ASU and the UA Should Use the Natural State to their Recruiting Advantage

 

The great outdoors, design, football.

A decade ago, the typical college athletics administrator likely concerns himself only with the last of these.

Not anymore. These worlds are colliding with unprecedented frequency as self-marketing matters more and more in college football. Across the nation, programs are jazzing up their facilities and uniforms in an effort to attract recruits, media coverage and donations. Ambitious programs are realizing more variation – in color, shade, design – is better.

Two trends have emerged, one piggybacking on the other.

The first trend entailed marketing an array of different uniforms designs and colors that went beyond a program’s traditional road color and home white. Oregon football kicked this off in 2006 by unveiling a dizzying array of pant, jersey and helmet combinations. Merchandise sales soared as Oregon became one of the nation’s hottest programs.

Around 2011, an offshoot trend emerged where designs of jerseys and playing surfaces incorporate local, geophysical flavor. Here, heritage – natural or man-made – meets the all-important “buzz” factor.

Oregon basketball, one of the first to get into the act, superimposed onto its new court silhouette images of the state’s native fir tree. Other programs have made similar moves. Palm tree images now frame the courts of Long Beach and Florida International universities.

Wyoming football last year unveiled a new artificial turf with a depiction of the state’s Teton Range in both end zones. The lettering “7220 feet” is on both sidelines, marking the stadium’s record-setting elevation above sea level.

Even older, more established programs have gone down a similar, though more subtle, path.

Programs are also using man-made objects to promote their brands. Take Maryland, which in 2011 launched a “state pride” initiative that put the design of its distinctive state flag (the nation’s only one to feature British heraldic banners) on Terrapin football helmets and end zones.

 Indiana went the same flag-based route with one its new football helmet variants.

 So, should Arkansas join the movement?

 Without a doubt.

Our state has far too much iconic imagery to stand on the sidelines and not take advantage. Why, for instance, should the Hogs settle for white helmets and black jerseys when there are so many more interesting, Arkansas-specific designs that could be used?

 We’re the Natural State. It’s high time those playing our best football programs know it.

I’ve shared some ways already on Sporting Life Arkansas - including a diamond Razorback helmet – but below are some others that would work for any program in the state even thought I highlight Arkansas and Arkansas State.

1. According to a Washington, Ark. newspaper article in 1841, the Bowie knife was originally invented not by frontiersman extraordinaire Jim Bowie but by craftsman James Black. It became known as one of the most dangerous big knives in the region, just as Bielema’s Hogs aim to become of the most feared teams in the SEC.  Use a a small silhouette or outline of this knife somewhere on the uniform, perhaps down the side of the legs. Make the blade diamond-like for extra points.

2. Arkansas’ Buffalo River was the first National River to be designated in the United States and along with the Hogs is one of north Arkansas’ prime attractions. It’s time they join forces. Why not incorporate an image representing running water onto the perimeter of the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium?

3. The Red Wolves and now the Razorbacks have a thing going with mostly-black unis, we know. Tough guy and all that. But so many other programs do that, too. Why not separate yourself from the pack by incorporating colors from the most visually stunning bird native to the state? In the hands of a skilled designer, adding flecks of color from the scissor-tailed flycatcher onto the dark background would be a sure-thing eyecatcher.

The above is an update of an article that originally ran in Sync magazine in summer 2013.

 

 

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How All Those New Arkansas Football Coaches Bond

Few coaches tower over Bret Bielema. Rory Segrest is one of them.

Few coaches tower over Bret Bielema. Rory Segrest is one of them.

Arkansas football’s struggles last season are well chronicled. Mention of its nine losses, winless conference record and back-to-back 0-52 shellackings to the hands of South Carolina and Alabama are sure to darken the mood of even the most optimistic Hog supporters. But there’s at least one fan not falling into line here. “Some people look at a 3-9 record as a downer,” says head football coach Bret Bielema. “But I find it more exhilarating than anything you could ever find.”

 Wait, what?

 Bielema points to the improvement Arkansas showed in its last four games, when it played opponents increasingly tighter and ended the year with  a four-point loss to No. 14 LSU. Over that span his players executed better and cut back on the mental lapses which had plagued the young team earlier in the season. The Hogs finished as the SEC’s least penalized team vs. other Southeastern Conference foes.  These early signs of a turnaround also give a master recruiter like Bielema a selling point. They help form a narrative appealing to the competitive nature of the top high schools players he most wants to sign. In essence, he wants them to buy into the prospect of building a legacy rather than preserving one. Hog coaches emphasize to recruits the part they could play in helping lead Arkansas to its first SEC title. Bielema says he tells recruits: “If you want to come and be apart of something at Arkansas that’s never been done before, and you want to build off the foundation of a 3-9 record, then I got something for you.

   For Arkansas to win a championship, its defense – which last season ranked No. 76 nationally and No. 9 in the SEC – must improve. Up front, three of four starting defensive linemen have left but All-SEC Trey Flowers returns for his senior season. As for linebackers, Bielema adds:,  “I do think we have a good group that we can piecemeal together. I think Brook Ellis showed us some good things. I think Martrell Spaight and Braylon Mitchell – those three guys will probably be your top three candidates” for starting positions.

  Bielema predicts the secondary, which ranked as the SEC’s worst pass defense against conference foes, will “absolutely” improve from 2013 when it allowed SEC opponents to complete more than 70 percent of passes. He cites added size, strength and quickness as one reason, along with more aggressive tactics that include challenging wide receivers more often at the line of scrimmage. There’s also an infusion of ideas from new defensive backs coach Clay Jennings, who was hired in February from Texas Christian University.

  On the field, Jennings is charged with shoring up the defense’s weakest area. Off the field, he’s expected to go on the offensive in the program’s most important out-of-state recruiting territory – Texas. It takes only a glimpse at the best teams in program history – including the 1964 national championship squad – to confirm this. For its most recent signing class, though, Arkansas coaches signed only two of the roughly 25 Texans they had recruited.

  Bielema’s confident that percentage will rise. He sent five staff members to recruit Texas last winter and believes the fruit of those efforts will be seen in upcoming signing classes. And Jennings, a Waco, Tex. native with a decade’s worth of coaching experience in the state, should strengthen Arkansas’ pull there, Bielema adds. “Any ties he has, we’re going to lean on those.”

  Jennings is one of three new Arkansas defensive coaches. At the top is defensive coordinator Robb Smith, a 38-year-old who last year coached linebackers for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Joining him is new defensive line coach Rory Segrest, who coached the same position at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. “Rory’s a little guy,” Bielema says, tongue in cheek. “He walks into the room and he’s about 6-foot-6 with a size 18 shoe. I hired him because I didn’t want to be the biggest guy on the staff anymore.”

  Bielema is pleased with how his coaches have built off last season’s late momentum toward the April 26th Red-White Spring Game: “I’m excited about where our staff is right now. We’re really cranking into high gear.” He also knows the more his coaches trust each other, the faster their program will accelerate. To that end, he organizes mixers to help his new coaches get to know each other. For instance, Bielema reserved a suite for his coaches at a February 28th Hogs baseball game in Fayetteville. “My hope is that my [defensive] line coach ends up sitting next to my wide receivers coach and although they hadn’t known each other, maybe they get to know each other a little bit more. It makes things a little bit better.”

 Bielema also organizes other off-season outings that include players, too. He points to examples that naturally revolve around competition: bowling, slow-pitch softball, three-point shooting contests.

  Perhaps it’s appropriate these Razorbacks hone such skills together. Most onlookers, after all, consider them as long shots to win a lot of games any time soon. But that doesn’t faze Bielema. When he’s wooing recruits, selling them on his vision for a great turnaround, he need not ask them to strain their imaginations. They know the 2013 SEC championship game, after all, was played between Missouri and Auburn – two programs with a total of two SEC wins the year before.

The above article originally printed in the March/April issue of Arkansas Money and Politics

ARMoneyPoliticsLogo-2


List of All Division I Football Players Born in Arkansas

There are so many Arkansans who play Division I football. You know this, on a gut level. What you don’t know – on any level – is the name of every single last one of those Arkansans. That ends now.

So come, brother, and let the waters below sate your parched mind:

Arkansas has produced two Harvard football players - including Andrew Flesher, two-time Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.

Arkansas is home to two current Harvard football players – including Andrew Flesher, two-time Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.

The below stats are current as of fall 2013. I have listed the most recent 2014 signees at the bottom.

20140205_123716 20140205_123726 20140205_123733 20140205_123738 20140205_12374320140205_123754

All spreadsheets courtesy of Benn Stencil of Mode. Check here for a breakdown of which Arkansas counties produce the most talent per capita. 

2014 Signees

ARKANSASHereARKANSAS STATEHereCENTRAL ARKANSAS
Tyler Colquitt – LB 5-10 235 Pulaski Academy
Toney Hawkins – QB 6-1 185 Morrilton
Will Jones – OT 6-4 300 Parkers Chapel
Curtis Parker – OG 6-2 280 North Little Rock
Dalvin Simmons – DE 6-2 220 LR Central
Josiah Wymer – TE 6-4 262 Springdale

ALABAMA
PLAYER POS. HT. WT. SCHOOL
Josh Frazier – DT 6-3 330 Springdale Har-Ber

GRAMBLING STATE
Devohn Lindsey – WR 6-2 198 North Little Rock

LOUISIANA-MONROE
Tyrone Carter – WR 6-2 175 Rayville, La./Arkansas Baptist JC
Isaac Jackson – QB 6-2 210 FS Southside
Jake Snyder – OT 6-3 270 Wynne

LOUISIANA TECH
Ty Mullens# – DL 6-1 220 Smackover

MEMPHIS
Jarvis Cooper – DL/LB 6-2 245 West Memphis

MISSOURI STATE
Daryl Coburn – DT 6-1 325 LR Central
Deion Holliman – WR 5-9 165 Camden Fairview
Colby Isbell – DE 6-2 240 Rogers Heritage

PURDUE
Austin McGehee – PK/P 6-0 200 Pine Bluff

TULSA
Jabe Burgess* – QB 6-2 200 Greenwood
Jordan Dennis – ATH 6-1 175 Fayetteville
Isaac Johnson – OT 6-6 275 Springdale Har-Ber
Tim Quickel – LB 6-1 200 North Little Rock

WAKE FOREST
Zack Wary – LB 6-4 215 Rogers
#Walk on *Enrolled NOTE – Most players listed for Lyon are signees

UAPB

Kavin Alexander DB 5’10 190 North Little Rock HS (North Little Rock, AR)
Lawrence Berry WR 5’11 170 Parkview HS (Little Rock, AR)
Kyron Lawson DL 6’6 230 Mills HS (Little Rock, AR)
Patrick Rowland WR 5’10 165 Parkview HS (Little Rock, AR)


The University of Arkansas Professor who Created a Sports Dystopia

roller ball

More than 40 years ago, around the time public outcry was peaking about brutality in football, a University of Arkansas English professor attended a basketball game at Barnhill Arena*. There, with the Razorbacks trailing, a fight broke out. It was, apparently, quite a vicious squabble, so much so it inspired the Hogs to roar back for a win.

It also inspired the professor, William Harrison, to wonder just how violent sports in the future may become. He was moved to pen “a little experimental story.”

That story, “Roller Ball Murder,” published in Esquire and inspired the screenplays for two movies. The story centers on a highly popular futuristic sport involving balls and big, strong men flying at each other at increasingly high velocities. Rules are changed to make the game more violent and drive up ratings. The result: higher rates of in-game injuries, and frequent death. Crowd noise for the first movie, released in 1975, was actually recorded during a live game at Barnhill Arena.

The NFL, of course, is currently changing its rules to make the game ostensibly more safe in light of the concussion debate. Yet while it focuses on concussions, the rate of musculoskeletal injuries keeps rising as players get bigger, stronger and faster.
William Harrison passed away last year, but his vision of a dark sports future should not be forgotten. He raised an important question in the 1970s that is just as perinent now: Where are American sports – in particular, football – headed? If its players keep getting bigger and faster, it cannot help but get more dangerous – no matter how much fancy equipment is stuffed into their lockers.
This is a topic I explore in my piece below for the Daily Beast:

Long before studies of former NFL players’ brain tissue shook America’s football-industrial complex to its stem, the sport had undergone other crises involving player safety. In the 1970s, no microscope was needed to see neck and spine injuries among players of all levels were escalating fast. One main culprit was the hard-shell helmet that had essentially become a spearing weapon. Too many coaches were teaching players a head-first form of tackling that left a path of mangled bodies in its wake, sending insurance premiums through the roof.Rollerball, a movie about a dystopian society fixated with an ultra-violent sport, became an international hit in 1975 and triggered more debate on brutality in sports within the general public. A former Penn State University president became so worried about the direction football was headed he made a plea in the form of a prediction to Joe Paterno, the former Nittany Lions head coach. “Joe, if football doesn’t do something about the injuries, soccer will be our national sport in 10 years.”

This didn’t happen, of course.

It is Manning, not Messi, Sherman, not Suarez, who dominate the headlines before Sunday’s massively anticipated Super Bowl. Denver’s greatest passing offense of all time is on a collision course with Seattle and its most fearsome pass defense in recent history. This here is tectonic heat, a contrast hitting at the heart of why we love sport in the first place. The NFL has most of me in its grasp for this one.

And yet, there is unease. Questions of whether the game’s brutality has gone too far persist. In terms of quantity and severity, there are signs we are on the cusp of the most violent Super Bowl yet.

The violence and danger of football extends far past professional stadiums.

Start with the increasing size, strength, and speed of players at almost all positions that has contributed to a rise in overall injuries over the last decade—from 2,623 in 2004 to 3,126 in 2012. Kam Chancellor, Seattle’s all-league safety, stands 6’3”, 232 pounds—specs that in the 1950s could have belonged to a defensive tackle. Nobody mixes mass, acceleration, and aggression quite like Chancellor, who appears to have the perfect mindset for somebody paid to do stuff like this:

“When I go out there, all of these hard hits and laying dudes out, that’s just my passion for the game,” he told the Seattle Times. “That’s just showing how much I love this game.”

Read the rest of the column here.

*I haven’t been able to find an original interview source in which Harrison cites Barnhill as the site of the basketball game, but I have found secondary sources like this. Plus, it just makes sense. Very few English and creative writing professors bother to follow a team on the road.


Alvin Bailey, Ross Rasner, Tarvaris Jackson, Sean McGrath, Ty Powell & the Super Bowl

Ex Hog and Bronco Ross Rasner sure knows how to get after it.

Ex Hog and Bronco Ross Rasner sure knows how to get after it. Via Instagram

20140129_215312

McDonald (upper left) with other 2004 all-metro players such as Darren McFadden (#5) (via Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Heading into this Sunday’s Super Bowl, there appears to be three players with Arkansas ties on the rosters of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. The one who will likely play the biggest role in the game itself is Clinton McDaniel, a Jacksonville native/pass rusher extraordinaire who specializes in collapsing the pocket on third downs. Learn more about him in my Sporting Life Arkansas profile here.

Offensive lineman Alvin Bailey also looks to get some burn in the big game. The former Razorback left school early last spring, went undrafted, but has carved out a nice niche for himself in Seattle. He threw a key block in the NFC Championship game to spring running back Marshawn Lynch for a 40-yard touchdown run. Those points proved to be the winning margin in a game which finished 23-17.

“I’m having the time of a lifetime,” Bailey told The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel.

He’s made no starts. But Bailey played about a dozen snaps in the NFC Championship Game as an extra lineman. And he cleared out 49er safety Donte Whitner, allowing Lynch to score and put the Seahawks in control.

Bailey said leaving Arkansas wasn’t just a good decision, “it was a great decision.”

“I thought I was going to get drafted. Things didn’t work out that way. But I made it to the Seahawks, we’re in the Super Bowl now. I don’t regret anything.”

Btw, here’s a nice KARK interview with Bailey’s gargantuan uncle, who’s livin’ large in Little Rock and is the main reason Bailey chose to attend Arkansas in the first place.

Tarvaris Jackson

Jackson hardly looked like a future pro during his two seasons as Razorback quarterback in 2002 and 2003. He had plenty “physical tools,” sure, but so does every other QB who starts at least one game in the SEC. What he lacked was the maturity to put it all together, and the patience to see it through in Fayetteville. Ten years after he transferred to Alabama State, he becomes the most unlikely former Razorback quarterback to be on a Super Bowl roster only a couple years after becoming the most unlikely ex Hog to throw for 3,000 yards in the NFL.

To me, it doesn’t matter that he likely won’t play a snap. Or that in the last week he has inspired such headlines as “Tarvaris Jackson’s Super Bowl Preparation is Sad and Boring.” But laugh not. Appreciate how amazing it is he’s almost been in the League for a full decade at QB, given how uninspiring his UA days were. It would be like time traveling to the NFL circa 2022 only to find Brandon Mitchell there as a savvy backup QB to Rafe Peavey in the Cowboy’s long-awaited return to the Super Bowl.

The Left Overs

None of the following guys with Arkansas college ties are on the rosters for Denver or Seattle. But don’t discount the part they played earlier in the season sharpening their teammates for the long haul.

1. Ross Rasner – Ras-Nasty sure could deliver a hit in his Hog days in 2009-2012, whether on special teams, as linebacker or safety. He wasn’t the most technically sound decleater we’ve ever seen on the Hill, so it wasn’t a surprise when he went unpicked in the 2013 Draft. Still, there was some cause for optimism when Denver signed Rasner as a free agent last spring and brought him to camp. Even if rookie stuff like this was happening:

khyyz_rasner_670089

Unfortunately, in the end, the burden of beating out veteran safeties like Quentin Jammer and Mike Adams for a final roster spot was too much to bear. Rasner was cut on August 31, 2013. He hasn’t yet resigned with another team, but if you think this is a man feeling down on his luck, these swag-tastic Instagram updates will have you thinking otherwise:

ras nasty

2. Sean McGrath

The 6-5, 247-pound McGrath is one of the most physically imposing college players to come out of Clark County, Ark. since Cowboys great Cliff Harris. While Harris played for Ouachita Baptist University, McGrath played in 2010 and 2011 for Henderson State after transferring from Eastern Illinois.

The Illinois native found the culture change tough at first, as he shared with ESPNW:

After two seasons as an EIU Panther, McGrath was dismissed for a violation of team rules… He got some help finding his next step from his assistant coach at EIU, Jeff Hoover, who would die in a car accident just a few months later.

“I was fortunate,” McGrath said of getting a second chance. “The late Jeff Hoover hooked me up with Coach [Scott] Maxfield down at Henderson State U, and bada-bing, bada-boom, I’m in the Bible Belt. Arkadelphia, Arkansas.”

Sounds made up, but it’s a real place. There were, of course, a few growing pains for McGrath, who adjusted to the South while sitting out the 2009 season.

“It’s a different place,” he said. “When I first got down there I didn’t know what a dry county was. Needless to say we had to get that changed. Political process went into effect and, you know. Let’s just say it was wet when we left.”

By 2010 the students of Henderson State were getting their buzz on and McGrath was back on track, catching 55 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He was injured for much of his senior year and went undrafted, but he refused to give up on his dream to go pro.

Last year, McGrath played as a tight end on Seattle’s practice squad for four months before finally being called up. McGrath played well and improved over the offseason. By last spring, he’d worked his way into being the Seahawks’ second-string tight end , and sent some Seattle sports opinionators into a caffeinated craze along the way. One blogger even imagined McGrath’s role in the waning minutes of a (then) hypothetical Super Bowl:

Wilson snaps the ball.  Broncos linebacker Von Miller reads the run coming his way, and attacks the line. Oddly, he finds himself moving backwards despite his legs churning forwards. Seahawks tight end Sean McGrath is walking him back off the line. It starts slowly, but McGrath gains momentum and has completely overpowered Miller by this point. Miller is a full five yards beyond the line of scrimmage when McGrath assassinates his dignity.  [emphasis mine]  He is no longer moving backwards because McGrath has planted him on his back.

McGrath was cut by Seattle on August 31, but soon picked up Kansas City. He ended up starting nine games for the Chiefs, tallying 26 receptions for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. And he would never, ever, think of assassinating the dignity of a good locker room interview:

Keep this man away from the “Discovery Channel”!

3. Ty Powell

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll loves his linebacker/safeties fast, physical, big and snarling. That’s why he chose the 6’2″, 248-pound Powell in the seventh round, with the 231 overall pick, in the 2013 Draft. Powell had been plenty impressive at Harding University, where he was ranked the 17th best outside linebacker in the nation (inc. Division I) after a 2012 season that included 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and four blocked kicks [This, btw, may be a single season Arkansas college football record. Perhaps Hog Dan Skipper will break it...]

Powell says in the below video he believed he could have gone as high as the third or fourth round, so when he dropped to seventh he was left with a bit of a “chip on my shoulder”:

If Powell had a chip on his shoulder then, you know he had a veritable tortilla shell on the shoulder after being waived by the Seahawks this past September. Buffalo snapped the linebacker up the following month, though, and Powell finished with nine tackles in the the last four games of the season.

P.S. Kicker Eddie Carmona, who nailed a 62-yd FG at Harding, signed w/ Oakland in 2011, 2012

P.S. Kicker Eddie Carmona, who nailed a 62-yd FG at Harding, signed w/ Oakland in 2011, 2012


Trey Flowers Keeps Pursuing His Dream of Chasing His Razorback Dreams

trey flowers

All-SEC Trey Flowers pursues quarterbacks and, apparently, transhuman forms of consciousness.

Press releases.

God bless the fine sports information men and women who have to crank ‘em out and the coaches and student-athletes who have to say something, anything really, to make them look more official.

It’s a fairly standard process that keeps the entire sportswriting-industrial complex humming along. Sometimes, though, there’s a glitch in the system. Somebody’s not quite on their “A game” when it comes to clearly thinking about what to say, or to write.

The result can be words that stretch the limits of logic to a breaking point. Case in point is today’s press release from the University of Arkansas  that nearly sent my mind into a metaphysical tailspin. The statement declares star defensive end Trey Flowers is returning for his senior season to anchor the Razorbacks’ line. “I’m very excited for Trey and not just his immediate future, but for everything down the road,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema pronounced.

Bielema should be excited about Flowers’ immediate future. Not only is the Alabama native returning as a second-team All-SEC player who has superb on-the-field awareness, but it’s possible he’s tapped into another dimension altogether.  Bielema said Flowers told him he’d decided to forego entering the 2014 NFL Draft because “he wanted to maintain and pursue his dream of playing and chasing his dreams here at Arkansas for another year.”

Pursuing a dream of chasing dreams? I don’t exactly know what that means. I’m pretty sure it means there’s a lot of dreaming going on. Beyond that, if I had to guess, I’d say it Bielema is trying to tell us young Trey also has the ability to meta-dream, a quality typically ascribed to techno-saviors of mankind who can flit between alternate realities and download their consciousnesses into avatars – you know, that sort of thing.

Bottom line: Flowers is still very much plugged into the program at a time when it desperately needs him. And that’s something for Hog fans to cheer about.

Proof I’m not a dirty liar:

Flowers Announces Return For 2014 Season

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers announced Monday he was returning to the Razorbacks for his senior season after considering early entry into the NFL Draft.

“I have made the decision to stay at Arkansas for my senior season,” Flowers said. “Coach Bielema was very supportive throughout the process and helped me and my family navigate this decision. I still have goals on and off the field I want to accomplish at Arkansas, beginning with graduating, and want to continue pursuing those. On the field, I am excited about the program being built and wanted to help the Razorbacks back in 2014. Even though my draft grade was good, I believe another year with Coach Bielema will help improve my draft status. I am looking forward to another season at Arkansas, where we have support from our administration, some of the best fans in the nation and a bright future for the football program.”

A second-team All-SEC selection in 2013, Flowers finished the season with 44 tackles, including 13.5 for loss with 5.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception, two pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. His average of 1.23 tackles for loss per game ranks second in the SEC and 35th in the NCAA, and his tackles for loss total is tied for third in the conference. His tackles for loss accounted for 58 yards lost, the ninth-highest total in the SEC. He recorded 9.5 tackles for loss in conference play, which ranked fourth in the SEC. The Huntsville, Ala., native also is tied for second in the conference and for 23rd in the country with three forced fumbles.

Through his first three seasons as a Razorback, Flowers has recorded 122 tackles, 32.0 for loss with 12.0 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, seven pass breakups and one interception. He is tied for 11th on Arkansas’ career tackles for loss list and is tied for 16th on the school’s career sacks list. In addition to his All-SEC inclusion in 2013, he also was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2011. The economics major has earned recognition on the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll and the Razorback Honor Roll for his work in the classroom.

“I’m very excited for Trey and not just his immediate future, but for everything down the road,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I went through this process, going back to last spring when I first sat down with him and his parents to talk about exactly where he was and where we thought we could get him. Then we’d have a decision to make. I really kept them in the loop as much as we could. I talked to his parents several times throughout the course of the year. Trey came in as I expected after the end of the regular season and we sat down. We filled out the information. We did a telephone conference with his father. I said we’d wait for the grades. We got our grades in, and I believe I was notified on Jan. 1. Last Friday afternoon I flew over to Alabama and myself and Coach (Ben) Herbert sat down, went through about 15 documents with Trey and his mom and dad, the information that I gathered for him to make an informed decision. Thankfully he notified us shortly thereafter and said he wanted to maintain and pursue his dream of playing and chasing his dreams here at Arkansas for another year. He’ll be able to get his degree and hopefully move his draft status that much more for the future.”

 


Arkansas Fans, Get a Grip: War Memorial Stadium Tradition Not So Special

Arkansas will play one game per year in Little Rock through 2018.

Arkansas will play one game per year in Little Rock through 2018.

Arkansas fans are right to believe some of their traditions are truly unique. There are, after all, tens of college programs named after Wildcats or Tigers or some permutation of Bear, but there is only one named for the Razorback. And no group of fans, no matter how much they chomp, stomp or damn eagles, has thrown out anything that remotely resembles the Ozarkian eeriness that is the Hog Call. Suiiii generis, indeed.

But in all the recent commotion over Arkansas’ continuing pullout of War Memorial Stadium, I’ve noted a troublesome sentiment that what Arkansas has had all these years in its dual home arrangement has been so wonderfully precious and unique that losing it would present a blow the program may never fully recover from. Not so: plenty other programs split their home games between two stadia for decades. Plenty other fans made memories that lasted a lifetime in the stadium closer to their home. Yes, the other programs stopped doing this. But no, they did not fall apart.

To the contrary, many have thrived since quitting the practice.

These other programs – Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Virginia Tech et al – began dual home arrangements for the same, exact reason Arkansas started doing it in Little Rock in 1932: exposure, revenue and what today is called “brand building.” Arkansas leaders knew if their program was ever going to become nationally competitive it needed to have more support from its state, to stop losing the likes of Ken Kavanaugh (Little Rock High grad) to LSU and Don Hutson (Pine Bluff High) and Paul Bryant (Fordyce High) to Alabama. So Arkansas leaders, like leaders at Alabama, Mississippi State and Oregon State, decided to take their team away from its rural campus and parade it in a bigger, in-state city in front of more media and fans.*

Oregon did the same by traveling from Eugene to Portland. Washington State traveled from Pullman to Spokane, while Ole Miss traveled to Jackson and Auburn traveled to Birmingham. Each of the programs pulled out of these metro areas at different times but one overriding reason is the same as in Arkansas’ case – the campus’ stadium simply outgrew the metro area’s stadium. This especially came to the fore in the late 1980s as Auburn jockeyed to stop playing Iron Bowl games in Birmingham, as I wrote in a recent New York Times article: “Auburn leaders increasingly supported moving the game from the 75,000-seat Legion Field to the university’s expanded Jordan-Hare Stadium, which could hold 85,000. Housel [a former Auburn athletic director] said it got to the point that even Auburn fans living in Birmingham were so ready to drive the 120 miles to campus, they would ‘refuse to buy tickets to the Auburn-Alabama game if it was in Birmingham.’”

Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

Every team, as you see in the chart below, has dropped its dual home arrangement in the last 50 years. And programs like Oregon, Virginia Tech, Alabama and Auburn have gone on contend for or win national championships since the drop. Yes, you are right: Arkansas has become unique in the sense that it appears to be the only program that is still hanging on to this practice.

But is that something to be proud of?

It’s better to be proud of winning at a high level, a la Oregon, Auburn and Alabama. But hanging on to War Memorial hasn’t recently helped Arkansas get to this level. Its function was served in helping lift Arkansas to the nationally elite level it enjoyed through much of the 1960s through 1980s. It will not serve in getting Arkansas to the level Jeff Long, Bret Bielema et al expect it to reach in the later 2010s and 2020s.

Read the rest of this entry »


Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s High Profile on David Bazzel

Part man, part tornado, Bazzel has created the state's largest touchdown club and so much more...

Part man, part tornado, Bazzel has created the state’s largest touchdown club and so much more… Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

I recently had the pleasure of writing a biographical feature on David Bazzel, one of the most well known personalities in Arkansas sport media and certainly its most versatile. “The Baz” has dabbled in everything from sports medicine and fitness column writing to sports anchoring and morning talk show hosting. In recent years, though, his focus has increasingly shifted to creating traditions – whether in the form of new chants, new trophies or Razorback game-day ceremonies. The former Razorback linebacker’s most significant creation, on a national scale, is the Broyles Award which for the last 17 years has been honoring the legacy of Razorback don Frank Broyles. Bazzel proposed the award in 1996, but he didn’t immediately find receptive ground:

At first, Broyles was hesitant. He brought in longtime assistant Wilson Matthews to blitz Bazzel. “They were both going to make me prove I was confident in what I was doing,” Bazzel recalled. “They wanted to hear, ‘How are you going to execute this? What are the steps? How are you going to get your finances?’”

That last part proved to be tricky. Bazzel didn’t yet have sponsors, and it was difficult to find donors because Broyles had asked that he not take money that would have otherwise been donated to the University of Arkansas’ Razorback Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm of Arkansas athletics.

Bazzel once asked for support from a local company president: “He said, ‘Well I can either give you a check for $75,000 or I’m going to give Coach Broyles a check for $75,000. What do you think ?’”

In 1996, Bazzel borrowed about $100,000 from Capital Bank to launch the award. To make everything in the event first class – from the banquet to accommodations for the five major-college assistant coach nominees and their families – the expense was worth it, he said.

“It’s the names on these things. You can’t just walk out there with a big trophy and then not run [the show] well.”

Not all of Baz’s ideas have taken off. Some have sputtered after lift off, yawed a bit, then buried their noses into the ground. To wit:

[In 1996] he wanted to augment the “Hog Call” with a new chant used when the Razorbacks defense really needed to make a stop.

The “Root Hog” was meant to evoke the sound of a pig digging into the ground with its nose. “It almost sounds like a guttural ‘boo’ but it’s a root-root,” Bazzel recalls.

During halftime of a home Razorbacks basketball game, Bazzel made an “awkward” debut with the chant, according to one online message. “He’s wearing a leather jacket as he explains how you do the cheer,” writes H-O-double G on Hogville.net. “Then right before he starts the cheer, he stops and takes off his jacket, to which he had on a cut-off sleeve muscle shirt … and then he says, ‘Now I know not everyone here has guns like ol Bazzel.’”

Reminded of this event, Bazzel laughs. “Who knows, I might have said something like that. Anything to get their attention at halftime.”

“That was strictly for impact purposes.”

Check out the entire feature in today’s High Profile section in the Democrat-Gazette. Or click here [paywall].

One entertaining story I wasn’t able to include in the piece was Bazzel’s ill-fated stab at live theater in the fall of 1998. “What!?!” you may very well be asking right now.  This is just about the same reaction Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummet had then:

In the category of things you couldn’t make up because no one would believe them, we now have “Football, Biceps, Biscuits and Gravy: Confessions of a Razorback,” the one-man stage show of this same finely sculpted Florida refugee who made all those tackles… Twelve bucks will get you in for this 70-minute show.

I called David and asked what in tarnation this was all about: self-promotion born in ego of gargantuan and breath-taking proportion or a brave and adventurous spirit?  “I hope it’s the latter,” he said. “You know, this time last year I was wrestling around in the woods outside Greenbrier with a wild Russian boar. By comparison this seems tame.”

Advance ticket sales for the play, slated for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, were so bad Bazzel cancelled it before the first show. Bazzel knew he was in trouble when Houston Nutt’s Arkansas coaching debut at home didn’t even sell out that weekend. “You win some, you lose some,” Bazzel told the paper, adding he has “no problem eating a little humble pie.”

I am of the mind that the screenplay for “Football, Biceps, Biscuits and Gravy: Confessions of a Razorback” may be the single most interesting/hilarious unpublished piece of work in late 20th century Arkansas sports history. I don’t care what the play is actually about – with a title like that it can’t be boring. So,  where might this literary grail filled with porcine gravy reside nowadays? Bazzel’s not sure – the file may possibly still be on this computer, and a paper version may still be floating around his condo near Chenal Promenade in Little Rock.

I hope once he slows down creating all these national awards he can spare a few hours looking for it.


QB Fred Marshall Almost Quit On Frank Broyles, Imperiling Arkansas’ 1964 National Championship

From mmbolding.com

From mmbolding.com

Arkansas’ starting quarterback on its 1964 national title team nearly skipped out on that entire season. In 1963, Fred Marshall was a fourth-year junior who had bided his time and was ready to take the reins as Hogs’ full-time quarterback. When he didn’t, he visited head coach Frank Broyles in his office with two games left in the season and told him he’d had enough. “I told him I wasn’t coming back the following year because I thought he’d done me wrong. I was saying, in essence, ‘Coach, you messed up and I’m pissed about it.’”

Broyles didn’t act defensive, Marshall recalled. Broyles heard Marshall out. And he tried to explain to him his reasoning.

The winter before, quarterback Billy Gray had starred in the Sugar Bowl and Arkansas coaches assumed he would be the starting quarterback the following fall. That season great things were expected of the Hogs, which had finished in the AP Top 10 for four consecutive years and entered the fall as conference favorites. Problem was, Gray didn’t want to play quarterback. He wanted to stick to cornerback on defense (this was the era of two-way players). So Marshall goes in, but it didn’t help his cause that  in the 1963 conference opener he threw three passes that should have been intercepted.

So the baton was passed around.  “I start the season as the starter and next thing I know, I’m not starting any longer,” Marshall said in August, 2o13 interview. “Billy Gray’s starting and Billy Gray takes his turn and lo and behold he joins me over on the bench. And now we got Jon Brittenum starting.” It went on like this through the first eight games of the season as Arkansas fell to a 4-4 record. Gray and Brittenum weren’t as explosive in terms of passing as anticipated. Marshall, more of a running, ball-control type of quarterback, recalled being told by Broyles that “we can’t take the ball and just grind it down the field. We’ve got to have somebody who can make the big plays.” That wasn’t happening as much as expected, though, and Marshall heard about it: “I had people all over the state telling me they didn’t understand why I wasn’t playing. To a lot of people it was clear that I should have been playing.”

With Gray and Brittenum both returning the next year, and Marshall stuck as the third stringer, he decided he’d had enough. “I wasn’t gonna ride the bench for another year,” Marshall said. He was only three or six hours away from graduating at that point and moving on with his life. He had a wife and eight-month-old son to support. “I was going to get into the workforce and do my thing. [Pro] football was not part of my future.”

He vented to Broyles after a 7-0 road loss to Rice, but added that he didn’t intend to stop playing hard for the team for the remainder of the season. During the next game, at SMU, Broyles put in Marshall early but the team still lost 14-7. That didn’t dissuade Broyles. He approached Marshall in the locker room. “If you come back next year, you’ll be my starting quarterback,” Marshall recalled being told. Broyles admitted he’d made a mistake and was going to start him the next game against Texas Tech.  “I look back and wish we’d stuck with Fred in ’63,” Broyles recalled in his autobiography “Hog Wild.” “Instead of 5-5, we might have won eight or nine games.”

Marshall started the season finale at home against Texas Tech [ in the only SWC game played the day after Kennedy was assassinated] and helped the Hogs get out to a 20-0 start. Gray jumped in for Marshall in the second period after a running play in which he hit a defender head on. “As we call it in football language, he got his ‘bell rung,’” Arkansas Gazette writer Orville Henry wrote after the game. “I got a little dazed and nauseated, but I was all right by the middle of the second half,” Marshall told the Gazette.

The Hogs held on for a 27-20 win – the first of what would be 22 straight wins. Marshall would go on to be the starting quarterback the following season in which the Hogs went undefeated and clinched the national title with a 10-7 win over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. Marshall engineered the crucial game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and got co-MVP honors along with linebacker Ronnie Caveness. The entire season, under the steady leadership of Marshall and an elite defense, Arkansas gave up only six turnovers.

Would Arkansas have  won its lone national title had Marshall quit the previous winter? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s a credit to Broyles’ ability to listen and admit mistakes that Arkansas fans never had to find out.


Ken Hatfield on Stanford, Recruiting Texas and Bill Parcells’ Secret Sauce

ken hatfield

Hatfield coached the Hogs 1984-1989. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

I just got off the phone with Ken Hatfield, the most winning Razorback football coach by percentage, for a High Profile feature I’m writing on David Bazzel for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I couldn’t help but also ask Hatfield some side questions about college football’s biggest game last week and the current state of the Hogs. Specifically, I was curious as to what he thought of grind-it-out Stanford’s recent domination over Oregon and how that could play into the Razorbacks’ future.

“To be a champion, you’ve got to do one of two things to be successful,” Hatfield said. “You got to do things better than anyone else or you got to do things different than anyone else … like in the days that Texas ran the wishbone. The teams trying to stop it had a hard time trying to stop it on their own practice field, so one year every team in the Southwest conference ran their own version of the wishbone. They had to do it so they could figure out how to stop [the wishbone] and then they still couldn’t stop it because Texas had better players and executed it better.”

So, the other SWC teams went another direction. “That’s when you had Hayden Fry and some other people come in with a single wide receiver and do different other things.” Stanford has been able to capitalize on its enduring reputation for ball-control offenses, Hatfield said. “They have been able to recruit people that style of offense from around the nation because Stanford has such a national draw, and a lot of the things that they were doing, nobody else was recruiting those players for.”

Bill Parcells once told Hatfield the winning formula was similar in the NFL: “You’ve got to take the ball over when there’s four minutes left in the game. You’ve got to run the clock out when the other team knows you’re going to run every play … that other team is paying $30 million for that quarterback for that two-minute offense and the only way you’re going to defeat him is by keeping him on the bench. So to win you’ve got to be able to run the football when the other team is ganging up on the line of scrimmage and knows you’re going to do it. If it works for the NFL, it ought to work good college teams too.”

OK, bear with me: I’m now putting on my referring-to-myself-in-third-person socks:

Demirel: Do you think to a certain extent Stanford’s success against a powerful hurry up offense provides a blueprint for Arkansas success going forward in the SEC?

Hatfield: “The only difference you have is that you got a couple teams in the SEC that are already doing the Stanford thing … then you get back to trying to do something better than them.” For Bielema and his staff, the biggest priority is signing the right players – especially on the lines, he added.

Demirel: Do you think that Arkansas will be able to do better at recruiting when LSU, Alabama and now Texas A&M are closer to the hot spots where so many of these recruits live?

Hatfield: “Certainly, it’s a real big challenge … I would think one of the great assets we have right now is to really to go back in and recruit Texas extremely hard, the way we did. Because, for about 18 years there, nobody in Texas cared about the SEC because it wasn’t in the paper, they never covered it. But now, with A&M coming into the league and the great success they’ve had in two years, every paper in Texas everyday mentions the SEC. Every newspaper. So I think you get a chance of knowing the SEC is important in Texas and and we’re so close to it, where you could get a lot of players where their families could come and see it.”

Demirel: But A&M’s success makes that tougher, as does Baylor’s recent success as well.

Hatfield: “Oh, there’s no doubt about it … while Baylor’s good there, there’s no doubt about it, there’s still some mystique about playing in the SEC. And if you’re a Texas player who’s going to play in the SEC against the great competition you’re going to have, you’ve either got to go to A&M or go to Arkansas. LSU’s going to get all their players from Louisiana – a few from Alabama, a few from Texas – but they’re gonna get them from there. But for a great Texas player who wants to play in the SEC and still wants to be close to home, you’ve got A&M and Arkansas.”

Demirel: It’ll be interesting to see if Arkansas ramps it up there. Also, although Arkansas has tried to develop recruiting in Florida before, it seems like Bielema and some of his assistants are hitting it extremely hard. It’ll be interesting to see if they can make Florida more of a recruiting base than ever have before.

Hatfield: “… You’ve always got to figure out in recruiting what’s your advantage. The one thing I believed we had for a long time which was great in Arkansas was the ability to bring kids in here in redshirt them – let them grow up, and enjoy the beauty of the state and the beauty of the fans, maybe get to be a year or two older than other people too. Almost all of the players we had were redshirted.”

“I mean, you had Steve Atwater and number one [round] draft pick, you had Wayne Martin, a [round] one draft pick, you had Quinn Grovey, one of the greatest quarterbacks we ever had. All of them were redshirted. None of them played as [true] freshmen and they were all great talents. Those extra years here really made a difference both in helping them get a degree and also in their physical development. So I wouldn’t give up on that formula either. Do something different Arkansas, maybe that other people aren’t doing. You just got to do whatever you believe in and I think that Beliema will do whatever he believes in.”


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