FAYETTEVILLE – “Literally,” Sebastian Tretola was Big Man on Campus the day the California product arrived in the Ozarks. Somewhere in the 370-pound range then, he's been on a diet ever since and was around 340 when he stepped on the field for Homecoming on the Arkansas campus.
And, while his weight might be going down, his legend is getting larger.
Make no mistake about it now, the 6-5 Tretola is the BMOC after bouncing into the Wildcat – perhaps forever now dubbed the Wildfat – in a field goal situation. Quite possibly, Tretola became the most famous UA left guard with a 6-yard touchdown pass to snapper Alan D'Appollonio.
It gave the Hogs a 28-0 lead at the 9:11 mark of the second quarter to officially turn things into a laugher and make the old grads glad they made the trip back for the morning start on a bluebird Saturday.
Except for some discussion of special teams mess ups, the rest of the talk after the Hogs trounced Alabama-Birmingham, 45-17, was all about the new Arkansas legend in the offensive line.
Tretola's lob was as brilliant as any of the maples hitting their fall peak around Old Main. And, just think, he had no warmup, no chance to loosen up that big right shoulder before stepping into stardom for a play that will be replayed on highlights for years to come.
Head coach Bret Bielema played it to the hilt both at halftime (when he encouraged offensive linemen to come to Arkansas, where you will become famous) and in the post-game interviews. But he's been singing Tretola's praises all along, noting in August that the big man had quickly become the Hogs' best interior lineman.
It's too early for me to cast my Heisman ballot, but Tretola's adept handling of the snap and finding his snapper on the crossing route on the fade is enough to earn one of the three spots for now (and yes, I'm kidding). It appeared Tretola was posturing for just such a spot after the play in his best Heisman stance.
Tretola has been everything Bret Bielema had hoped for when he signed the massive linemen at mid-term out of Iowa Western Community College. He didn't become BMOC finishing summer classes that were not fully processed until Aug. 1.
“Literally, I was (BMOC), I guess,” Tretola confirmed. “Figuratively, I'm not so sure. And, as far as that goes, I'd like to let the stars of this team still be the stars.”
It might not be that easy. BMOC might stick.
“You got that right, BMOC is pretty good for him,” Bielema said. “That's him.”
It was a play that Bielema designed several weeks ago, thinking of it when he saw Tretola casually throw the ball in two-a-days.
“He called me into his office about three weeks ago,” Tretola said. “I thought, 'Oh, no, what have I done.' And, then he showed me what he drew up and I thought, 'You can't be serious.'
“Then, when we practiced it, I went through my progressions and it blew them away.”
There was no time for progressions this time. Tretola had a rusher in his face immediately and threw off his back foot to his first option, D'Appollonio on the out.
“I was going down and didn't see him catch it," Tretola said "I listened for the crowd and heard a gradual buildup. That's when I realized that Alan got it.”
That led to the Heisman pose.
“I did do the Heisman,” he said, declining to hit it again in the interview room. “I'm too tired to put all of my weight on one leg now.”
Tretola confirmed his current weight is 340, but still dropping.
“I'm trying to get down to about 324,” he said. “That will be pretty solid weight.”
But for now, he's glad to still fall into the “fat” category.
“That's for all my 300-plus guys,” he said, noting he did score a touchdown in high school as a tight end.
“I've never played quarterback before because I've always been a fat boy. I've got a whole new appreciation for Brandon Allen. It got a little hectic back there. After the snap, it was like it was in slow motion.”
There were a lot of thoughts that passed through his mind in quick fashion. One of his options was to run the ball.
“We'd practiced it further out,” he said. “But when I realized we were only five or six (yards) away, I thought maybe I should run it. But they were rushing me so quick, I knew I had to pass.”
One of the four or five times the Hogs practiced the play leading up to the UAB game, he did run.
“There were four options (to throw) and then the fifth was for me to run,” he said. “In practice, I got to the fourth, our kicker. This time I didn't get past one.”
D'Appolonio was covered on the first outing in practice since the Hogs have used him as an eligible receiver last year in a fake punt, something the UA defense recognized.
“The first time we ran it, we didn't have Alex Voelzke outside of me, so we added that,” D'Appollonio said. “My job was to delay, not go out until Voelzke cleared in front of me. So I was open when I did that. But Sebastian threw it really high, higher than in practice. They got close to me by the time the ball got there. So that was a little bit of a surprise.”
Bielema said that the trick was to keep the play a surprise. He cautioned Tretola not to phone his mother about the secret.
“I didn't tell a soul,” he said. “I'll call her in a few minutes.”
Bielema had instructed Tretola to take off his gloves earlier in the drive, a hint that it was coming.
“I wasn't nervous,” Tretola said. “I went into a zone. I definitely like throwing with my glove off. I like the feel of the laces in my hand.”
Tretola was hopeful that he was the biggest quarterback to throw a touchdown pass. He learned he wasn't when he did an interview with the SEC Network immediately after the game.
“I heard there was a 402-pound (quarterback) in a bowl game,” he said, noting that he was a little surprised at such instant fame.
“I told Jonathan Williams, 'So this is how it's like.' For offensive linemen, we get to run block and pass block and that's great. To do this, though is great.”
Told that Bielema made a recruiting pitch to offensive linemen at halftime when the sideline reporter grabbed him, Tretola seized the moment, too.
“That's 100 percent true, come here and this is what happens,” he said. “We need the best of the best in the O-line and you might get to score a touchdown!”
It was all Arkansas for much of Saturday. Special teams were among the things that needed to be corrected coming into the game. Field goal kicking was front and center.
Tretola's pass took away a chance for Adam McFain to try his first field goal since John Henson lost the job several weeks ago. McFain later boomed a successful 49-yarder for just the third made field goal of the season for the Hogs.
Later, there were three major lapses in special teams, ruining the shutout chances. The first two cost points. A fine goal line stand by the backup defense after UAB had first and goal from the 2-yard line erased the third goof.
First, Toby Baker's chance to take the punting job away from Sam Irwin-Hill lasted as long as it took for his line drive to make it to UAB star J.J. Nelson. The 35-yard return to the UA 10 would setup a 47-yard field goal. Irwin-Hill then returned to hammer a 54-yard punt.
Nelson found a big hole for a 100-yard kickoff return after McFain's kickoff had no hang time. D.J. Dean fumbled after trying to scoop a bouncing punt for the lone Arkansas turnover, giving the Blazers the ball just 26 yards away. The second team defense stiffened at the 1-yard line with Daunte Carr slamming Jordan Howard for a 2-yard loss on third down. Then, on fourth down, Deatrich Wise pressured quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe into an incomplete pass.
The backups gave up a touchdown bomb in the closing minutes, the only points truly allowed by the defense. Martrell Spaight led the way with nine tackles, earning the Crip Hall Award as the top senior in the Homecoming game.
That seemed appropriate after Bielema asked him to sub for defensive coordinator Robb Smith to give the keys to victory earlier in the week.
Bielema said he reached out to Hayden Fry, his coach and mentor at Iowa, earlier in the week. He said Fry's advice was to ride your “bell cow.” That's been Spaight, second leading tackler in the SEC.
“Coach Fry said you can't ride your bell cow enough,” Bielema said. “I keep getting asked by (NFL) scouts what is the difference between last year and now (for Spaight). I just say he's grown up.
“I asked Martrell to give our three keys to victory. We subbed him in for Coach Smith, who generally delivers them in an angry way. Martrell was awesome. The whole team responded.”
Spaight said he was surprised when Bielema called his name to come before the team.
“I really didn't know I was going to have to do that,” he said. “I said, 'First, stop the run, punish the running back. Two, destroy the wide receivers and read your keys with your eyes. Third, play one play at a time for four quarters.”
There was nothing in there about Tretola getting a big play, but Spaight knew it was coming on the sideline.
“I heard the call and got up from the defensive bench to watch,” Spaight said. “I saw the rush coming and I thought, 'He's about to get sacked.' Then, I saw the pass and yelled, 'Yes!'
“I heard about the Heisman pose. That's great. He looked like a 300-pound quarterback to me.”
Spaight got cautioned about celebration poses by referee Tom Ritter later in the day. He put his arm around the official, quickly realizing that was a mistake, too.
“The referee said, 'You can't do that in front of everyone,' so I just took my arm down and I said, 'I love you.' He told me to calm down.”
As is often the case, Spaight didn't know there was a Crip Hall Award, or know he'd won it.
“I'm thankful,” he said. “I'm just thankful to Coach Bielema for the opportunity to play for the Razorbacks. I owe it to him and my teammates.”
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