David Beach

State of the Hogs: Luke Hannon Committed to Razorbacks

Luke Hannon is ready to hang up his shoulder pads after wearing out the 7A West the last three years at Springdale Har-Ber. He's committed to Arkansas, but it's as a pre-med student.

The Arkansas football recruiting haul was solid, especially the quarterback and the four defensive linemen. The needs were filled with four linebackers, too.

There were some misses, though. Perhaps Bret Bielema would have liked one more elite running back.

And, if running back depth does become an issue in the next few seasons, there's an answer staying loose on the intramural fields. Luke Hannon will be easy to find, too. He'll be one of those crazy students in the first row at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"I'll probably have my chest painted," Hannon said. "I've always wanted to be in that group since I was small."

Make sure on this, Hannon is committed to the Razorbacks. He's committed to being the best fan possible and the best pre-med student at the UofA.

Hannon has been committed to the plan since last summer. He told his high school coach to tell college football recruiters to stop calling him out of classes at Springdale Har-Ber. He was focused on having a great year with "a great 22-man senior class."

There were plenty of shots at football scholarships. Henderson State did place an official offer on the table and there were calls from most of the Ivy League schools and most colleges in and around Arkansas. There was even a call 10 days ago from Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to ask Hannon to accept an invitation as a preferred walkon for the Tigers.

"That was nice," he said. "I had a really good day at the 7-on-7 tournament at Auburn last summer. My high school coach was Gus Malzahn's offensive coordinator. Rhett Lashlee took me over to meet Gus. He was complimentary of how I played there. But that's too far away. I just wasn't interested."

What if Arkansas had issued the same invitation?

"Yes sir," he said. "I'd do that."

But Hannon was just an observer when a big cast of Har-ber students from many sports celebrated signing day Wednesday.

"It stunk," he said. "I liked it for all of those who signed. I went to all of them. But the whole time I have to admit that I was thinking it could have been me, too. But, I never said it should have been me. I am proud of my decision to focus on school."

Hannon is done with football, except for intramurals. He's been "content" to walk away from football in pads since last summer. He was clear on his plan to become an optometrist, starting with pre-med at Arkansas.

"I'll major in biology," he said. "I'll have six years of school. It's eight if you want to be an MD."

The idea of becoming an optometrist began early in high school when it became obvious he needed his eyes checked.

"I got bad eyes," he said. "I had to wear contacts to play the last two years. I don't like them. I wear glasses the rest of the time."

Make no mistake about Hannon's vision on the football field. He sees everything. It's the first thing I noticed as I watched him play as a ninth grader. There are things that are missing that keeps him from being an SEC tailback, but vision is not one of them.

"I do see things, but without my contacts, mainly I just see color," Hannon said, as in the opposition's jersey color.

It's a joy to watch him run. He is full speed in an instant, sees the cut and makes the right one each time. At 6-0, 190, he's not big, but he'll hit you with everything he's got and the first one does not get him down. His knees pump and there is a great stiff arm. He'll spin and churn for more.

"I don't have speed or strength," Hannon said. "I'm not extra ordinary in any category. My teammates call me 'Pot Belly,' because I don't have a six pack like the other running backs we've had here.

"But I could see where there weren't any defenders. I knew I had to get going quick.

"If you watch Alex Collins, he's got that stutter step. He can make you miss. I can't do that. I just get downhill."

It's fun to watch. Mitch Petrus, the former Arkansas offensive guard, did the sideline reporting for the TV broadcast of the state title game with Fayetteville. He gushed over Hannon's style.

"That's what an offensive linemen wants to see," Petrus said. "I love Luke Hannon. The first man is not going to get him down. He runs with a lean and uses everything he's got."

Hannon smiles a lot anyway. He's just a happy person. But he beams bright at the reminder of the praise from Petrus.

"Of course, I watched him as a young boy," Hannon said. "That was just awesome. I heard about it right after the game. I couldn't watch it for about two months. I do appreciate what he said about me. Really, everyone has always said positive things."

How could you not? Opponents respected him. Teammates loved him. All he did was carry the ball for three years, never turning down a significant carry in the best conference in the state.

It started as a sophomore. There were some injury problems at tailback on the varsity. Hannon played in a JV game on Monday night only to find out on Tuesday afternoon he might be needed on Friday night at Fort Smith Southside.

"The sophomores practiced before school," Hannon said. "So in last period, I had class when the varsity practiced. That Tuesday in class, I got a text to come to varsity. I didn't even have a jersey for that afternoon."

By game time, Hannon was listed as the backup. When the starter went down on the first play, the 165-pound sophomore was in. He rushed 32 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Hannon never saw that tape since he wasn't in the Hudl system at that point.

That was the start of 617 carries for 3,894 yards, including 2,083 as a senior when he was Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Player of the Year. All of those numbers are bests for a Springdale running back, Bulldog or Wildcat. He averaged 160 yards as a senior, 6.7 per carry.

Hannon credits his coach, Chris Wood, and a solid supporting cast for much of that. It's true that the passing game is important with Wood.

"No one ever played us with a nine-man front," Hannon said. "We could throw. My quarterback, Fuller Chandler, made them play us honest."

Hannon had his share of long runs, but it wasn't because of burning speed. I asked for his 40 speed. There was laughter.

"Really, I don't know," he said. "I don't know if I've ever been timed. Maybe 4.78."

Really, he's faster than that. You can't do what he did in 7A-West without some wheels. I'd guess 4.6.

"My running form is bad," he said. "My track coach said I pick up my knees real high. With my style of running, you can't cycle your steps fast enough. So I'm not a breakaway guy."

That style served him well. Those knees did pump high. Diving defenders came away empty.

"I probably stepped over and jumped a few," he said. "What I do remember is when I'd stiff arm someone."

Obviously, durability was a strong suit. There were injuries, but Hannon was always ready to go.

"I got hit on the knee a few times and had dead leg," he said. "I think I dislocated my shoulder a few times. If I raise my arm too high, it might come out. It pops back in. I got a bad bruise on the floating rib in my back. That was probably the worst.

"I'd be sore each week. My coaches knew I couldn't do a whole lot at the start of the week. But I'd be refreshed by the walk through on Thursday."

There were two highlight weeks, back-to-back wins over Bentonville and Fayetteville that carried the Wildcats to the 7A-West title. Hannon went for 333 yards on 47 carries as the Wildcats upset No. 1 Fayetteville. It was a back-and-forth game for the ages with Hannon rushing for four touchdowns.

But it was one of his two catches that will go down as one of the all-time great high school plays. He made a circus catch on a Hail Mary for a touchdown to end the first half.

"We were just running clock before the half and we got in position to go for the home run on the last play," Hannon said. "Chandler got away from pressure and took a giant hit to get it off. I focused on the ball and timed my jump. I let Joey Savin, their DB, go up first. I wanted to be above him coming down."

It couldn't have been timed better.

"He had it and so on his way down, I stripped it away and it fell on my chest when I hit the ground," he said. "Then, I just held it up to the ref to make sure he knew I had it. What I have to say is that Joey Savin had three interceptions for them in the state title game. Kudos to him. He got us back."

Fayetteville won the state title, but Har-Ber ended with an 11-2 campaign and the 7A-West title.

"I'm content," he said. "I didn't get all of my goals and I did have state championship written down. But I got the others."

The goals are written on a piece of paper stuck to the mirror in his room.

"I put it there on April 21, 2015," he said. "It says be the first in Springdale history to rush for 2,000. I did 1,500 as a junior so I figured I could get 500 more. I wrote lead 7A in rushing two straight years. Win a state championship. I thought all of that could happen."

It was a pretty good way to go out.

"Yeah, I'm content," he said. "I won't play in any more games. I've been going to some kind of practice since I was in eighth grade. Every day. I am going to get a job this summer. I've never had a summer job.

"And, I'm going to sit in the student section at Razorback games. My sister, Grace, is a sophomore. She got me in that section last year. It was awesome. I've always watched the students and wanted to be with them. I grew up a Hog fan. I've been going for 17 years."

Just in case Luke Hannon is needed, look for him in the first row. It would be appropriate if he's the one with the "S" on his chest.

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