Hogs Unify During Summer Workouts

FAYETTEVILLE -- Upperclassmen slapped high-fives and newcomers seemed relaxed while being fitted for pads before Saturday's first team meeting of Arkansas' 2005 football season.

Most credit the team unity present to a "95 percent" participation rate during this summer's voluntary workouts, which include running, weight lifting and team drills.

Since coaches aren't allowed in offseason workouts, it's the players who are charged with getting teammates to the practice field or weight room.

Often, what happens in the summer can have a direct effect on what happens in the fall.

"We will not be 5-6 again ... That's a promise," said senior fullback Brandon Kennedy. "Write it down because we won't be sitting at home again this December (with no bowl bid). It won't happen.

"We made that a battle cry for us all off-season."

Kennedy, along with the rest of the seniors and sophomore Robert Johnson, were the culprits behind the increase in participation in this summer's sessions. In fact, few players went home during breaks and even fewer missed many workouts.

Only three players were absent from Saturday's meeting. They were defensive ends Jamaal Anderson (car problems) and Zac Snider (wedding) and linebacker Michael Bibbs, a freshman from Atlanta who's waiting to be cleared academically.

"It's all about holding people accountable," Kennedy said. "It didn't matter who you were or what position you played, if you didn't show up or were slacking, you were going to hear about it.

"If you want to be on the boat, you've got to pay the price like the rest of us."

After undergoing hernia surgery in early June, players said Johnson came into his own as a leader and a quarterback during workouts. He's battling freshmen Cole Barthel and Alex Mortensen for the No. 1 spot and coaches plan to name a starter 7-10 days into practice.

Johnson said the light came on for him after a conversation with Kennedy and Marcus Monk -- the Hogs' top returning receiver -- in late June.

"They made it clear to me that this is my team that I have to lead," Johnson said. "So I've stepped up and did what I could to get guys to come that weren't coming ... That's just part of being a leader.

"You'll see that our timing will be on when we come into fall camp. The chemistry of us being with each other so much this summer, you'll see a big difference when we line up here in the next few days.

"We're as ready to go as we've ever been."

Most of the newcomers are ready, too, especially those who showed up in late June to begin working out with the team and going to class.

"I feel like I'm pretty much prepared for everything because I've been up here all summer," said Darren McFadden, a heralded freshman from Pulaski Oak Grove. "A lot of people still are talking about what I did in high school, but you can't go off of your high school glory.

"So I feel like I'm starting over from scratch and wanted to get up here this summer and get an early start on everything."

Another tailback, Tallahassee (Fla.) Rickards Michael Smith, said the extra few weeks on campus has made him "feel at home."

"I was able to really get acclimated with the players, the weight room and really all the facilities," Smith said. "I think when two-a-days come, I'll be a lot more comfortable and be able to jump right in and show the coaches what I can do.

"Even though this is our first official meeting, I already feel like part of the team."

For the newcomers who weren't able to come early, they were forced to learn the Razorbacks' system on their own. That -- along the August heat -- has been the biggest obstacle for St. Francis, Wisc., offensive lineman Jose Valdez to overcome. He arrived on campus at approximately 2 a.m. on Saturday.

"I don't feel like I'm too far behind, though," Valdez said. "I did all my workouts over the summer from the booklet that (UA strength and conditioning coach Don) Decker gave me, but I have no clue about any of the plays, yet ... I'll just have to learn it quick and do what I can to help the team."

Everyone, not just the newcomers, seems to be taking a team-first attitude. To have success this season, they know it will take more than just one guy making plays and Kennedy said that was another thing pushing the team this summer.

"It will make an impact this fall," Kennedy said. "I think a lot of people grew up quite a bit this summer and we really needed them to. This is their only chance to make it and they know what's expected out of them every day.

"Now, we're just moving full-steam ahead with everything."

Players have today off and begin practice Monday afternoon.

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