LITTLE ROCK – If Wednesday's Little Rock Touchdown Club meeting is any indication, Razorback Nation is starved for football season.
New Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema spoke before the club's first-ever soldout crowd – one of over 700 fans that was so big it had to be moved to the Marriott (formerly the Peabody) from its current venue of the Embassy Suites.
Bielema, who will speak at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club next Wednesday, said it was his 65th different speaking engagament since taking over ths Razorbacks in December.
"The one thing that I can say 100 percent even before we have played one down is on my trips around Arkansas – every where I have been in the state of Arkansas – is everything I could have ever imagined times one thousand," Bielema said. "It has been absolutely unbelievable everywhere I have been."
That being said, he is ready to quit speaking and just coach for the season opener Aug. 31 against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"My jokes have run down, my wit has run down," Bielema said. "I am just ready to coach some football. This is my last event that I will speak at (outside of Fayetteville)..My attention now will be reserved for 120 young men in Fayetteville."
Before his speech, Bielema met with a small media group and noted that sophomore wide receiver D'Arthur Cowan has injured his foot in practice and will be out 6-8 weeks.
That is one of several injuries that have occurred in preseason camp, but Bielema says his team is still posied for success.
"We are two weeks and three days into it," Bielema said. "This afternoon we will have a practice that is where almost half the practice is devoted to Louisiana-Lafayette – offense defense, special teams – and we will do the same thing tomorrow.
"Friday we will go over a lot of different situations and if all goes well I am going to let them get their feet back under them Saturday and Sunday we will start up game week," Bielema added. "I can tell you there is no coach more excited in the country for game week to get here."
Bielema said he tried to tell the returning players that he understood what they went through last season – a Top 10 preseason team that crashed to a 4-8 season.
"When I came in December, I basically told the group of young men that were in that room – before we had any recruits in that room – that no one in college football has been through what you have been through," Bielema said.
"No one described that to you on your recruiting visit, no one talked to you about it during the recruiting process, no one dreamed of it on signing day, but you lived it," Bielema continued. "You now have to be the champion of that moment. That year may not have been the most fun and as bad as I hurt for the players, I know fans take it even harder.
"...I can assure you this, if there is another team in the country that is more eager and more excited to prove to you guys what we have built, I would like to know who it is," Bielema added. "Because since the time I walked in there they are the most enagaged group, have done everything I could ever ask of them, there is a lot of talent in that room that hasn't been displayed."
Bielema noted that he was looking forward instead of behind.
"When we came back in January, we said we are not going to talk about the past, we are only going to concentrate on the future," Bielema said. "...There wasn't any mention of how we used to do it. It was all about 'what you want coach.'
"One of things I asked of them was go to class, be on time, get involved with community service – do all the things that have nothing to do with football," Bielema added. "We ended up the spring semester with the high g.p.a. since (AD) Jeff Long had been there."
He also noted that there are guys ready to take the stage now that have not been on it in the past.
"We have some guys that maybe weren't players in the past that have all of a sudden become really, really good players," Bielema continued. "I'm excited to see them go against competition."
He talked about how they had embraced the grind.
"The grind is very, very difficult," Bielema said. "A lot of times games are won because somebody gives up. They give up mentally or physically and say 'hey, this is too tough, I am going to quit.'
"I like to grind in a way that I don't think these guys were used to, but that's okay," Bielema said. "We have taught them how to and they have done it."
Bielema said he has learned a lot about his team this preseason.
"What is really fun for me is now I know this team," Bielema said. "I know when they need a day off. I know when they need a kick in the butt. I know what they need. The one thing I don't know is what is going to happen on game day. I have tried to make it as hard and as difficult as a I can, but I won't know until the game hits.
"I have a great indication, but it is going to be a lot of fun for me next Saturday as well," Bielema added.
One of the new bits of knowledge he dropped on the crowd was that Arkansas will wear all white on the road this season.
"At home we are going to be wearing red jerseys with white pants with red helmets, black socks and black shoes and black accessories," Bielema said. "Out on the road we are going to be in all white – we'll have white pants, white jerseys, white helmets."
He also noted that there will be some new pregame fanfare.
"There will be a few new things, but obviously we are still going to run through The A and do all the things that make Arkansas great, but there are going to be some things to interact with the crowd," Bielema said.
Bielema lauded the job done in the off-season by strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
"Ben Herbert and his weight staff has done a tremendous job with our players remolding some bodies," Bielema said. "We had a guy put on 20 pounds, a guy lose 20 pounds. He has done an unbelieveble job except for the head coach. I have put on a lot of weight, but our players have been doing a really good job."
He started his day in meeting with his team and then took a tour of War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock before addressing the LRTC.
"I walked through War Memorial this morning and my video director was with me and he was all excited about it," Bielema said. "He thinks he's got all the right angles.
"We also brought our recruiting staff with us because it is considered a home game for us and we can have a number of our recruits here," Bielema said. "We've got some (players) from Little Rock and we want more and more from Little Rock because they are absolutely kicking butt over there in our facilities and doing every thing we asked them to do."
Photos courtesy of David Harten of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema spoke to over 700 fans Wednesday at the Little Rock Touchdown Club.
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