UA Seniors Have Seen It All

FAYETTEVILLE -- They've been part of 30 wins, a Southeastern Conference Western Division championship, three bowl bids and four overtime games.

They've played key roles in the two longest games in NCAA history, the enormous upset win at No. 5 Texas last season and the miraculous, last-minute 21-20 victory against No. 18 LSU in 2002.

They've also spent countless hours in the training room, on the practice fields and taking their lumps against heavyweights like Georgia (30-3 loss to the No. 4 Bulldogs in the 2002 SEC Championship Game).

Arkansas' nine seniors have experienced almost everything imaginable during their four roller-coaster seasons.

But junior tailback De'Arrius Howard said he wants nothing more than to help them extend their careers when Arkansas hosts No. 14 LSU in Little Rock on Friday.

"It just wouldn't be right," Howard said. "Arrion Dixon, Jeb Huckeba, Matt Jones, DeCori Birmingham, Steven Harris, they helped us win so many games. To not send those guys out right, I wouldn't feel right. I would be disappointed in myself."

So a small, but influential, class will have plenty of support when it leads the Hogs (5-5, 3-4 in SEC) into Friday's regular-season finaleagainst LSU (8-2, 5-2). The seniors place their careers on the line, needing another upset win against the Tigers to become bowl eligible and to play one more game, likely the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

There's plenty at stake for a group that has combined to start 149 games, accounted for 92 touchdowns, accumulated 12,768 yards and made 501 tackles.

Coach Houston Nutt said Dixon, Huckeba, Jones, Birmingham, Harris, Titus Peebles, Marcus Whitmore, Elliott Harris and Gene Perry have embraced the pressure in must-win situations the past few weeks.

"There's something about a senior," Nutt said. "It means so much more to those guys. It's hard to explain it to a freshman or a sophomore because they don't understand. They think, 'My Senior Day is never going to be here.'

"But when you think about not wearing that helmet ever again, that's what it comes down to this week. We can wear it one more time or we can put it up on the shelf. It means much more to seniors, and they're playing their best football."

Jones gutted out a strained right hamstring tweak to throw for 215 yards during Saturday's 24-21 win at Mississippi State. Birmingham had a key 29-yard punt return that swung momentum in Arkansas' direction during the third quarter.

Steven Harris grabbed a team-high 6 catches for 71 yards, while Perry opened big holes in his 10th start. Huckeba and Dixon led a defensive line that limited Mississippi State's ground game. Elliott Harris blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt that was recovered and returned 76 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Pierre Brown.

Sense Of Urgency
"It's almost the realization of, 'I've got to do it now or never,'" said Steven Harris. "You don't want to leave any regrets as far as your career goes in college. You want to get everything you can accomplish before you leave here, set the ground for the upcoming classes and lay a foundation for the next year.

"I think there is a sense of urgency. You want to go out the best way possible."

Huckeba said the senior class will bring that attitude into Friday's game.

"I've talked to some other guys that have been away and were seniors last year and they say you miss it so bad when you don't have it anymore," Huckeba said. "That's a tough thing to do because when you're in the season and you continue to play games week after week, you don't really realize that this is going to be it.

"It's tough to do, but it's kind of like (country music artist) Tim McGraw's song, 'Live Like You Were Dying.' You've got to approach this right now in the present. You've got to approach this like this is your last game."

Of course, it will be the last chance for an Arkansas crowd to see guys like Jones play in this state. Jones is the most decorated member of the senior class and has rewritten Arkansas' record books. He is the SEC's all-time leading quarterback rusher and holds school records for touchdown responsibility, yards and yards per play.

But Nutt said each member of the class played an important role for the Hogs. He said the 2004 seniors did a remarkable job helping Arkansas gain, then maintain, confidence. It wasn't an easy task for a young team that struggled during a four-game losing streak.

Team Leaders
"It's very hard to keep confidence and keep your head up, your chin up, keep working, keep working," Nutt said. "That's all these guys have done, and we were led by the nine seniors. I'm just very appreciative of them and just want them to go out the right way."

That would mean keeping two important streaks intact Friday.

The Hogs are 17-0 in War Memorial Stadium under Nutt and the senior class played a big part in wins there against then-No. 9 South Carolina in 2001 and favored LSU in 2002. Birmingham, Huckeba and Elliott Harris made their collegiate debuts there during the 14-10 win against UNLV in the 2001 season opener in Little Rock.

Arkansas also is fighting to earn its seventh-consecutive bowl bid, which would set a school record.

"I don't think it's going to hit us until we actually get there, that (Thursday) night, the night before the game when we have some time to sit down and talk to each other," Birmingham said. "It will be a real high-pressure game. We want to win so we can go to a bowl game. We want to win so we can keep this streak alive in Little Rock.

"It's real important. The senior class right now, we don't want to be known as the class that let both streaks go in Little Rock."

Even if the Hogs fall short against LSU, fullback Brandon Kennedy will retain fond memories of this senior class.

The junior said the seniors have been a huge inspiration, leading Arkansas through off-season workouts, preseason practices and the ups and downs of a difficult season.

Kennedy said there's one way to appropriately reward them -follow their lead to a big win against the Tigers.

"I don't even want to think about (their careers ending)," Kennedy said. "I know what kind of heart those people have.

"I hope we have one more (game to play) after this game. We're going to do everything we can to get that one more."

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