FAYETTEVILLE – Nothing can change the Missouri and Belk Bowl collapses at the end of the 2016 season, but Arkansas took another step in erasing those memories Tuesday.
The Razorbacks opened spring practice on a beautiful afternoon wearing their helmets and no other pads, per NCAA rules. Although it wasn’t full-fledged football, they were happy to be back on the field.
It was their first practice as a team since blowing the largest lead in UA history against Virginia Tech and they set out to make sure that record is never broken.
“Since that game ended, everybody’s had a chip on their shoulder and it hasn’t gone away,” running back Rawleigh Williams III said. “I think from the first day we came back, we’ve worked to be the best we can be and not let last year happen again.”
Even before Arkansas hit the practice field Tuesday, the Razorbacks started putting the end of last season behind them during the eight-week conditioning program earlier in the semester.
Strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert “ramped it up” with the workouts, resulting in what head coach Bret Bielema and several players called the most intense offseason since they have been here.
“Between conditioning and workouts with Coach Herb, it just felt like everything was twice as hard this year,” safety Josh Liddell said. “We really kind of focused on straining to finish, because last year we didn't finish a lot of games well.”
Making the offseason even better was the fact that no one – from the early enrollees up to the fifth-year seniors – missed a workout or showed up late.
It was the first eight-week cycle that has ever happened in Bielema’s four-plus years in Fayetteville and the Razorbacks are excited to carry that momentum from the weight room on to the practice field.
“It's one of those things where you can tell guys have a sense of urgency,” quarterback Austin Allen said. “I still have a bad taste in my mouth and being able to go out and play football games is kind of big for me and big for all those guys who were out there.”
Frank Ragnow, an All-American candidate at center, said that one of the keys to Arkansas’ good start this offseason has been the emergence of multiple team leaders, something the Razorbacks lacked last season.
He gave credit to younger players showing initiative and leading by example, but he admitted that he and several of his teammates are trying to do more than that.
“I regret as a junior not being more vocal,” Ragnow said. “So you see a lot of guys like myself and Austin and a lot of guys really trying to get out of our comfort zone and be a vocal leader because that’s the most important thing.”
While Arkansas would have loved to close out Missouri and Virginia Tech to cap its 2016 season, those collapses have fueled the Razorbacks to this point and will likely continue to do so until the Aug. 31 season-opener against Florida A&M.
“You think how terrible that Virginia Tech game (was), but I think overall it was a blessing to us,” Ragnow said. “If we had won that game, we would have been all happy high-tailed about it.
“In the end, our goal is to win an SEC championship and not win the Belk Bowl, no offense to that. I think losing that game really opened some eyes to some players who hadn’t really bought into the process.”