Hamilton has had some of his finest moments against the best defenses. Look for his production – and reputation – to exponentially spike this season.
I had an interesting conundrum while writing a recent AS360 piece on the best Razorbacks of the SEC era (i.e., since 1992).
First off, my editor Chris Bahn and I had to figure out our definition for “best.” Obviously, stats matter. So does the ability to play best in the biggest games. But going beyond that we settled on two defining traits:
a) Did he play a large role in the program’s rise in national reputation?
b) In a hypothetical situation, does he give Arkansas the best chance to move the ball?
“It’s late in the fourth quarter and Arkansas is down six points with the ball. All that is between the Razorbacks and the end zone is 30 yards and the best Alabama defense of all time. Of all Arkansas’ SEC players, who do you most trust protecting you? Which running back has the best chance of moving the chains? Who’s going to make the catch, then have the highest chance of breaking free?”
For the most part, I chose players who easily satisfied both these traits. Nobody would argue guys like Darren McFadden, Tyler Wilson or Anthony Lucas fulfill both requirements.
Selecting a receiver to pair with Lucas, though, presents a conundrum.
If you more heavily weigh stats and helping the program rise in national reputation, then Jarius Wright is a logical choice:
He entered as the least-heralded of a trio of receivers who all eventually found their way to the NFL. Wright left Arkansas as the team’s all-time leader in catches (168) and yards (2,934) in and ranks No. 2 in the record books with 24 touchdowns.
And, indeed, Wright was chosen for the AS360 piece.
But, if you give more weight to the second trait, then you have to take into account the physical advantages some of the all-time Arkansas receivers have over the 5-10 Wright. The 6-6 Marcus Monk, in his heyday, presented just about as tough a cover as Arkansas has ever had. But, when taking into account speed, skill set, height and sheer talent, I honestly believe the 6-3 Cobi Hamilton will surpass Wright as a receiver.
He’s been waiting in the wings for three seasons behind Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams, content to show only flickers of a fire which will soon engulf the entire SEC. He’s watched his quarterback Tyler Wilson also wait three years before emerging as the best Hog QB of the SEC era. I expect a similar jump in production from Hamilton this season. Once Hamilton has an All-American caliber season under his belt, it will be a lot easier for Hog fans to rank him up there with Lucas.
If you’re going all rolly-eye on me right now, don’t just take my word for it. NFL scouts know Hamilton’s potential too. He’s projected to be chosen higher than any other Arkansas receiver to be taken in recent decades.
If you’ve played adult-league kickball or visited the state fair, you likely know this downtown Little Rock neighborhood. Picture the busy intersection of W. Roosevelt Road and Martin Luther King Drive. If you venture a few blocks south, you’ll find the home of Daisy Bates, which in the late ’50s was a headquarters for Arkansas’ African-American civil rights movement. There, Bates etched her name into world history by mentoring the nine African-American students who integrated Central High School in 1957. That is but one of many reasons her home at 1207 W. 28th Street became a National Historic Landmark in 2001.
Just north of Gates’ home is a 3-block radius which may have the most connections to great athletes per capita than anywhere else in the state. Gates helped pave the way for blacks to have the same access to state resources as whites, and the following student-athletes used integrated Little Rock high schools to launch careers that took them to top Division I college programs and beyond.
Less than a block from Gates’ home is the home of Leslie O’Neal’s mother, I was told by a childhood friend of O’Neal. O’Neal is a former Little Rock Hall football star who would become the best NFL defensive end from Arkansas until Kevin Williams. My neighborhood guide, Chris Porter, said as children he and O’Neal (also known as “Big Red”) worked during the summer for local businessman Robert “Say” McIntosh.
Across MLK (formerly called High Street), Porter pointed out an early childhood home of Keith Jackson, the former Parkview High star-turned-NFL All-Pro tight end. Just a block to the west lives the father of former All-SEC Razorback Joe Adams, who’s now starting his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers. His father Joseph Adams, a Little Rock fireman, told me that he grew up playing neighborhood football with Keith Jackson.
Finally, caddy-corner to Adams’ home, is the home of Darren McFadden’s mother Mini Muhammad. McFadden owns a few homes on that block, which helps when the fam throws block parties during his off-season.
If there is an Arkansas neighborhood with more star sports power in terms of family connections, I want to see it. Bates’ home may already be designated as a national landmark, but I think the surrounding area also deserves some recognition. Maybe a mention in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame or the black Arkansas sports hall of fame that former Razorback football player Muskie Harris is trying to start.
For decades the best players in central Arkansas came from the area’s biggest public schools. What’s now known as Little Rock Central High, for instance, has produced at least eight NFL players, which is the most of any school in Pulaski, Lonoke, Faulkner or Saline counties. Next in line is Little Rock Hall High, which has produced four NFL alumni. Three other schools have produced three alumni each: Lonoke High, what’s now called North Little Rock High School and Little Rock Parkview High.
Jefferson Prep, a new-defunct college preparatory school won a Class A state title in 1981. That’s the year that signaled private high schools in Arkansas had arrived as a collective power. Generally, though, such domination has been relegated to the 5A classification and below levels. Plenty college-level players have come from these schools but it seemed public schools still had cornered the market on NFL-caliber players.
That is changing – and fast. As far as I can tell, after poring through this, the first NFL player from an Arkansas private school was Jeb Huckeba, a 2001 graduate of Searcy’s Harding Academy. In 2009, Johnathan Luigs of Pulaski Academy became the second, and last year D.J. Williams of Central Arkansas Christian became the third.
That number could double soon if all three of the following Razorbacks are taken in the NFL Draft this Thursday through Saturday: Jake Bequette (Catholic), Joe Adams (CAC) and Broderick Green (Pulaski Academy). Looking ahead, other potential pro players who have attended Arkansas private schools include Michael Dyer (Little Rock Christian), Kiehl Frazier (Shiloh Christian) and Hunter Henry (Pulaski Academy). This trend seems to be a logical outgrowth of the multiple state football titles private schools have racked up in the last 15 years. Success breeds success, and the more a program develops a reputation for developing elite players, the more young high school players want to go there.
In 2008, Robert Yates of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette explored some of the tension developing between the state’s public and private schools. The longtime prep football writer wrote some private schools are accused of “advantages – perceived or real – that include no attendance boundaries, screening potential students, offering financial aid, higher participation and flat-out recruiting.”