As a former quarterback at Dollarway, Josh Liddell controlled the offense from the word go for the Cardinals.
Now the Razorback sophomore is doing the same thing for Arkansas, just on the defensive side of the ball at free safety.
“I would say that has probably been the biggest thing for me, playing quarterback in high school,” Liddell said Wednesday night after practice ended. “You make all the calls, all the decisions in high school so just having that experience I can do it again - just this time on defense. It has been a big help.
“It is a huge advantage for me. I know what quarterbacks like to see, I know what they don’t like to see, I know what they have to read and I try to kind of manipulate them into thinking something else and turn it into an advantage for our defense.”
Liddell (6-1, 210) has been a standout defensively in preseason camp for Arkansas secondary coach Clay Jennings.
“He has had a solid one,” Jennings said. “He is becoming a kid that we can hang our hat on. He is becoming the quarterback back there. He is becoming vocal. He can get a lot more people lined up.
“The one thing about being a great free safety is not only knowing what everybody can do and not just what he is supposed to do. That’s one thing that excites us most as a staff here at the University of Arkansas.”
Jennings thinks Liddell - who started two games at strong safety last season and had 12 tackles while playing in 12 contests - having played quarterback in high school is a big advantage for him in college.
“It does because as a quarterback everyone in that huddle is looking at you so as a free safety, you are the quarterback of that defense,” Jennings said. “When you make a check, everybody else is counting on you to be right because it you are wrong that means that at least six of the seven in the backend have a chance to be wrong as well, too.
“He sees the field, he does a great job of communicating pre-snap as far as recognition of sets and then within the play he does a great job of communicating routes and getting other people fitting where they need to be.
“He is always going to be where he needs to be and that’s what is kind of pleasantly surprising and we can take comfort in knowing he is going to do exactly what we want to do because he is a pleaser on and off the field.”
Liddell seems comfortable in his role as a leader on defense according to Jennings.
“The one thing that you really love about Josh is he is really trying to accept the role of being a leader,” Jennings said. “He is communicating well. He is busting his hump getting where he is supposed to be and he's getting the other guys lined up. He gets them going in the right direction.
“The growth that he has had not only from last fall and the spring but from the spring to now has been tremendous.”
Liddell started the Ole Miss game and had three tackles and also had a trio of tackles while starting in the Advocare Texas Bowl.
“It's a huge confidence boost,” Liddell said. “…That’s confidence for me to know I've done it before so I can do it again. It's just football.”
Jennings has seen Liddell just grow from that first start.
“Starting the bowl game and having the chance to start the Ole Miss game and then 15 solid practices where he never missed a beat and stayed healthy for the most part this fall camp has been great for him,” Jennings said. “He's learning how to fight through adversity so when he gets a little tired he is able to fall back on his fundamentals and make plays.”
Liddell doesn’t want to classify his job as difficult.
“I wouldn't say it's difficult but it is a challenge and have to be ready for it,” Liddell said. “I just have to get in there and watch film and know what's going on.”
It also helps that Liddell has gone from 190 to 210 since last summer while working with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
“Coach Herb and his staff really got me ready for this season,” Liddell said. “I have gained 21 pounds since I’ve been here. I am bigger and faster and I am stronger and I am ready to go this year.”
Arkansas has gone to work this week on season-opening foe UTEP.
“I saw film on them and they have a very good running back and I know he rushed for over 1,000 yards,” Liddell said. “They have some fast receivers that can really stretch us out vertically and give us some problems there. They have a lot of stacks and cuts that you have to get ready for. It will be a good challenge for us.”
Arkansas did not have a very good practice on Tuesday, but rebounded well on Wednesday according to Jennings.
“The kids had great energy,” Jennings said. “Third day of class couldn't ask for anything more. A heck of a lot better than yesterday. The kids were flying around, not as many mental busts. It wasn't like they were the walking dead. No zombies around. A lot of energy and a lot of communication and guys flying around the ball.”