Making A Splash

FAYETTEVILLE -- Dedrick Poole simply ran out of breath.

That's the only explanation the Arkansas tailback had for trailing off on his 50-yard catch and run during the Hogs' 22-20 loss to then-No. 7 Texas last Saturday. Poole latched onto a screen pass from Matt Jones, dodged would-be tacklers down the left sideline, then sprinted toward the middle of the field and the goal-line.

But the junior was caught from behind by a wad of Texas defenders at the 10-yard line.

"That has never happened to me," Poole said. "I think I just kind of lost my breath because I was so excited. I thought I was going to get my first touchdown.

"But my younger brother, when I talked to him after the game, he said, 'Man, it's been awhile since you made a run like that.' I was telling him, 'Yeah, it has been.'"

In fact, Poole hadn't turned in a big play -- let alone a touchdown -- since his senior season at Little Rock Central High in 2001. The highly-touted junior has experienced lots more injuries, fumble problems and backfield logjams than highlights since he arrived at Arkansas.

He might've been reeled in by the Longhorns, but after compiling 81 yards of total offense last Saturday, Poole believes his collegiate career finally turned a corner in time for tonight's game against Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder leads all Razorbacks tailbacks with 19 carries and is second behind senior DeCori Birmingham in rushing yards (58) after two games. Poole is fourth in total offense (108 yards), has three special teams tackles and coach Houston Nutt thinks his contributions will continue in his hometown tonight.

"We really believe in Dedrick Poole," Nutt said. "We believe there's a place for him and there's going to be a time when we really call on him.

"That's hard to tell a young player who's always started (in high school). Then he doesn't get to play, then he gets injured, then he fumbles - all those things add up and it can be a tough deal. But I think he has matured and now he's ready to go."

State Pride
It has been a long process for Poole, who exuded confidence when he set his eyes on Arkansas' career rushing record charts as a freshman. Poole watched stars like former Dallas running back Emmitt Smith and Detroit running back Barry Sanders and believed he could accomplish the same things.

There weren't any better running backs in high school, where Poole used his tremendous speed and game-breaking abilities to garner all-state honors as a sophomore, junior and senior at Little Rock Central. Former high school teammate and current Arkansas freshman defensive tackle Fred Bledsoe remembered Poole as an intense worker who encouraged teammates to follow his lead.

Poole rushed for 6,059 yards and 66 touchdowns in high school and was recruited by Arkansas along with current Memphis tailback and Wynne product DeAngelo Williams. Williams chose the Tigers, and after two seasons already is rushing to the top of Memphis' rushing charts.

"I just used to always watch Arkansas," Poole said. "Then you develop a certain type of pride when you're playing AAU (basketball) and stuff like that. You get to competing against other states and you develop a certain pride about yourself. I guess I just developed that. I wanted to play for my state. That's how it was."

And he figured he would make a quick impact at Arkansas.

Most of the Razorbacks who played against Poole in high school or knew about him expected the same things. Receiver Carlos Ousley transferred from Wake Forest in 2001 and believed Poole would contribute as a true freshman in a backfield that included Cedric Cobbs, Fred Talley and Brandon Holmes.

"I know when he first came up here all the hype was on him," Ousley said. "I expected him to come up and contribute right away. But it didn't work out."

'Just Being'
Poole played in 14 games as a true freshman in 2002, reluctantly splitting time at receiver and tailback. He compiled 48 yards (2 rushing, 46 receiving), returned five kickoffs, played on special teams and even completed a pass to Jones.

But the sophomore's production regressed in 2003 when he remained buried on the depth chart, playing in only three games because of hamstring and shoulder injuries. He didn't travel for the fourth game at Alabama, had surgery on a sprained shoulder and missed the rest of the season.

"You go from being the man to just being," Poole said. "You've got to wait. You come in and you've got Ced in front of you, Fred and then Brandon Holmes. Then Fred leaves and you've still got Brandon and Cedric and (De'Arrius) Howard in there. They leave and you've still got DeCori and De'Arrius.

"The injuries, with me, it was always when I was ready to make a move or I was doing well, something would happen. That's what really makes you mad."

He also had trouble holding onto the football, a trait that infuriated running backs coach Danny Nutt. Poole would put together nice plays in practice, but fumble on the next and lose a spot in the rotation.

Poole fumbled during a spring practice last April and spent close to 30 minutes sitting in the bleachers in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Nutt told him to grab a ball, find a seat in the bleachers and watch the workout.

Poole said it was a difficult - but important -lesson.

"He has been really frustrated," said Ousley, who became good friends with Poole. "He wouldn't show it at practice, but off the field he'd be stressed out. I had to talk to him about it. He'll come and ask me things because he knows I've been in the same situation for the past two years.

"He just got down on himself and frustrated and I just told him not to be like that because when your time comes, you don't want to be thinking about that."

'Totally Different Person'

Poole had a clear head on Saturday when Danny Nutt called his name and told him to spell Birmingham in the second quarter. Poole carried three times for 10 yards before the 50-yard screen play, giving Arkansas a change of pace in a game it trailed 16-14.

Poole's surge was obvious.

"Danny's been wanting to play him and wanting to play him and I've gained more confidence in him," Houston Nutt said. "We hit a point where we needed a little bit of a change and we stuck him in there on that stretch play. He has great hands, so he and DeCori are going to be in on those swing passes.

"I put him in on that and -boy! - he went to town."

Ousley was on the field with his teammate and was glad to see something positive happen for Poole. Just one week earlier, he saw frustration on Poole's face when Birmingham, Howard and true freshman Peyton Hillis handled early carries in the 63-13 season-opening blowout of New Mexico State.

But Poole's look has changed after his important contributions against Texas.

"You can see it on his face now," Ousley said. "He's a totally different person. I guess it's just knowing that he's going to get more chances from here on out and the coaches know that he'll make a play. He's been making them all in practice, but now they see he can make it in front of 80,000 (people).

"Now they'll feel more comfortable getting him the ball in situations like that."

Hillis, who has three touchdowns in his first two games, said Poole deserves it.

The Conway native, who played against Little Rock Central in 2001, said Poole adds speed and toughness to a backfield that includes Hillis, Birmingham, Howard and junior Kyle Dickerson. There's not enough carries to go around, but Hillis looked over his shoulder Wednesday, made sure nobody else was around, and made some lofty predictions for Poole.

"He's probably the best back on the team," Hillis said. "He needs to play a whole lot more and I'm expecting a lot (from him). If you don't see him get a lot of playing time in the next couple of games, something is wrong.

"Because he's probably the best back out there by far. That's just my pick."

Ousley said Poole just needs to finish what he started.

"He loves going back to Little Rock and now I know he really can't wait," Ousley said. "He may get more chances than in the past and he promised he won't get run down again."

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