Where Are They Now: J.J. Meadors
It wasn't a difficult decision where to train for Joe Adams when he committed to Arkansas following his senior season at Central Arkansas Christian in Maumelle.
With former Razorback receiver J.J. Meadors running the show at Meadors Pure Speed in Little Rock and fellow Hog great Anthony Lucas assisting, Adams had little to no hesitation signing up.
"It helped me a lot just learning from two receivers that had played in the SEC," Adams said. "Just watching those guys and learning from them was a great experience."
Meadors made a name for himself as one of the school's all-time great pass catchers during a difficult four-year transition period for the Razorbacks in the 1990s. Meadors' class was the first to play its entire career in the Southeastern Conference and capped off its senior campaign with the school's first SEC West championship in 1995.
Meadors was instrumental that season, recording what is still a school-record 62 receptions. His touchdown catch with six seconds remaining against Alabama remains his most recognizable feat as the Hogs beat the Crimson Tide for the first time ever that year. In addition to his accomplishments on the football field, Meadors was a three-time national champion as a member of the Razorbacks' track and field program under John McDonnell.
He moved to Little Rock in 2008 after his career with Phizer Pharmaceuticals ended in Dallas came to an end.
"When I was living in Dallas I had a couple of people that had asked me to work with their kids on speed training," said Meadors, a certified USA Track & Field speed instructor. "At the same time I was working for Phizer but I basically got caught up in a layoff. I spent about five years in pharmaceutical sales and in corporate America. I took a severance package and got started on my own, moved back to Little Rock and have been doing speed training ever since."
Meadors opened Meadors Pure Speed in 2008. In addition to Adams, he has worked with notables such as Louisiana Tech receiver Cruz Williams and former Razorback Neal Barlow.
"It's great," said Meadors, who has also worked as a counselor at both the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana and NIKE Combine in Dallas.
"After a couple of years I kind of have the place up and running, and it's given me a great sense of fulfillment. The last couple of years I've had the chance to work with some talented individuals. It's great to wake up in the morning and be able to go and do a job that you really love doing. I loved doing pharmaceuticals and the compensation was great, but doing what I'm doing now is just the right move."
Moving to central Arkansas has also given Meadors the opportunity to mentor Razorback receivers like Adams.
"It's good having relationships with guys like that," Adams said. "I'm able to talk with him and Anthony a lot. They're able to tell me things to look for."
Now in his third year at Arkansas, Adams is part of arguably the best group of wide receivers in the SEC. It's a group that reminds Meadors of his playing days.
"In '95 we had myself, Anthony Lucas and Anthony Eubanks, and we were all out there playing at the same time," Meadors said. "I thought that was a pretty salty group of wide receivers.
"Collectively I think it's the best group since we were there. When you look at what I did, what Lucas did and what Eubanks did, it's arguably the three best receivers to ever play together at one time. Now you have Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Cobi Hamilton, along with talented tight ends like D.J. Williams, and all those guys could go anywhere in the SEC and be a No. 1 guy. I think we have a lot of weapons."
Like all Razorback fans, Meadors has high expectations for the 2010 Razorbacks. While teams in '02 and '06 matched it with division titles, Meadors believes this could finally be the season Arkansas surpasses the bar set his senior season.
"Offensively I think we're very scary," Meadors said. "We have one of the best offenses in the country as long as we can protect Ryan Mallett. I think we have a good group. For the first time in a long time we have depth on offense. That's the thing that has killed them over the years. At Alabama you see a team that has been deep on the defensive line and on the offensive line, and they've always had three or four running backs that could play. Now we have a stable of guys at the running back and at the wide receiver position. You can't key on one guy and if one guy goes down, we have some people that can step in there and won't miss a beat. Over the course of an SEC season you have some guys that are going to get banged up and injured, and the other team won't take it easy on you because you're missing a couple of guys out there. So I think just having that depth will help."
Depth wasn't a luxury for the teams Meadors played on at Arkansas. The Razorbacks went 12-19-2 over the course of their first three years in the SEC and were usually overmatched against the likes of Alabama and Tennessee.
"Our first couple of years in the SEC we got our butts kicked because to be honest we didn't have SEC caliber players," Meadors said. "We didn't have the players the first two years to go out and compete and expect to win ballgames at that level. I think anyone that was there when we moved from the old Southwest Conference to the SEC will tell you that we weren't ready, to be quite frank. Now, there are 11 guys on the field that are on-par with the rest of the talent in this league. Honestly, when we were playing we had Henry Ford and Kirk Botkin, and they were SEC caliber performers, but we didn't have a bunch of guys make all-conference the first few years I was up here.
"Finally my senior year we had some guys and we got lucky and had some things happen for us, and we ended up winning the SEC West and playing Florida in the championship game. It's just good now to see a bunch of guys that can play as opposed to having one or two guys that can play at the SEC level.
"There are 11 guys on the field that are on-par with the rest of the talent in this league. Honestly, when we were playing we had Henry Ford and Kirk Botkin, and they were SEC caliber performers, but we didn't have a bunch of guys make all-conference the first few years I was up here."
Meadors said he is proud of the accomplishments his class made at Arkansas and hopes to continue mentoring future Razorbacks to build on the hard work put in those early years.
"We look around the stadium and say, 'Hey, we put bricks on this stadium and we've laid a foundation,'" Meadors said. "We want to start a new slab by being in Atlanta on the first Saturday in December, holding up that SEC championship trophy. I think it's about time. I remember early on it seemed the only two teams that would ever play in that game were Alabama and Florida. I think everybody is ready, the state is ready and we have adapted our attitude from being competitive, to being a contender to now I think we're ready to step up and be a winner.
"I think we've got the makings to have a great season but we'll have to get some breaks and some guys will have to stay healthy. I think the pieces are in place to win a championship finally."
Meadors Made "The Catch"
Never had Paul Eells' "Touchdown, Arkansas!' sounded so good.
J.J. Meadors ranks high on several career reception records, but it was his touchdown catch at Alabama in 1995 he'll be remembered for most. With six seconds remaining Meadors scooped a Barry Lunney Jr. fourth down pass off the Bryant-Denny Stadium turf, helping the Razorbacks to a 20-19 win - their first ever over the Crimson Tide.
Of course depending on which fan base you ask, Meadors may or may not have made the catch. Even in today's age of multiple camera angles and instant replay, the verdict is still too close to call.
"I did make the catch," Meadors said as a matter of fact. "For me personally the Alabama game is so significant because I was able to make that catch at the end and we went on to win five or six in a row, and ended up getting into the SEC championship game."
The play is undeniably one of the most memorable in school history for its significance and for its controversy.
"A lot of people come up to me and want to talk about that play," Lunney told Hawgs Illustrated last September. "Friends still have big fun with it saying, 'You one-hopped the ball and it was incomplete.
"But of course it was complete," he laughed. "That's what the score indicates."
The win was significant in several ways for the Razorback program. Not only did it take heat off third-year coach Danny Ford for a stunning opening-season loss at SMU, it unofficially signaled Arkansas' arrival as a football contender in the SEC.
"I remember at the beginning of the year Coach Ford may or may not have been on the hot seat," Meadors said. "He called in the seniors before that season started and he talked a lot about senior leadership. We took it upon ourselves to check curfews and make sure everybody had tickets turned in, and if a guy missed practice we found out why - we were on top of everything. Then the first game we go out and have a chance to beat SMU at the end and we didn't. We fumbled the snap at the end of the game going in for a game-winning touchdown. I can remember coming in that Sunday morning and sitting there in the senior meeting, and Barry was apologizing. We said, 'Look, that game didn't mean nothing and we've got 10 games left to play. We've got to get it together right now and we've got to right this ship.'"
Arkansas responded to the SMU loss with a thorough 51-21 beating of South Carolina in Fayetteville. Still the Razorbacks were heavy underdogs.
"We beat South Carolina the next week and went to Tuscaloosa the week after," Meadors said. "We didn't go in and win that game on a fluke play or anything - it was a hard-fought win. We had been so accustomed to being in those close games and losing on a field goal or something bad happening. So for us to be able to pull that game out it gave us the confidence to go out and play at a high level the rest of the way."
The final drive started at Arkansas' 43, but the Hogs quickly found themselves facing a fourth-and-16. Lunney hit Anthony Lucas for a 31-yard gain on fourth down and later hit Meadors for 32 yards to the Alabama 3.
"I tell people all the time that when you're out there playing you're just trying to make a play," Meadors said. "That was the last offensive play for us and we had played 70-something snaps before it. It was the last drive and me, Eubanks and Lucas were out there hurting. We weren't even going back to the huddle; we were getting the plays from the sideline. Finally when we got down to the goal line we called a timeout. Both teams were bent over and gasping for air. It was a hard-fought game right down to the end. I think sometimes people that watch the games really understand what it takes to go on a last-minute drive like that. It takes so much physically and mentally to do that. It was great for us because we had to make some plays, made two fourth downs on the drive and for me it's just to great to see guys making plays like we were able to. That was the significant memory about that game because we were down (19-10) and were able to come back. Everyone was doing what they had to do to for us to win."
When his career took him to Dallas years later, Meadors found the play was still a jagged pill for the 'Bama faithful.
"It's funny because the guy that was actually my mentor at Phizer in Dallas was from Alabama and an Alabama alum," Meadors said. "As soon as I told him my name he asked, 'Are you the guy from Arkansas that made that catch?' He got red and was going crazy."
The game was the first in a series of memorable finishes between the schools. In Arkansas' next trip to Tuscaloosa in 1997, the Razorbacks went on a similar last-minute drive with Meadors' former teammate Anthony Eubanks recording the game-winning touchdown in a 17-16 win.
Marcellus Poydras (2000), Richard Smith (2003) and Ben Cleveland (2006) have also caught game-tying or game-winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes or overtime against the Crimson Tide. But it will likely always be Meadors that is most remembered.
"It was only a fun series after we won in '95," Meadors said. "Before that it was like when big brother beats you up all the time. We've been able to go down there and win some close games in Tuscaloosa and win some close ones up here. They've won so many national championships that if you don't beat them consistently they aren't going to respect you.
"The more we've won, the more respect we've earned."
Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, as well as an enterprise writer for Hawgs Illustrated. Follow his Slophouse blog at WholeHogSports.com.
J. J. Meadors works at a speed camp.
Photo by Marc F. Henning
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