Center Of Attention

HOOVER, Ala. --Arkansas senior center Kyle Roper fits the stereotype.

He's definitely the strong, silent type.

This sturdy 6-foot-3, 291-pound beef critter is a man of few words, but his ability on the football field speaks volumes about his talent.

"He's tough," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "Tremendous character. He's the quarterback of the offensive line. I think he's the kind of guy who really could look back to the quarterback and tell him where to audible. He's that smart.

"You just love his heart."

On Friday, Roper did get --if you'll excuse the pun -- down to the heart of the matter during the final day of the annual Southeastern Conference Media Days in the Wynfrey Hotel.

Roper was not in his cathedral of comfort. He looked out of place.

That's because he's not used to all the attention, but he eagerly obliged all requests for questions from sportswriters.

"This is not about me," Roper said. "It's much bigger than that."

As the lights bounced off his short, choppy blond hair, Roper's deep-blue eyes danced up-and-down when it came time to talk about his team.

"We've got a lot of dedicated guys," Roper said. "We've worked hard. We are ready to get back to winning a lot of ballgames. We have a group of guys coming back and a great group coming in.

"We have a solid offensive line that everyone has either started or played a couple of games. We have receivers who can catch the ball and run with it and great running backs than can find holes. We're excited.

"We want to forget last year."

Clearly, last year was a nightmare for Arkansas. It missed its opportunity for a seventh-straight bowl game, finishing 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC.

"I don't want that to happen again," Roper said. "I don't think any of us liked not playing in a bowl last year. One of our goals this year is to get back into a bowl game.

"We did have a disappointing season last year, but we have come in this spring and off-season and worked hard. We want to win this season and we've got a lot of leadership. The seniors really have stepped it up and led us."

Razorbacks free safety Vickiel Vaughn said Roper is among the leaders.

"Kyle's the kind of leader who's not a big talker but when he talks, you listen," Vaughn said. "Really, he doesn't have to tell you, he shows you.

"He's a great inspiration."

Roper said playing for Nutt is inspiring, too.

"Coach Nutt goes a great job of getting us prepared for every game," Roper said. "He's always pumped. That's not a show. He really gets that pumped up. He gets us going.

"He's a great motivator."

Roper, who anchors a veteran Arkansas line, is one of the leading contenders for the Dave Rimington Award, presented annually to the nation's top center.

But ...

He could care less.

"I mean, one of my personal goals is for us to win as a team," Roper said. "I think to have a chance at winning the Rimington Award would be nice but we have to have a good season for it to really even be an issue.

"That's the least of my worries right now.

"We've got Missouri State (Sept. 3 at home) to start the season and we just have to start winning right away. I want to go to another bowl game, you know."

Returning to a bowl game becomes a tougher assignment because Matt Jones, a first-round draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, doesn't take the snaps anymore.

Because of that, Roper should play a bigger role in the offense.

"Yeah, we're going to miss Matt," Roper said. "You can't replace a guy like Matt Jones. He got us out of some situations that normally we would not have. We do have some guys that can play quarterback for us. We have people who have a lot of athletic ability.

"I think we'll be more balanced this season with more passing which will open up our running game. It doesn't matter if it's (Robert) Johnson, (Cole) Barthel, (Alex) Mortensen, taking snaps.

"They are all good."

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