Monk No Moss
Nutt heard plenty of tall tales about a 6-foot-6, 225-pound two-sporter from East Poinsett County High in tiny Lepanto. He usually hears similar stories during recruiting, but is often let down after seeing film on prospects who have been hyped a bunch.
When he saw Monk, though, his jaw dropped.
The stories were actually true.
"(Moss) was the first person I thought of," Nutt said. "On the first highlight I saw of when he was playing for his high school, I said it to myself and then looked at coaches Danny Nutt and Mike Markuson and said, 'Guys, that's Randy Moss.'
"And it's stuck."
It has with the help of senior quarterback Matt Jones, who was disappointed to learn he wasn't the first to tab his new target "Randy" during preseason practices.
"I wasn't the first? Man, I thought I was," Jones said. "He reminds me of Randy Moss because he catches everything and jumps out of the gym."
He's now leaped into a starting spot at split end, causing receiver Carlos Ousley to leave the team Tuesday after Monk was promoted.
An avid NFL fan, Monk isn't sure he likes the comparisons to Moss, a 6-4, 210-pound all-pro receiver, which some say are crystal clear.
In high school, Moss was a two-time player of the year in basketball in West Virginia. Like Monk, he also wears his hair in cornrows.
"People say we have a lot of similarities," said Monk, who'll join the Hogs basketball team when football finishes. "They say that because of our height and the things we do on the field, like how we catch the ball. But I wouldn't compare myself to him.
"Don't get me wrong. It's a compliment to be compared to someone that great.
"But I'm just trying to make my own name."
An area that Monk is one up on Moss (Monk sports No. 85 while Moss dons No. 84) is character. Moss has been riddled with legal problems since high school and racked up fines as fast as touchdowns in the NFL.
"Monk's a goodie two shoes," said Hogs freshman tight end Marc Winston, Monk's longtime friend. "I've never known Monk to get in any kind of trouble and he's usually the guy looking out for you and making sure you stay out of trouble."
Moss originally signed with Notre Dame, but his scholarship was revoked after he was arrested and served jail time for beating up a fellow high school student.
He then tried his luck at Florida State, but was kicked off the team before playing a down after testing positive for marijuana. He also was arrested for possession of pot later that year and was given a year in prison before the sentence was reduced to probation.
That caused Moss, a Heisman Trophy finalist, to slip to No. 21 in the 1999 NFL draft as teams questioned his character.
Monk's never been arrested.
However, Kevin Kyzer -- Monk's basketball coach at East Poinsett County who took the same job in Lincoln this year to be closer to his favorite pupil -- said he remembers a time when Monk did slip up.
"One day in the summer he had to miss the start of a practice," Kyzer said. "He'd forgot to take out the trash so he had to run home to take it out before his mom got home.
"That's about as hardcore a problem that you'll have with Marcus."
Growing up in Lepanto -- an east Arkansas town with a population of 2,500 which recently got its first chain restaurant when Sonic was built this summer -- helped keep Monk out of trouble.
"There's really not much you can do to get into trouble," Monk said. "Everybody knows everybody else, so if you're doing something wrong, somebody will come back and tell your mom."
Just last month, Moss was fined $5,000 for his involvement in an altercation against the Chicago Bears. That came on the heels of his arrest for a run in with a Minneapolis police officer, who said Moss used his SUV to push a squad car nearly half a block when the officer wouldn't allow Moss to make an illegal turn down a one-way street.
Last season, Moss was fined $15,000 by the Vikings for verbally abusing corporate sponsors on a team plane shortly after signing an eight-year contract worth $75 million.
Monk was the first minority valedictorian at East Poinsett County and was recently named one of four National High School Scholar-Athletes by the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.
"It's character and it's contagious," Nutt said. "People follow good players and they follow Monk. He's a role model already. The state loves him and he's just going to do some great things for us.
"You can't get enough of those players on your team."
Head To Head
As a 20-year-old freshman at Marshall, Moss had 78 receptions for 1,709 yards and 29 touchdowns to lead the Thundering Herd to a 15-0 record and the Division I-AA National Championship.
Monk is second on the team with 12 catches for 201 yards and four touchdowns through five games.
"He's still the closest thing that I've seen personally that even come close to Randy Moss," Winston said. "He makes some amazing plays and he does a lot of things that most freshman can't do straight out of high school."
While most draw the comparisons because of height, Razorbacks receivers coach James Shibest says it's their size which makes them different.
"They have about the same height, but Marcus has a different build," Shibest said. "He's bigger and thicker, but not as fast (Monk runs a 4.5 second, 40-yard dash and Moss ran a 4.28 in college). But he definitely has the same type of ball skills as Moss as far as catching everything thrown his way."
Shibest also said there's plenty of room to improve.
"He's got to play better without the ball as far as blocking and things like that," Shibest said. "Marcus has worked on that every week and he's gotten better every week, he's just not there yet."
The best thing about Monk is he understands his weaknesses. He watches film daily to get tips on opponents and rarely is caught loafing in practice.
"That's the thing that surprised me the most," Nutt said. "I just love his work ethic. I didn't think it would be as good as it is because most high school kids aren't smart enough to take it to the next level in the work ethic part of it, but he was.
"That's why he's where he's at. He's outworked them all."
As far as reaching the gaudy freshman statistics put up by Moss when Monk's a 20-year old junior, Nutt said anything is possible.
"I think that's reasonable," Nutt said. "I don't keep up with numbers and don't worry about that too much, but I think it could happen if Monk stays healthy and keeps coming."
Of course, Monk likes the sound of that.
"Moss is on another level, but I'm barely 18," Monk said. "I think those numbers will be realistically when I'm 20 and it may come even sooner ... Who knows?"
Jones said Monk's size and ability allows him more room for error on passes, especially when there's not a starting cornerback in the Southeastern Conference taller than 6-1.
"He makes you relax a little more definitely," Jones said. "He's a big target and you can throw it to him and trust him. He always catches the ball so he's somebody you look to go to."
Lots of Monk's skills came from rattling the chain nets on blacktop courts at a Lepanto park called The Woods. He's used his vertical (which hasn't been measured) to make several receptions over defenders and he even posted up to block out a defender for a catch on a two-point conversion in last weekend's 45-30 loss at Florida.
Like Moss, his first love was basketball. Until now, that's what Monk always figured would be his ticket to play professionally.
"I still love basketball," Monk said. "But as I've got older, I just started seeing the chance or the opportunity I have in football. It comes easier to me than basketball.
"At first, I just planned to play basketball (in college). But I thought about it and decided that I didn't want to go through life just regretting that I didn't try both of them, but now I'm real happy that I made this decision to play both because I love football as well."
Because he'll double in basketball, weight room time will be limited for Monk. If he can still find ways to improve his strength and quickness, Shibest said the sky's the limit for Monk's future.
"He's really not that strong," Shibest said. "I'm not wanting him to put on a lot of weight, he's already big. But he needs to increase his speed and strength and if he can do that, he'll be catching passes for a long time.
"When he gets stronger, if I was a defensive back, I'd be scared to press that guy."
In high school, Monk spent most Saturdays watching college football. Now that he's busy on that day, he's started studying the NFL's best receivers on Sundays.
And he tries to learn something from each one.
"I look a lot at Jerry Rice because of his work ethic," Monk said. "Just how smart he is and how he reads coverages and how he does the small things so well. Terrell Owens, just how physical he is and how he catches everything and Moss for his quickness and all the great catches he makes. I look at Marvin Harrison a lot, too, because of his route running.
"I look for little things that might help me, but I'm not trying to be any of those guys.
"I'm just trying to be me."
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