State of the Hogs: Patient Back

One of the Arkansas seniors likes the scope and limits to his role in the offense just fine, but he's got some moves saved if the Hogs need him to tote the ball in the Superdome.

Here's a description of one of the valuable seniors on the Arkansas football team as the Razorbacks prepare for Ohio State in the BCS Sugar Bowl:

Tough, hard-nosed blocker with great hands ... 6-2, 245 ... hails from the Little Rock area ... can help in the run or pass games ... one of the cogs that makes the Razorbacks go on offense ... definite NFL prospect ... follow him as he moves around in the backfield or at tight end and you will usually find the ball ... good leader ... playing his best football ... fast, with exceptional leg strength ... dependable option on the goal line or in short yardage situations.

No, that's not a description of tight end D. J. Williams, although it would fit in his bio, too. No, that's what NFL scouts, coaches and teammates are saying about fullback Van Stumon.

Stumon has been a force both blocking and in the play-action passing game as the Hogs have rolled to six straight victories en route to a 10-2 regular season. He's considered an NFL prospect because of his blocking and soft hands in the passing game.

The North Little Rock product played both tailback and linebacker in high school. He played both fullback, tight end and linebacker early in his UA career under Houston Nutt's regime, but moved to defensive tackle when he loaded up on weight when Bobby Petrino arrived. He moved back to fullback and tight end his last two seasons, with impressive results.

Stumon has been leading the way for Knile Davis down the stretch, smashing linebackers and safeties as the UA running game has taken over games in the fourth quarter. His play at fullback has been spectacular at times.

"We watch film together on Friday nights and see the highlights," said Ray Dominguez, offensive tackle. "You can have a little fun and not concentrate so much on your own play, just watch a teammate. The offensive line likes to watch Van's blocks. He's amazing.

"On the goal line, we might have a blocking scheme that wipes out everything inside and leaves one man outside for Van to clean up and seal. He's going to wipe them out. He gets them and we just holler when we watch the highlights."

Davis credits Stumon for some of the clinching blocks in most of his touchdown runs.

"We'll get in two-back sets with Van in front of me," Davis said. "You know he's going to get his man. You can count on making a cut off his block. And he loves doing it."

Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee wouldn't give away any Sugar Bowl game plans, but when asked about Stumon's possible role against a physical Ohio State defense there was a clear hint that the big fullback would be needed.

"We don't always have two-back sets in the game plan, so you never know," McGee said. "It might be that we are in one-back and use the tight end more in certain game plans. But, yeah, this could be a game that a physical two-back set is needed. That could put Van in the game more. We'll have to wait and see.

"Van has been pretty good all year. He's given us a very good two-back running game in front of Knile.

"But we have a lot of formations we like. We like to pull the fullback and add another tight end. And we like to go with three wide receivers and just one back, too.

"We do know that we have a pretty good two-back set with Knile and Van. They have been very effective together."

Stumon blossomed last year, but he has been more explosive in his blocking this season. One of the keys is a lighter, faster body. He's listed at 266, but that's not been accurate since last winter.

"I lost a lot last summer," he said. "I just wanted to get as fast as I could. I wasn't trying to be a certain weight, just work on my speed and let my weight settle somewhere to make me quicker. I think it settled out at 245 and I know I'm faster. It just happened naturally. No special diet, no change in eating habits."

At least no attempt at holding weight. That's what he did three years ago when coaches suggested that defensive tackle was his best spot -- and an area of special need for the defense.

"I did eat a lot and got to 283," he said. "That's probably the biggest I ever was on the scales."

Finally, the Hogs found enough defensive tackles, ends and decided linebacker wasn't his best spot, either. Running backs coach Tim Horton was happy when Stumon was sent to his meeting room.

"He bounced around a lot of places," Horton said. "We've really found a home for him now. He's had a great attitude all the way through it. He's definitely been a big part of what we do both at tight end and fullback the last year." Stumon didn't ever care where coaches put him. He just wanted to contribute.

"I figured they knew best," he said. "If they wanted me at defensive tackle, I was alright with that. Fullback was fine. Defensive end or linebacker was fine. I was just intent on getting ready to help the team with what it needed.

"I just kept working and kept faith in the coaches. I just went with what they told me. It was a long journey, but it worked out."

Horton loves the production from Stumon.

"What you love first is that he's patient and ready when you call his name," Horton said. "When he goes in the game, he performs. We have a lot of formations and all of them don't include him, but when it's his turn he really makes the most of it.

"Really, Van has played an integral part in our offense. Knile Davis and our offensive line have grown up and matured. But Van is a football player and has a very good skill set. He can block, catch it and is a good runner -- if we ever gave him a chance with the ball."

Stumon laughed about that last line.

"I'm ready," he said. "I don't expect many carries, if any. But if they were to give me the ball in the Sugar Bowl, that might surprise Ohio State. I promise to do something special if I get the chance. I might have something saved for this game!"

That's probably not something that will keep Ohio State's defensive coordinator up at night, given the other weapons in the Arkansas attack.

"No, they aren't spending any time getting ready for me," Stumon said. "I told our coaches if they give it to me, I'm going to show people some stuff."

But that's not why NFL scouts love Stumon. "I think it's because of my blocking and my hands," he said. "My job is to cover someone up in the running game, let our running back operate."

Cover someone up? That's really soft selling what Stumon does.

"Well, maybe," he said. "I loved to hit when I played defense. I don't get to tackle anyone playing fullback. But I still like to keep that headhunter mentality, just keep pounding on them and hopefully that wears them down for the fourth quarter. I just find my man, then try to run through them. We just call it covering someone up. It's more physical than that."

Stumon has heard the NFL draft talk, but really doesn't sound too caught up in that. He's aware of the talk, but doesn't dwell on it.

"That's what I hear," he said. "That's fine. Right now, we have another game. It's been a dream season and I don't want it to end."

When did he hear NFL teams might be interested?

"Oh, probably that was about the middle of the season," Stumon said. "I think we were playing on TV and one of the commentators mentioned that the NFL scouts liked me. We've heard it a lot more since then. Hey, that's fine, but right now we have a game to play."

And perhaps a new running threat to unveil.

Van Stumon heads for the end zone with a reception.

Photo by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated

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