Arkansas may be more than a yard away from where it wants to be in the SEC, but it used one yard symbolically on Thursday night to show how far some Razorbacks have come this off-season.
It came when the players did their squatting maxes on the one-yard line inside Razorback Stadium according to head coach Bret Bielema, who talked about it Friday during a media session before the George Billingsley Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club’s Celebrity Golf Classic.
It was an idea hatched by strength coach Ben Herbert with the offensive players stepping under the bar at the one-yard line while the defensive ones put their feet on the goal line - simulating having their backs up against the wall.
“I had never done that, but we had this recruiting day coming and I kept challenging the staff,” Bielema said. “You read about these days at other places where they rent go-carts are race the coaches and race the coaches and give everybody high five each other and all that sounds great, but I wanted something that had substance, something that mean something to our players as well as our recruits.
“Herb came up with let’s squat out on the field, let’s put weight on the back and kind of show what we are all about.”
Bielema said it was met with great excitement from the players.
“When the kids came around the corner, they went off the charts with excitement and not just the kids that were involved in it, but our players that were watching it and we had recruits there that reacted unbelievable,” Bielema said.
“…“I knew our lighter guys, our pretty boys, would get into it, and they all rallied around those guys and created great excitement. We had recruits there, recruits’ parents and it was a pretty unique atmosphere.”
Defensive lineman DeMarcus Hodge joined the 700-pound club during the night and there were several other players that caught Bielema’s attention.
“Just to see a guy like Dan Skipper, who is 6-foot-10 gets under and he threw up 560 up like it was nothing.
“One of true freshman – (fullback) Tyler Colquitt – he came in and I think had 530 on his back and acted like it was nothing. It just gives a great indication.”
Bielema expects that improved strength to translate to the field.
“I remember when we first got here that some of the records were 450, 475 and that’s great and everything, but it is nothing like the kind of football we need to play. To be quite honest, we will be better on offense and defense because we are so much stronger in the lower body and the lower half then we were before.”
The Razorbacks are on their own next week per an NCAA rule.
"It is a discretionary week by NCAA rules,” Bielema noted. “We will come back August 3rd and meet and have our first practice on the fourth.
“Every thing is good,” Bielema said. “We still have two guys to hit campus –
(offensive linemen) Sebastian Tretola and Cameron Jefferson aren’t on campus yet, but both of them should be here sometime in the next week depending on how their paperwork comes through.
“All the freshmen are on campus, everybody with us and finished with the summer school session.”
Bielema talked about what he believes Jefferson brings to the table.
“I would say we are probably another recruiting class or two away from getting to where we need to be,” Bielema said. “One of the reasons we took Cameron because we had a need there and an opportunity to get a quality guy.
“I’m not just looking to fill bodies. I wanted the right type of body who thinks the right away. Again to say he is a captain as a junior, a multi-year starter, his dad played in the NFL, he’s got a lot of intangibles that we were looking for.”
Both Jefferson and Tretola will be worked at left guard, center and right guard.
“Cameron is a fifth-year player and even though he has been at UNLV – I think the adaptation other than terminology will be pretty quick,” Bielema said.
“Tretola is probably a little bit different in that he is a junior college player and been in a few different systems and he’ll have to learn how to adjust and how we do things, how we expect things to be done. His curve might be a little bit bigger, but each of them have a great O-line coach and we’ll be able to accelerate them pretty quick.”
Bielema was asked if it was important for fans to see progress on the field with wins this season.
“Anybody gets more excited when you win a game, but I think the guys – even like last night – it is a indication that they know they are so much more improved,” Bielema said. “We take a lot of pride in all the things we talk about as a team.
“Our guys take a tremendous amount of pride in that their team gpa (grade point average) has been higher than it ever has, their community service has been higher than it ever has, guys are staying away from issues away from the game and that’s been very, very good. I think all that stuff is an indicator from the inside of what we have going.
“The outside thing I know is great to talk about and for you to write about, but our guys and our coaches really aren’t worried about that.”
He also talked about expectations.
“I think expectations are great,” Bielema said. “Our expectation is to take it day-by-day. I know it is coach speak and a lot of you don’t like that, but we’ll take it day-by-day and we are very excited and have a challenging schedule in front of us.”
“I have kind of said it a couple of times…but we are one team specifically in the SEC that starts our opening game with Auburn and ends with Missouri- the two teams that played in the SEC Championship a year ago. Should be a great measuring stick for where we are at.”
He has no doubt his team – which went 3-9 and winless in eight SEC games last season - is better.
“From January when we came back together to today, we are better at what we asked them to get better at,” Bielema said. “We talked about the Hoganese, guys changing their bodies physically, taking a better approach to what they can handle off the field – all of those things together have got everybody very positive.
“We will get a great indicator at the Auburn game and see where we are at. The biggest thing is that our kids have much more confidence and that’s another thing that you can’t – I don’t know how much people believe me when I say it – but the fact of knowing your roster that much better and knowing who they are, where they are at, where they have come from and a little bit about their family goes along way.
“I think in certain programs it really doesn’t matter where they are just plugging guys in and you execute you really don’t care about the bigger picture, but in our program we care and we care about one another and a core part of our winning will be based on that. That’s a huge part of it.”
Arkansas will have a few players limited when practice does get underway in cornerback Tevin Mitchel and tight end turned defensive end Mitchell Loewen.
“Tevin Mitchell and Mitch Loewen are both ok for practice, but they will both be limited in the first two weeks,” Bielema said. “Two different deals - Tevin with a shoulder and Mitchell with an ACL. Those two guys will be a little bit limited coming in.”
Bielema said that the Razorbacks had a big man walking group this summer - something he said he probably should have joined.
Some of those involved were Denver Kirkland, Luke Charpentier, Bijhon Jackson and Hodge.
“We have a big man’s group with Herb having them do some extra work in the morning walking,” Bielema said. “They walk the hill, they have walked a variety of places as a group. Denver Kirkland looks incredible. His leanness is off the chart.
“Hodge is in that group, Charpie. Bijhon was in that group. There were about six, seven guys. I probably should be in that group. They did it a couple of times a week.”
Bielema also addressed a tweet he sent out after ESPN’s Car Wash interview gauntlet about not trying to make friends.
“I was just kind of flying back and read different comments and when you are stuck on a plane and all you’ve got is your phone,” Bielema said. “The part that kind of jumped out to me is I am going to be who I am no matter what and I want our players to approach it and do what they do. If that offends you, that’s your problem, that’s your prerogative.
“I didn’t mean it as a way to make any statement other than I am not going to make a statement trying to make friends. People tend to dislike they people that beat them eventually and teams that do something that you don’t believe. If we are that, it’s fine by me.”
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