There was a changing of the guard last spring. Mark it down specifically as April 28 in Warren.
Jarius Wright, Arkansas' career receiving leader, watched the TV as he was drafted in the fourth round by the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 118 overall pick.
In the same room, Cobi Hamilton, the Razorbacks' leading returning receiver, took in the moment — one that could be his own next spring.
"It was real fun to sit there and see dreams come true within my eyes," Hamilton said. "Hopefully I can be in the same position."
Playing understudy to Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs for three years, Hamilton still managed to make a name for himself, combining 6-foot-3 size with track speed.
He didn't finish higher than fourth on the team in receptions any of his first three years, but the senior's 1,519 career receiving yards ranks No. 15 on the UA career list, while his 13 touchdowns are tied for 10th.
Now, with Wright, Adams and Childs' graduated and in the NFL, Hamilton is the Hogs' lone returning receiver with more than 200 career receiving yards.
"My mind frame is that I am the guy now," Hamilton said. "So I've got to suck it up and catch the balls and do everything those guys would do if they were still here. I've got to take the loads. I didn't have to do it last year. I have to do it this year."
He's being touted as one of the top receivers in the nation.
CBS' NFLDraftScout.com tabs Hamilton a second-round pick, a slot two rounds higher than where his former teammates were taken. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him the No. 1 senior receiver in the nation.
"It's a mission to go grab it," Hamilton said. "It's one thing to be a prospect and another to go grab it and get it and be No. 1. That's one thing I've got to take to heart this summer and throughout fall camp."
Intent on becoming the go-to receiver as a senior, Hamilton opted to fully concentrate on offseason workouts instead of running track for coach Chris Bucknam, a second sport he competed in his first two spring semesters on campus.
"It was my decision," Hamilton said. "I got a lot more accomplished. I just felt like it was my last year. I knew I needed to focus on the weight room and focus on being a better football player."
The result was a 4.37 40-yard dash, a time that ranked fifth on the team, the first time he'd cracked the top 10 in his three offseasons.
"This is the only year I really trained for the 40," Hamilton said. "I took my time out and studied my film on the 40."
Hamilton's teammates noticed a change in the way he's carried himself in the offseason.
Hamilton is the only senior among seven scholarship receivers on the roster, a corps that will add five freshmen in the summer. Wright was a captain as a senior in 2011, leaving a leadership role to fill.
"I'm the oldest in the receiving group and I made a lot of plays around here, so I feel like that leadership load will be upon me," Hamilton said. "I really just try to communicate. Just tapping guys on the butt. Simple stuff like that. Being a little bit more vocal. If coach (Kris) Cinkovich asks a question or anything like that, I'm one of the first to yell out the coverage or the answer to any question he asks."
Without Wright, Adams or Childs, Hamilton will likely become a more popular target for senior quarterback Tyler Wilson in the fall.
"Cobi came out with a different attitude this spring," Wilson said. "He came out with the attitude that he wants to be the best receiver in the entire class at his position. He can be. With that demeanor and that explosiveness and excitement, he changed as a person. As a quarterback, I'm like ‘I want to throw it to that guy because he makes plays.'"
With offensive coordinator Paul Petrino calling plays, the duo connected often during spring practice, including Hamilton's 11-catch, 156-yard performance in the spring game.
"A lot of coaches like to spread the ball around, but coach Paul Petrino's method is feed the studs, feed the playmakers," Hamilton said. "He's going to call plays for you if you go out there and make plays for him."
One way Petrino could get Hamilton the ball in the fall is by lining him up all over the field. Working as part of a deep receiving corps his first three seasons, Hamilton has lined up at all three receiver positions at some point.
"I think it does help him," Wilson said. "I think that's something he'll continue to work on in the offseason is knowing every spot and the routes everywhere. It gets complicated because you're on the left side of the field one play and you flip and you're on the inside slot and how that changes route-wise. If Cobi continues to understand that and work, the sky's the limit for him and I'm excited."
Hamilton has proven he can be a big-play receiver regardless of where he lines up. In addition to the 13 career touchdowns, he has four 100-yard games and 25 catches of 20 yards or more.
He's been big in big games.
He caught touchdown passes against Alabama and Kansas State last season. As a sophomore, he had three catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the win against LSU, including the 85-yard score at the end of the first half that gave the Hogs momentum heading into the locker room.
Without any other proven receivers on the roster, though, he could attract a lot of attention from opposing defenses, especially early in the season.
"I'm not really worried about being double-teamed," Hamilton said. "We've got a lot of great players around me. Marquel Wade, Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon — those are some of the guys who had a great spring and are more than capable of making plays on Saturdays.
"A lot of these guys, nobody really knows their name. They're anxious to get out there and make plays and have everybody know who they are."
Defenses, NFL scouts and Wilson will likely all pay a lot more attention to Hamilton this fall.
It's his chance to prove himself without his three graduated teammates. Maybe even become the best of the bunch.
"I took a lot of their skills and I play with mine," Hamilton said. "I always try to compare myself to all three of them. That's helped me a lot throughout my career. It might be a little bragging rights thing."
Hamilton On a Mission
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