Hayden Johnson spent the first week of 2016 on vacation in the Dominican Republic with his family.
The only problem was that the three-star fullback from Columbia (Mo.) Rock Bridge High had a hard time finding somewhere to watch the Liberty Bowl.
“I found a little bar that had the game on,” Johnson said. “I searched the whole town. (The game) was in Spanish, but we got to see it. I couldn’t (understand it), but I could watch it. It was pretty entertaining.”
The TVs had soccer on them, but when Johnson and his family changed it to football, the bar cleared out. It was worth it, though, he said, as Arkansas beat Kansas State 45-23.
He was also excited to learn that earlier in the day, four-star running back Devwah Whaley committed to Arkansas. However, it wasn’t a surprise because he got to know him during their official visit.
“I had a good feeling that he was going to come to Arkansas in the end,” Johnson said. “I was surprised when he committed to Georgia, but with the de-commit, I knew he was going to come to Arkansas.
“I feel like we have a great bond there and we’ll have a great career at Arkansas together, so I’m really excited about him coming.”
The addition of Whaley gives Arkansas a solid 2016 recruiting class and Johnson said he believes it will lead to a lot of victories down the road.
“I’m really excited about this class,” Johnson said. “I think we have a lot of strong players coming in. We have McTelvin (Agim), Devwah, a whole lot of big names coming in and I feel like we’re really going to mesh together and really improve this team.”
Johnson had the option to graduate from high school in December and join the Razorbacks for bowl practices, like Agim, but he decided against it.
Instead, he wanted to enjoy his final semester of high school at home with his family, while also working on school. Unlike a lot of athletes, Johnson is taking several classes for college credit, including AP Calculus, because he wants to go into pre-med.
“It was a huge decision for me,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited about going down to Arkansas, but the timing was not right and I didn’t feel like it was necessary to really push it.
“You’re leaving friends, leaving family, leaving school. You leave a lot behind, but there’s a lot to look forward to.”
While in Columbia, Johnson will be working out and preparing his body for the SEC. He’ll be aided by his high school coach, former NFL player A.J. Ofodile.
Ofodile was a tight end for the Bills, Steelers and Ravens, so he has an idea of how to get Johnson ready for the next level.
“I kind of played a form of fullback here, so it’s great having that kind of mentor to really show me good technique and good blocking,” Johnson said. “He’s a great person to be here for me.”
Of course, staying in his hometown means he is just down the road from Missouri.
When the Tigers hired Barry Odom as their new head coach, Johnson was one of the first players he called to extend an offer.
“About an hour after he got named the head coach, he called me and offered me,” Johnson said. “They were very aggressive with the recruiting, but it was just a little too late for me. I feel like I have a good thing down at Arkansas and I don’t think Missouri is the right fit for me.”
Having the Battle Line Rivalry to look forward to is an added bonus for Johnson.
“It’s great having that rivalry because they didn’t offer me for the longest time,” Johnson said. “I feel like being able to come back up here and play them, I’ll show them what I got and show them what they missed out on.”