dyer is one of the most polarizing sports figures around. As a senior at Little Rock Christian High School, he was the top ranked running back in the nation. Dyer, of course, chose Auburn and it didn’t appear as if the Razorbacks finished a close second.
For a while, it appeared as if Dyer had made the correct decision. Two straight 1,000 yard seasons and a BCS National Championship Game MVP award will make it seem that way. But things weren’t going nearly as smoothly off the field. Dyer was smoking synthetic marijuana, and apparently running with the wrong crowd. The wheels started coming off in spring 2011 when his gun was used during an armed robbery, the vehicle started smoking in winter 2012 after he was indefinitely suspended from Auburn and then released from his scholarship and the whole thing went up in flames last summer when he was released from Arkansas State after more bad news involving marijuana and a gun.
Given these events, it’s little wonder Dyer has lately stayed out of the public eye.
Since fall 2012, he’s attended Arkansas Baptist College, the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi River, and is on track to earn his associate’s degree this summer in general studies, college president Fitz Hill told me.
Dyer has only given two interviews with mainstream media this year. In one this spring, with THV’s Mark Edwards, he says he would like an opportunity to walk on at the University of Arkansas. “I was asked to sit out [of football for] a year,” Dyer said on the broadcast. “I was asked to do a lot of changing and maturing to become a better person and a better football player. I spent this whole year doing exactly what I was asked to so that I could reach some of the goals that I knew later that I wanted to do.”
Perhaps Dyer ends up at a major college football program next season, looking to swing for the fences instead of suffering a third strike. Maybe he finds no major college is willing to take the risk. Either way, that college’s decision doesn’t ultimately matter nearly as much as whether Dyer has truly sought to become a better person this past year or not.
We talk about Dyer because of what he has done on the football field, in front of a thousand cameras and million eyes. But it’s the small decisions he’s made over the last year, the temptations he’s said “yes” or “no” when hardly anybody was around, that will more determine whether he thrives as a person or not.
Society may see Dyer’s “success” as football-based, but I hope Dyer has matured enough to know that the sport is of greatest benefit to him as a tool. If he is better now, if he has truly come around like he says he has, he will also be mature enough to be able to let go off football one day (possibly soon) and find success in whatever field he turns his mind to.
Because, as polarizing as Dyer has been for many football fans in this state who don’t know him, there are still a lot of people who do love him.
If you want proof, look at these pictures below. These pictures were taken last fall at a youth crime prevention program called the OK Program. Dyer was invited to share his story – the good, the bad and the ugly – with the teenagers who made up the audience.
He did, and he did a great job of it:
These kids aren’t praying for Dyer because he ran for three touchdowns for their favorite football team. They probably wouldn’t care which college program he played for. All they know is that he was once so high, and in some ways has come so low. But with their prayers he can be lifted again.
And, if his words hit their hearts right, so can they.
If Dyer wants to succeed in life – on the field and off, he would do well to nourish his roots and remember to seek strength from those who choose to love him despite the helmet he wears.
A family comes in all forms.
Lots of goodies in USA Today’s recently released study of athletic revenue among all D1 sports programs. I thought it good to narrow the lens onto the SEC programs and see where Arkansas ranks among its conference brethren* in terms of pure, hard cash. So I wrote this piece for Sporting Life Arkansas looking at how well each school has performed in terms of total revenue and in football performance since 1992, when Arkansas joined the SEC.
Turns out, Arkansas is pretty middling in all the rankings, including win percentage (8th highest among the 14 current SEC members).
It stands out in one category, though: the degree to which it’s self sufficient. That is, how much money its athletic program nets when subsidies - money transferred from other parts of the university, student fees or state funds – aren’t considered.
In this category (labeled “Difference” below) Arkansas ranks #2 for the 2011-12 year, only behind Texas A&M.
Category: 2012 Generated Revenue
What is Means: All the money the athletic program brings in, minus the amount given to the program in the form of
Category: 2012 Total Expenses
What is means: Everything it takes to keep all sports within an athletic program running, from the salaries of swimming coaches to the Wendy’s receipts on those football recruiting trips through Houston.
Category: 2012 Difference
What it means: The difference between a program’s generated revenue and total expenses. This is a strong signal of whether a program is self-sufficient or not. Put another way, in the chart below, Ayn Rand would be proud of those programs in the black and would frown on those in the red.
I’ve spent the last few months interviewing North Little Rock football player Altee Tenpenny and his inner circle about his recruitment.
Tenpenny, of course, has been the subject of plenty discussion in these parts. He committed to Alabama in January 2012, but it always held the door slightly ajar from the Razorbacks to make their case. When Bret Bielema came aboard as Arkansas’ new coach, with a reputation for showcasing top-notch running backs at his previous stint in Wisconsin, Tenpenny allowed that door to creak ever slightly more open.
But Monday night, with a Tweet declaring he was 100% committed to Alabama, Tenpenny slammed the door shut.
This morning, on National Signing Day, he used a pen and fax machine to deadbolt that sucker.
I still think Arkansas fans should pay attention to the story of his recruitment, however. There are so many interlocking parts to the whole process – from the coaches’ spiels, to the parents’ jobs, to the high school coach’s background and the way the media (yes, me included) not only report on this whole crazy carnival but to different degrees actually participate in it.
Every recruit has to deal with similar issues. You hope the teen has people who have his best intentions in mind to deal with a process that only becomes more pressure packed and scrutinized by the year. So, I was heartened to see that Tenpenny has good parents to help him distinguish between emotion-fueled propaganda and reasonable arguments. I know Hog fans don’t like the outcome, but they should still reflect on and pay heed to the process.
Tenpenny’s recruitment represents only the first battle between Bret Bielema’s Arkansas staff and Nick Saban’s Alabama staff. It may be a while before Arkansas can win on the field, but in the recruiting world Arkansas’ first victory could come as early as next February. Josh Frazier, a 6-4, 324-pound junior defensive lineman from Springdale Har-Ber, has offers from Arkansas and Alabama.
Heading into his sophomore season at North Little Rock High School, running back Altee Tenpenny had never heard of a combine.
He didn’t know a summer circuit fitness test could rocket a previously obscure name onto the radar of every major college football program and secure the attention of top college football coaches. However, his high school coaches did, and in June 2010 they encouraged him to attend one. Tenpenny came back with a score of 90.91. “Everybody was looking at me like I did good,” he said. Indeed, at 15 years old, without a minute of varsity football under his belt, the native Arkansan’s score identified him as an elite athlete, the kind that made college football coaches and fans drool.
Read the entire 7,000 word article here.
Imagine you’re a teen. You’ve just come home from your first date ever, and sitting there waiting with plenty questions about your night is dear, old dad.
Mildly embarrassing, totally understandable. Naturally, you expect the scrutiny to wane over time.
Except that it doesn’t. After the next date, dear, old uncle waits beside dad. The time after that, you also find the guy from KATV is interested in where you ate dinner. And every time after that, it seems more media join the growing scrum.
A select group of high school football players actually aspire to something like this every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a reward for years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s also a culmination of the intense media spotlight they’ve been under for months – the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.
Imagine if every high school senior stood in front of her classmates and local media to announce both where she would be going to college and who was taking her to prom.
Nerve-wracking scenario, right?
A select group of high school football players strive to go through a similar rigamarole every February. For the best of the best, National Signing Day (Feb. 6) is a culmination of years of summer camps, college campus visits and a courtship that includes Facebooking, texting and talking to coaches from around the nation. It’s the day when our favorite sport’s stars of tomorrow make their final college choice public by signing a letter of intent, leaving all other wooers at the doorstep.
In Arkansas, many eyes will be on Hunter Henry, senior at Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy. Will this elite tight end – ranked as the nation’s best at that position by some outlets – choose the Razorbacks, to which he made a non-binding oral commitment last summer?
This would make sense, considering his father played center for the Razorbacks (and is now an associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church), and his grandfather was an Arkansas basketball player.
But Henry’s still open to other schools. He insists his recruiting process is far from over. Here’s a look into that process, and the ups and downs it brings:
Q: You’ve been committed to Arkansas since last summer, but are still considering other schools like Alabama. Give me a sense of what you’ve been going through.
A: The recruiting process can be hard. It’s a blessing, but at the same time I don’t think people realize how hard it really is just because it’s so stressful and you’re trying to pick a place that is going to affect the rest of your life. You’re going to so many different schools and they’re all so amazing … you build relationships with so many people – just really good, strong relationships, talking all the time and it’s kind of hard to say ‘no’ to some people.
Q. You’ve spoken a few times to Arkansas’ head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. What do you expect your role to be on offense once you start getting major minutes?
A: I really don’t know. I’m not there, so I got to get on campus. Nothing’s given to me. I’m going to have to work for everything I get and I know that. I’m working extremely hard right now, and I’m just going to continue to work hard… whereever it is that I go, I just want to be a great tight end and a great person.
Q: You grew up in Atlanta in a family that bleeds Razorback red. Once you started seriously considering which college to attend, was it difficult to put aside your Hog fandom to make a clear-headed choice about what’s best for you?
A: It was. I would lie to you if I said it didn’t. It was hard sometimes, but I did really good at clearing my mind. You know, it’s a whole lot easier once you get into the process and you go to other places and you talk to other coaches, when you get out there and see what else is out there. I think that helps a lot and it opened up things just because I want to choose the place where I should be and the right place for me.
On the whole, college football programs don’t scale down. Why would they? As their schools’ student populations grow year after year, the lists of potential alumni donors only get longer. And in the arms race that is Division I – and increasingly Division II – football, there are always more stadium seats to build and fill.
Hendrix College, meanwhile, is bucking the trend. Early in the 20th century, it had a 5,000-person stadium and played the likes of the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss with players who didn’t receive athletic scholarships or stipends. The state’s biggest schools, however, subsidized their players. And those players starting pulverizing Hendrix’s smaller players, which ultimately caused the program to fold in 1960.
Cue an ace-bandaged hand bursting through cemetery ground, slowly grasping at air.
After a 53-year long hiatus, football again lives on Hendrix’s Conway campus. It won’t, however, be the same caliber of ball your dad’s dad wrote home about. This iteration has the Warriors playing as Arkansas’ only football member of Division III, reserved for the NCAA’s smallest schools, in a new 1,500 stadium. Head Coach Buck Buchanan aims to fill 65 roster spots by a September 7th season opener against Westminster College (Missouri). By 2017, he hopes to have more than 100 players - all, of course, men. This is a major reason Hendrix is resurrecting football: In recent decades, the female-male ratio at liberal colleges nationwide has tilted in favor of women, and football helps straighten that imbalance.
Per NCAA rules for all DIII athletes, Hendrix football player won’t receive athletic scholarships.
Unlike in the 1950s, the private school’s leaders think this time around the lack of subsidies actually helps the program. “It’s not gonna be the Arkansas Razorbacks, or really the University of Central Arkansas,” says athletic director Amy Weaver. “That’s not really what we’re about. Division III lends itself to the true student-athlete. These guys are playing because they love to play the game not because they’re getting paid to play.”This article originally ran in Arkansas Life magazine as part of a “Twenty To Watch” feature in the January, 2013 issue.
I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, so I no longer expect to wake up on Christmas morning with treats stuffed in my stocking.
I do, however, believe in longtime Arkansas sportswriter Walter Woodie. And Woodie recently left an email in my inbox that made me smile as much as any snow-dusted Snickers bar from the North Pole could have.
He sent me the following game report from an Arkansas high school football final in 1990. I consider the game’s star, Basil Shabazz, to be an Arkansas version of Bo Jackson. This game represented his finest moment:
Here are some immediate impressions:
1. Texarkana quarterback Mike Cherry would end up as a highly touted freshman for the Arkansas Razorbacks. As Barry Lunney’s perpetual backup, however, he never could carve out consistent paying time. Houston Nutt, then a UA assistant, coached him at the start of his college career. In 1993, Nutt left to become head coach of Murray State. Two years later, Cherry transferred to that same Kentucky school and led Nutt’s teams to two conference titles.
Of all the stories coming out of Bret Bielema’s hiring as Arkansas’ head football coach last week, perhaps the most endearing is how he wooed his wife Jen.
One evening in April, 2008, Bielema was enjoying a game of blackjack at the Wynn Las Vegas when he spotted “a smiling blonde, brown-eyed woman wearing a teal tank top, blue jeans and black flip-flops,” as recalled in a 2011 Fox Sports article. Interest sufficiently piqued, Wisconsin’s head coach approached the beautiful stranger to start what became a five-hour conversation.
While the attraction was initially physical, it soon became so much more. After that night, Bret and Jen didn’t see each other for five months. They relied on phone talks, the postal service and, later, flying halfway across the country. Love flourished; they married last March.
Many Americans believe this is the stuff of true romance. The couple took its time getting to know each other. They turned a chance encounter into a long-term relationship, choosing trust before intimacy.
This progression matters not only to Bret and Jen, but to Razorback fans and recruits. It tells the public: Here is a good man who refrains from acting on impulse for the sake of others.
But if Bret and Jen had gotten hammered that fateful night in Las Vegas, hooked up in the backseat of a cab and exchanged oaths at a drive-thru wedding chapel, would their story still charm? Would it even be shared?
I think not.
A recent Sports Illustrated profile of an athlete every bit as impressive as Bo Jackson
There’s a point near the start of “You Don’t Know Bo,” ESPN’s upcoming “30 for 30″ episode about one of the early 1990s’ most iconic ahtletes, where the Bo Jackson praises really start gushing. At one point, an interviewee suggests Jackson may be equal if not greater than Jim Thorpe in terms of all-around athletic excellence.
Bo Jackson: history’s greatest athlete?
As the movie walks through his long list of accomplishments, there is an argument to be made. Jackson, at 6-1 and 220 pounds, presented a combination of power, speed and ability nobody had ever seen before in baseball and football. At the NFL Draft Combine, he ran a 4.12 in the 40 yard dash; he starred in the NFL and MLB , becoming the the first person named an All-Star in two major American sports leagues.
Jackson’s versatility certainly makes him one of the greatest athletes of the modern sports era (and, in terms of team sports, of all time), but if size, strength, speed and versatility are main criteria for grading an athlete’s rank, then we should consider Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah as someone who has entered Jackson’s stratosphere.
Let’s get this out of the way: Ansah hasn’t achieved anything near the level of success in his chosen sports as Jackson. He grew up playing soccer in Ghana, but as a teenager dreamed of playing in the NBA with LeBron James. Five years ago, he arrived in the United States, and tried to parlay his 39-inch vertical jump into a spot on the Brigham Young University basketball team.
He was cut.
Instead, Ansah walked on to the BYU track team, and promptly ran a 200-meter dash in 21.9 seconds. Over the next couple years, Ansah used his 6-6, 250-pound frame to dominate at intramural baskeball. He was so impressive that football players told him he should give their a sport a spin. At last, he gave in.
At the start of BYU’s 2010 summer camp, Ansah told head coach Bronco Mendenhall he wanted to play the game for the first time in his life. He didn’t know the rules. He had never lifted weights before. But he was big, fast, smart and eager to learn, as Jeff Benedict writes in Sports Illustrated.
Amazingly, two and a half years later, Ansah is a dominating nose tackle on the nation’s third-ranked defense. Despite not starting until the fourth week, he has 48 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and is projects to be a first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft.
This, from a neophyte who was shoving his thigh pad into his knee pad slot two years ago. This, from a guy who until recently ran around the field without the slightest clue of how to tackle. “He was not lowering down and gearing up to hit someone,” another BYU player told Benedict. “He was just running. That allowed him to hit opponents with a speed that they were not prepared for. But he also wasn’t naturally protecting himself the way football players do. So he was taking blows to his body that most guys would never be able to endure.”
Now that Ansah actually understands the game, and now that he’s up to 270 pounds, he is a major pro prospect. “The combination of his height, weight and speed is probably unmatched,” one NFL scout told Benedict. As is Ansah’s story.
Jackson will always be considered one of the greatest athletes because he played so well – and so spectacularly – in two pro leagues. Ansah won’t have that chance (unless LeBron hears about his story and takes him under his wing as a publicity stunt), but his multi-faceted sports background, ability to quickly adapt to a brand-new game and a height, weight and speed combo that’s off the charts make him the 21st century version of, well, Bo Jackson.
Imagining a World Where the Big, Bad Wolves Take on the State’s Top Hogs: Image courtesy of Sync magazine
Rivalry week gripped the college football world last Saturday.
In states with populations or areas similar to Arkansas – Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina – longtime intrastate foes squared off for annual bragging rights.
The University of Arkansas doesn’t schedule in-state competition, so nothing like Ole Miss-Mississippi State or Clemson-South Carolina erupts here. It’s widely believed the state’s other FBS program, Arkansas State, couldn’t beat Arkansas often enough for an authentic rivalry to flourish. The numbers support this: since 2001, UA and ASU have played the same opponent 21 times within the same season. Only four times did ASU lose to that opponent by an equal or smaller margin.
And not until this season did ASU beat an opponent that had, or would, defeat Arkansas. In September, Louisiana-Monroe beat Arkansas 34-31 in Little Rock. In November, ULM lost to ASU 45-23 in Jonesboro.
Breathe easy, Hog fan. I won’t indulge in wonky transitive property logic. I know that with enough if-thens, even an insane argument like Arkansas Baptist College-Is-Better-Than- Texas A&M looks rational.
Besides, injuries affected both games. Arkansas lost quarterback Tyler Wilson for the second half of the ULM loss. Then, three of ULM’s defensive starters missed the ASU game, along with four offensive starters – including star quarterback Kolton Browning. “I’m not making excuses,” says ULM head coach Todd Berry. But “obviously that affected our game plan. We still threw the ball around decent and moved the ball, but there was that extra dimension they didn’t have to prepare for.”
ASU’s ULM win, along with ranking ahead of Arkansas in national polls, don’t necessarily prove ASU is better than Arkansas this season. Instead, these events simply make speculating about a hypothetical showdown all the more fun.
Especially if it happened at War Memorial Stadium. “I think it would be great for the state,” ASU head coach Gus Malzahn said last week. “I think it would create a lot of excitement.”
Below is a prediction of how the game would have transpired if these programs played last week, with staffs and injury statuses as they were at season’s end.
UA Offense vs. ASU Defense
Tyler Wilson picks apart the Red Wolves with pinpoint passing. His main target is Cobi Hamilton, who has a field day against smaller ASU defensive backs like Chaz Scales and Don Jones, who plays only half the game because of a suspension.
ASU starts off blitzing Wilson often but slows down after it is shredded a few times on short slants with Hamilton and wheel routes with Knile Davis. The Hogs’ offensive linemen, who average 303 pounds, consistently open holes against ASU defensive linemen who average about 280 pounds. Hog running back Dennis Johnson uses these to get to the defense’s second line, where the stout senior has a few epic collisions with ace linebacker Nathan Herrold.
As always, lack of consistent focus and turnovers plague Arkansas. RB Jonathan Williams makes a spectacular 36-yard run on a promising drive at the end of the first quarter, only to cough it up at the end. In the third quarter, Arkansas’ Mekale McKay catches a 40-yard pass and appears headed for the endzone when safety Sterling Young strips him on a blindside hit.
A football coach isn’t trained to look too far down the road.
He earns most of his pay to make decisions in the now, to successfully adjust schemes in the span of minutes and get his players locked into the present moment with laser-like intensity. The best coaches develop the ability to think one step ahead of the game on the field. All the recruiting, fish fry glad-handing and long film sessions serve only one purpose – 60 minutes, played 12 or 13 Saturdays a year.
So, it’s not surprising that Malzahn was operating very much in the present tense as the guest speaker at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday. In his case, that means toeing the party line as head coach of the nascent Arkansas State Red Wolves program. In his first season, Malzahn has continued to stoke statewide interest in the program that’s now vying for its second consecutive conference title.
He stoked fires of a different sort at the Monday luncheon.
Without prompting, Malzahn launched into the state’s most enduring hot-button sports issues – the ASU vs. UA debate. UA’s unofficial policy has prevented the program from scheduling in-state competition since 1946. But that hasn’t stopped what many Hog fans perceive as other such programs from showing up at the UA’s doorstep, hat in hand, beseeching the master of the home for a few gold coins in the form of a guarantee game.
Malzahn reminded us ASU is the latest program to make such a request.
“We’ve reached out to the University of Arkansas. We’d like to play them in Little Rock in the future, and we think that would be good for the state.”
He later added: “I think it’s the day and time that Arkansas State and Arkansas needs [sic] to play to play in Little Rock… It’s not 1970 anymore. It really isn’t. I think it’s healthy for everybody concerned.”