The combination of junior tailback Alex Collins and junior tight end Hunter Henry give the Razorbacks two of college football’s top underclassmen NFL skill prospects.
But both of those young men are clear about not having their eyes on anything but helping Arkansas win this season.
Collins is coming off a sophomore season in which he rushed for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns and will take on an increased role with the loss of senior tailback Joanthan Williams to a season-ending injury.
“We play a lot of great teams and we put up a fight no matter what the team is and every game is a close game.
“I feel like they know that as well to definitely not to count us out this year because we battle, we fight, sometimes the outcome isn’t what we want, but at the end of the day we know we are walking off that field that if we lost we could have just changed a little bit and beat them. I think we can compete with anybody in the country.”
Arkansas will host UTEP on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Collins notes his team is ready for a real game.
“Most definitely, we are all fired up, the countdown is real, all of us are counting down,” Collins said. “I am ready to get this thing going on.
“It is more exciting that it is game week, but we practice every day as if it is a game. I practice as if it is a game so I am comfortable. We want the games to feel like it is a practice, to feel like it is second nature. That is what we have been preparing for.
“It is more exciting to know that we will have fans there and we will have another team to finally hit on, but as far as preparation this is what we have been preparing for.”
Henry, who had 37 catches for 513 yards and two touchdowns last season, was recently called by Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema as the highest graded NFL draft possibility that he has had in his coaching career.
“Aw, I don't really get into all that,” Henry said. “It's an honor but I have got to go play now.”
He agrees that Arkansas is more than ready to play.
“It's been nice to have three weeks and going into the fourth week and finally having something to look forward to at the end of the week,” Henry said. “It's a good feeling.”
Henry has taken on a leadership role in a depth-heavy tight end room where a trio of highly-celebrated freshmen tight ends - Austin Cantrell, Will Gragg and C.J. O’Grady - could all be redshirting this season.
“They need to know it's a process and their time will come,” Henry said. “Just stay in the system and come to work every single day and get in Coach Lunney's ear and get in our ears and just be around and they'll pick it up knowing their time is coming.
Collins said that while it was Williams that suffered the season-ending injury, it was painful for him as well both emotionally and mentally.
“It hurt me for him,” Collins said. “I felt bad for him. I knew how important it was for him and how excited and ready he was to play. Just to take that away from him, I felt like I was him and it just hurt me as much as it hurt him.
“I just hope he has a speedy recovery and is back on his feet in no time.”
Collins said that his coaches were clear about what the tailbacks needed to do with the loss of Williams.
“It was just time for us as a group to step up,” Collins said. “We have got a man down so everybody else will get more reps so we just move forward and step up and do the role on that is called for us.”
Bielema suggested that Collins might rush for 1,500 yards this season even before Williams’ injury.
“I don’t necessarily make goals as far as yards because I feel like it will cloud my mind during game days if I was so worried about yards, yards, yards,” Collins said, “when what I need to be focused on is the game plan and just sticking to my keys.
“Anything is possible. Everybody is getting more carries so it is a goal that I can strive to achieve, but as far as yards, I never put myself on a limit and I just do the best of my ability that I can every game. At the end of the season, my stats will show for themselves.”
He does feel like the trio of junior Kody Walker, freshman Rawleigh Williams and himself could still be more productive than Arkansas was last season in the rushing game.
“Most definitely and that is what we are working on,” Collins said. “We always strive to be the best position group on the whole team and we want to be the best. Anytime our numbers are called on, we want to be there and produce. So that’s just what we work on no matter who is in the game, we want to be able to perform to the best of our abilities and give a great outcome.”
Collins is not worried about a certain number of carries a game, but more about being productive when he does get the ball.
“This is what I have been prepared for, whatever they want me to do,” Collins said. “Like I always say, I am always ready. That’s what I prepare myself for. That is why we condition and why we work hard and put all the work we did in the offseason is for times like this, the emergencies when we have to take on a little bit more work, we will be ready and prepared for it.
“So no matter whether it is five, 10, 15, no matter how many carries I get or whatever the work load I have, I am always ready."