If football is going to be discussed, Ken Hatfield wants to be there. So it wasn't a surprise when the winningest coach in Arkansas history popped into the speaker lineup announcement for the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday.
“It just keeps getting better,” said Hatfield, a regular at NWA Touchdown meetings at Mermaids. “I think it's going to be a great year for the Razorbacks and I'm excited to see it getting started and the TD Club is part of football in our community.”
The TD Club's speaker list includes Greg Schiano (Aug. 20), Bret Bielema (Aug. 27), Houston Nutt (Sept. 3), Jeff Long (Sept. 10), Tony Barnhart (Sept. 24), Butch Davis (Oct. 8), Ed Orgeron (Oct. 15). Two more speakers will be added in the next two weeks, after NFL television broadcasters get their assignments, according to Bo Mattingly, president of the NWA TD board..
But really, the question of the day isn't improvement in the TD Club lineup. It has to be whether or not the Razorbacks get better. Hatfield thinks they do and lists improvement from junior quarterback Brandon Allen as the chief reason.
“I've watched Brandon all the way through high school, know his background growing up as a coaches' son and I see his talent,” Hatfield said. “He's healthy now. It's tough when you don't practice your quarterback. It's tough on the coaches when you don't have your quarterback at practice.”
Hatfield toiled through a year with a quarterback battling a shoulder injury. Greg Thomas could hardly throw in 1987. It changes everything you do.
“The key is staying injury free,” Hatfield said. “You look at any successful team, any championship team, the key was avoiding injuries. You get breaks. Did Auburn get some breaks last year? They got some incredible bounces and that's what you see for every successful team.”
Hatfield thinks there will be more going right for Allen than a healthy shoulder. He said there is a natural maturation at quarterback that's important.
“Sometimes it just takes time for a quarterback,” Hatfield said. “You look at our team in 1964, Fred Marshall hadn't done much, then he stepped in and took us to the national title. It takes time for it to all fit at quarterback a lot of the time. I think Brandon is going to have a great year.
“I think they have more talent at wide receiver. They have added speed at wide receiver along with ability. I think they have more talent at running back. That's a good group of running backs. And I think the offensive line is going to be better. I bet he has a lot more open receivers this year.
“That's what I really like about this offense and the ability to run the football. You will have open receivers and it gets easier for the quarterback as you progresses in the run game. That's another reason I think Brandon is going to have a good year throwing. I think he's a lot better quarterback than we saw last year. I think he's got a better team around him, too.”
Hatfield likes what he sees as far as attitude in the team. There's been an us-against-the-world mentality develop after two poor seasons. It's evident in everything you hear from the team.
Wideout Keon Hatcher sings Allen's praises as he looks at what the world outside the football building thinks of the Hogs.
"Me and Brandon have gotten a lot closer over the past couple months and that’s my boy,” Hatcher said. “We’re ready to ride.
"People were down on us and a couple of people were down on Brandon," Hatcher said. "I guess a lot of people were down. He's got his confidence and we see what's in the works. Mark my word, we are coming.
"I've been his right hand man in the last year. I've been through what he's been through and going to be there with him through thick and thin."
It's been mainly thin as the Hogs have piled up the SEC losses. Perhaps that's about to end. When it does, Ken Hatfield would be right to say he told us so.
State of the Hogs: Hatfield Sees Rise
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