Hogs Have Mr. February

My wife was stunned when I beat her out of bed, and wasn't packing my fishing gear when her regular alarm went off a few minutes later. I got up just after 5 a.m. to attend Arkansas's 5:30 a.m. offseason football workout Thursday at Walker Pavilion.

The workout was everything I had imagined and more. Reggie Herring was a blast. Well, he was a blast if you were standing on the sideline watching him. I doubt the guys on the field thought he was a blast.

I thought he would be intense, but I'm not sure intense does Reggie Herring justice. You've heard of Shock and Awe. Well, that is what I felt while watching the new UA defensive coordinator.

I tried to listen to what Reggie was saying to his defensive players. I'm sure I didn't get all of it, but I did hear a few phrases that came up again and again, and also during an interview afterwards.

After the Hogs finished, Herring gathered the defense for a visit after Houston Nutt had completed a full-team message. Herring, in his salty fashion, said things I think embody Arkansas football through the years.

"You guys are not going to out talent anyone, but that's not something that is required," Herring said. "You don't need talent to play great defense. You need heart, character and a belief that your teammate can be counted upon. You need to be able to look beside you and think, 'He's going to get it done, and the guy on the other side is going to get it done, so I better get it done.' That's what we are doing this morning, men. It's accountability."

Herring likes the progress he's seen over the last three weeks, but warned in an interview afterwards, "We aren't there yet. We are closer and we will get there. I've done this before. We will get there."

Nutt beamed from ear to ear as he and I listened to Herring talk to his new defense. Herring is exactly what Nutt wanted when he went looking for a new defensive coordinator. He's fierce. He's passionate. He's the kind that you'd want giving the pep talk as you lowered the boat ramp and prepared to head onto an enemy beach.

"I see the results already," Nutt said. "I don't want to mention too many guys right now because it's early and we have a lot more of these (5:30 a.m.) to go. Anything can happen. You want to see how they progress.

"But I see guys coming, guys like Michael Tate, now up to 252 pounds, and Tyler Morgan, Jonathon Luigs, Nate Garner, Ernest Mitchell and Kyle Roper. They have made a move and been impressive here and in the weight room. The receivers have been impressive, too, like Cedric Logan, Cedric Washington, Chris Baker and Anthony Brown. Desmond Williams has been really good, one of our redshirt guys on defense. Vickiel Vaughn has displayed real good leadership. But it's a long haul and it's early."

Herring sees "people paying a price and making sacrifices for teammates. It's real work. They have a team first attitude to lay their guts on the line every snap. They are lining up by their brother and putting it all there for everyone to see. I know, it's cliche. People roll their eyes when they hear it. But this is how you do it. You practice it. You rehearse pressure. Then when you face pressure in a game, you see positive results.

"It's about commitment, commitment, commitment. We are taking the word talent out of the equation. You can win games without talent. If you listen, not once do I tell them anything about needing ability to win.

"Now, this all takes time. It's like building a garden. First thing you do, get down on your knees and work the soil. You take that dirt and work it through your fingers. You get it under your finger nails. You work, you work and you work some more. You sweat. You get in there with your brother and sweat together. You form a bond with your brother because you worked that soil together.

"This is a people's game. Coaches are lazy. People are lazy. The human nature is lazy. That's why it takes commitment and passion to get it done. I just believe that you get what you demand. What we did this morning is critical. You have to find the pain level, and know what it feels like to push past it. Then, when you reach that pain level in a game, you know how to deal with it. I believe that.

"What we are trying to get to is an attitude that we can push past that pain level. You develop that attitude by getting up at 4 a.m. when the rest of the world is still asleep. It's a mental thing."

One side note, I didn't make it to Walker Pavilion at 5:30 a.m. I rolled in at about 5:38 a.m., just after they began to stretch. A member of the UA support team spotted my entry, pointed to his watch and joked, "Reggie would have you running for this."

That was mentioned to Herring after the interview, two hours later. Headed to the exit, he made a quick turn to offer a smile and a nod.

No doubt, I would have been running, or doing up and downs or some other pain-laced drill. I imagined that painful picture as I headed to my car. I got it out of my mind so I could eat my breakfast with the comfort that the Hogs will play hard on defense, no matter the talent.

I remember the days when Reggie, Reggie, Reggie chants came from Yankee Stadium. Reggie Jackson, the great slugger, was called Mr. October for his playoff exploits. I'd say Reggie is Mr. February. That's when he seems to get the bulk of his work done. At least, that's my feeling after watching him February 24. Maybe it will lead to a fun October.


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