Arkansas freshman tight end Will Gragg did not try to hide his disappointment last August when he was told that he would be redshirting instead of playing during the 2015 season.
It was a blow to the ego of a young man who had over 60 offers and been told how great he was by the likes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.
But after a few days of feeling sorry for himself, Gragg (6-4, 253) simply put his head down and went back to work, especially in the weight room with Razorback strength and conditioning Ben Herbert.
“I spent the year with Herb during the redshirt year just grinding up there with him in the weight room,” Gragg said Tuesday after a spring practice. “I feel a whole lot faster. I weigh the same, but it is a different kind of weight. It is more lean. I feel like I have finally grown into my body.”
With Arkansas junior Hunter Henry declaring for the NFL draft and Alex Voelzke, there is playing time available for tight ends.
Gragg, whose brother Chris was a former Razorback tight end and is currently with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, was one of three true freshmen to redshirt last season.
“Yes, I am growing and learning the playbook more,” Gragg said. “Hunter taught me quite a bit and I have got my brother here to teach me stuff. The blocking and the playbook is coming easier.”
He admits that he has become more of a student of the game and is spending more time in the film room with Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney, Jr.
“It has been good,” Gragg said. “I have had a good couple of days just going back over the playbook and getting individual sessions with Coach Lunney and watching film.
“That is the biggest thing - just watching more film. I feel like when you watch more film you can see what to do and you can do it on the field.”
He, C.J. O’Grady (6-4, 246) and Austin Cantrell (6-4, 252) are now all working to grad some of that playing time alongside establish senior-to-be Jeremy Sprinkle and sophomore Jack Kraus.
“We are just competing and trying to see who can win the job,” Gragg said. “They are pushing me just like I am pushing then and Sprink is up there and we are trying to push him, too, to let him know to stay on his toes.
“So we are all just competing and may the best one win.”
Sprinkle, who had 27 catches for 389 yards last season and led SEC tight ends in touchdown catches with six, is the clear leader of the group.
“He has always been a leader, he and Hunter,” Gragg said. “Now he is stepping up and being more focused. He is trying to make sure that we now what to do as a leader and trying to make sure that we are not the last man standing on the weak link on the team. He has really taken that leadership role into effect.”
Gragg is working as more of an inline tight end instead of one that splits out.
“I feel like I am real comfortable with the position because I have always been like a physical-type guy,” Gragg said. “I have always been an inline blocking tight end so that part really came easy.
“They (his hands) have always been pretty good. I have to get my speed right this year and that is what I worked on in the off-season - getting faster - and that comes with getting stronger. That was the point I really wanted to stress on this off-season.”
That has allowed him to develop at that position, but he also is learning all spots he might line up.
“I think so because I can like focus on one specific position and being able to know what I need to do,” Gragg said. “But Coach Lunney stresses that we need to know what every position does on the field so it kind of helps, but I still have to learn what everybody else does, too.”