Chuck Barrett started off the program Tuesday night in Batesville with the most appropriate rhetorical question of the times: Isn't it great to be a Razorback?
There was a resounding answer at the White River Razorback Club's Hog Bash. Fans packed the cafeteria at Batesville High School to hear Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino make his first spring stop amongst an adoring public. He fed them more of the same, high expectations and promises that his trademark hard work from coaches to players would only increase as the Hogs churned towards the goal, a national title. There were frequent standing ovations.
After both Petrino and offensive line coach Chris Klenakis took the stage to answer questions from Barrett, Petrino opened it up to the crowd. Almost immediately a fan wanted to know if he should book tickets now for the 2011 national title game in New Orleans?
"If I could make predictions, I'd get in a different line of work," he said. "But what I will say to that is that we are going to have a football team that believes it is going to compete for a national title.
"In recruiting, when we brought in players this year they told us they were excited about our program because they saw players here that believe they are working to be national champions. It's a pretty tough league. We do believe we have a chance to win every time we take the field. Once in a while the ball has to bounce the right way and we certainly think we are due."
Barrett had already primed the audience by asking if Petrino thought he'd be in a BCS game after three years when he first got to Arkansas?
"I did expect a BCS game," Petrino said. "But I expected it to be in the national championship game.
"We started last season with high expectations. I think our players, our coaches and even the wives of our coaches expected it. I learned a long time ago to set high goals. I was taught by my father not to be afraid to try for something special. He taught me to reach for the rainbow.
"Now I know you have to back them up with your actions with work ethic. You have to conduct your business right. We are looking forward to the next season. We know what we did this year gets us zero wins to start the season. This is going to be a different team with different challenges."
The chief challenge might be to develop chemistry in an offensive line with three new starters. Both Petrino and Klenakis mentioned continuity in coaching as a plus in that challenge. Petrino had a one-liner in that respect when he took the microphone just after Klenakis.
"I always learn something when I listen to Coach K," Petrino said. "I used to think offensive linemen were just guys who liked dinner more than holding hands with girls."
Klenakis, who noted redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Travis Swanson are emerging as leaders, had just explained that one of the ways the offensive line developed chemistry last season was a reward system based on some props and a catch word.
"Coach Petrino and I came up with this; we called ourselves The Union in the offensive line," Klenakis said. "We are The Union up front. I think it's a blue collar game for hard workers up front. We always feel like our bunch is going to do the hard work. We are going to grind no matter if it's sleet, snow or rain. We are going to be a union and bring our hard hats.
"We had hard hats with The Union written on them. We had one for everyone. We took pride in our work ethic. We gave awards for great performances. It was a gratification thing. Maybe there isn't a lot of awards for what we do, but there is personal gratification when the group does well and that's what being The Union is all about. We are still going to be The Union."
Asked about returning all members of the coaching staff, Petrino pointed to Klenakis as an example of the benefit.
"First, I think that they are all here is a tremendous tribute to the state of Arkansas and also what living in Northwest Arkansas means to us," he said. "Everyone on our staff wants to be here.
"With everyone back, it's now going to be about taking the next step forward and continuity in staff really helps. Our staff works extremely hard together. They have passion and pride that comes with us to work every day."
Petrino mentioned the depth and talent at running back, then added, "We should be good at running the ball. But we have to bring the offensive line around, although when we watch the video of last year I know we can be better there. Coach K has brought us some new techniques that we will be better at this year."
That's the stuff that makes fans ask if they should book another trip to New Orleans.
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