Separating The Men From The Boys

FAYETTEVILLE -- An imaginary line was drawn during Arkansas' first full-contact practice on Friday.

It involved freshmen. On one side are the players coaches determined are ready while the other is made up of those who may need a redshirt year to mature.

The jump from high school to college is not an easy one and Friday's physical practice was the first step in separating the men from the boys.

"You kind of see who really wants it in pads," said senior safety Vickiel Vaughn. "You're going against guys who are a little faster, stronger and older than you and, when you put the pads on, you truly find out who's ready to be a man."

Two who made it clear what side of the line they deserve to be on were linebackers Freddie Fairchild and Tyrell Graham. Both impressed enough in shorts to earn spots on the second-team defense and only reiterated the coaches' belief in them after one day in pads.

"Hopefully by midseason they'll be solid, solid backups," said defensive coordinator Reggie Herring. "Very excited about the four days, even just the four days the difference they've made. A lot has do with the kids, it's important to them. They want to do it and they want to be good."

At approximately 3:40 p.m., the first hits were delivered. The one-on-one tackling drill featuring a ball carrier and defender seven yards apart began with upperclassmen to allow the newcomers to see how it was done.

"We were looking for which young ones wanted to put their heads in there with the pads on," said Hogs assistant coach Chris Vaughn. "It started earlier this week, but getting to see them in pads is another big part of learning about these kids and who can play when things are moving fast.

"But it's not over, this was just the first day."

After one time through, freshmen finally got their first tastes of Division I football with sophomore Peyton Hillis, a 6-foot-2, 233-pound wrecking ball, serving as the welcoming committee.

Hillis first trucked Kevin Thornton, a heralded safety from Little Rock Central who switched to linebacker Friday. To Thornton's credit, he managed to hang on and was the only one to stop Hillis short of the goal line during the 10-minute drill.

"I knew I had to tackle him sooner or later, so I just jumped in right away," Thornton said. "I had tackled him a few times before (in high school) so I wasn't scared."

Graham, a 6-3, 210-pounder, didn't back down either despite going heads up with 6-6, 255-pound tight end Andrew Davie, a 22-year-old walk-on from Little Rock who handed out some punishment as well. Graham planted his face mask in Davie's No. 90 jersey and stood him up for a split second before both went down short of the goal line.

"I was pretty confident coming in," said Graham, whose right eye was nearly swollen shut from one of the hits. "They want us to stay straight up, but the running backs, like Peyton Hillis, they run pretty hard and will dip on you and make you look like a fool.

"I was humbled a little bit. I thought it was going to be a little easier."

Fairchild showed perfect form and explosion during both of his attempts. He used his burst to level Kane Wommack, a freshman fullback from Fayetteville, on his final attempt of the drill.

"I loved it," Fairchild said. "It was starting to get a little boring in shorts and being a linebacker, you have to be physical and you can't do that in shorts.

"But we finally got to make some contact and I had a lot of fun out there."

Hillis, who hammered several upperclassmen during his first try at the tackling drill a year ago, offered some advice for getting over freshman fear.

"It's all about telling yourself, "I'm human and they're human,'" Hillis said. "They may be little bit older and a little bit stronger, but I took the attitude going in that I was going to be a little bit meaner.

"And I kept telling myself that over and over until it really set in."

Freshman tailback Felix Jones broke away for several nice gains, according to teammates, during full-team drills. He showed plenty of speed in shorts, but everybody wanted to see what he could do in full pads against a defense.

Apparently, he didn't disappoint.

"Felix is phenomenal, just amazing to me," Vaughn said. "I see a young guy with tons of talent and potential who ran hard (Friday) with the ball and when you get close to tackle him, he just puts it in another gear and runs away from you.

"He's going to be exciting for fans here at Arkansas for years to come."

On one run, Jones said, he was met head on by senior linebacker Sam Olajubutu.

"He filled the whole so quick that (the hit) kind of came as a surprise," Jones said. "He lowered his head and hammered me so hard ... I can still feel it."

The young Razorbacks will get another chance to prove they're ready when two-a-days begin today at 9:15 a.m.

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