Jason Veltkamp recalls the first time he saw Luke Charpentier up close. He wasn't impressed.
"He had way too much body fat," said Veltkamp, the head strength and conditioning coach at Arkansas. "But I've always told myself it was important not to judge anyone in the first two days. I can tell you about offensive linemen, you just never know."
What Veltkamp did know about the Hogs' new freshman offensive lineman was that the assistant coach who found Charpentier loved him.
"Willy Robinson told me he was the right type for our program," Veltkamp said. "He said the first time he saw him, a coach got after him in practice, right in his face. Luke stood there eye to eye, then wiped out the guy across from him on the next series of plays. He responded."
Charpentier, native of River Ridge, La., and John Curtis High School, has responded to everything in the Arkansas strength and conditioning program. He's dropped his body fat and lost pounds, while gaining strength. He's turning heads on the field with his quickness and light feet.
"I looked up the other day and you almost didn't recognize him," Veltkamp said. "He's down to 295 and he's light on his feet.
"I was watching him pull on a scout team play and he was really moving. You notice him and what he can do."
Charpentier grins when he hears those comments. He always knew he had that in him.
"I played basketball in high school and that helped my feet," he said. "I did get too big, but I've always had that bounce, that quickness in my feet. I took pride in keeping up with the little guys in basketball. I'd always played basketball starting real young. I played AAU and I think that set me up for football."
Charpentier came to Arkansas in the summer with 320 on his 6-4 frame. He's down to 295 after changing his nutrition. He'll start to put pounds back now, the right way.
"The coaches gave me a hard time about my body fat when I got here and I had let it get away," he said. "Just in the first month, I dropped 15 pounds and two percent body fat. I've dropped another five or six pounds and another one percent. I don't think I'll lose much more. I'm going to start adding lean muscle from this point. I'd like to play at 310."
He's all about hard work. It's in his name, that has its roots in France.
"My family roots go all the way back to Acadia, in France," he said. "My grandfather still can speak French. I can pick some of it up, but can't speak it. I know the phrases, though."
Most don't say his name right. He offered a pronunciation guide, Sharpen-Tee-A. It's not T-ier, the most common mistake.
"Tee-A would be right," he said. "It's a French word for carpenter, or a hard worker. I like that. It's a good name."
It's a good name for an offensive lineman. Charpentier thinks he'll play guard, but he's not against center. He played guard, tackle and some center in high school. But he knows Travis Swanson might be entrenched at center the next three years.
"What you want is to be able to play all of those inside spots, make yourself more valuable, so I'll take some snaps," he said. "You want to be able to do a little of everything so if someone goes down, you can shift things around. The good teams have versatility in their front. In our system, you learn both sides. I've always been just a right side player, so I'm learning the sets on the left side. I've run some scout team center so I'm getting a feel for snapping."
Scout team has been a learning experience.
"It's never easy to go from one of the main players in high school to just giving the varsity a look," he said. "You are fresh meat again. But you can get that mindset and everyone had to go through it. It's good for the team.
"I knew that was going to be the routine. I believe Coach (Chris) Klenakis was the one who told me that you just don't have the same strength as a junior or senior in college when you are 18 or 19. You are just going to get more natural strength in time. I knew I wasn't ready to play when I got here, so it was going to be scout team.
"It's not just the strength. There is a lot to learn in this offense.
"It's still tough. You work all week with the team, then they are off somewhere and you are watching on TV.
"But our time is coming. We just have to make sure we prepare for our time. I know I'm getting stronger, faster and learning, too.
"Losing the weight and gaining strength has helped my speed. I probably couldn't see myself pulling and running with a linebacker when I got here. I do now. Everybody moves fast in this league, so you better do what you can to make yourself quick. I don't think it registered that I was getting quicker until one day in practice I was pulling on the scout team and running with one of our linebackers. I came back to the huddle one day and Coach Veltkamp was bragging on me for my speed. That's nice to get a compliment like that."
Charpentier said their game day is on Saturday morning.
"We wake up at 7 a.m. and it's the hardest workout of the week," he said. "There are games, but none of it is easy. I think the first few times it was torture. Then, it gets better.
"The rope workout is really difficult. You are sore from the week's workout, then you do that. It takes all of that out of you."
The medicine ball frisbee game isn't easy, but it brings a lot of fun.
"You take two steps and make a pass — with an eight-pound medicine ball," he said. "Your body is dead, but you are laughing and having a good time. Your arms and legs are jello, pretty tired.
"It's a time to come together as a group, develop that bond. That's what they are looking for I think, and that's what is happening."
Luke Charpentier (65) was a basketball player long before he became a football prospect.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
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