The Summer of Springdale

Kurt Voigt of the The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas had a first-hand view of the Springdale football madness this summer and recounts that in this story as the Bulldogs prepare to open the 2005 season Saturday against Shreveport Evangel.

SPRINGDALE -- Mitch Mustain climbed on top of a storage bin near the end of Howard Jones Field, the football practice facility on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, looking for a few minutes of rest.

That rest didn't last long.

Moments after he finally sat down amongst his friends and teammates, another recruiting reporter -- this one with a television camera on his shoulder -- approached Mustain, seeking "just a few minutes" of his time.

Mustain slowly rose up and walked away, this time with an Internet guru, and began the process of attaching the camera's microphone to dry-fit shirt -- something he'd become adept at.

The questions were the same he had answered repeatedly during the past few months, with everyone "wanting to be cute and be your friend."

Despite his weariness, however, the 17-year-old senior from Springdale listened intently to all the questions about his plans for college and both subtlety and politely refused to answer the one question everyone wanted to know.

"So, Mitch, where are you headed?"

The question was one he had become used to hearing during the past year --ever since he was offered a football scholarship by his home state's school, the University of Arkansas, before he had even started a varsity game as a junior --but its frequency had grown to near comical numbers since the spring.

That's when Mustain was named by one college football recruiting service as the country's top high school quarterback prospect. For a humble, reserved senior from Springdale, the ranking sparked a firestorm of attention which he dealt with everywhere he went.

Whether it was fans on talk radio, newspaper reports or rumors on the Internet, the talk of Mitch Mustain was everywhere. With his friends, at practice, at school and at home -- he couldn't escape it.

And he wasn't the only one.

With four other teammates who had been offered scholarships to colleges from across the country -- and more likely to be offered during the coming year -- Mustain and his Bulldog teammates vaulted from recognition in Arkansas football circles to the national scene.

Whether it was on trips to Los Angeles or Alabama for 7-on-7 competitions against some of the nation's best teams and athletes, everyone wanted to know where the "Springdale Five" were going to college.

The summer of 2005 was like no other in Arkansas football history.

It was The Summer of Springdale.


On Thursday, July 14, Springdale's 7-on-7 squad and a host of family members, went Hollywood.

Springdale had been invited to an eight-team 7-on-7 competition on the University of Southern California campus in dowtown Los Angeles.

And after the money to pay for the trip had been raised by the team's booster club, all of the Bulldogs, including the team's seniors who don't play in 7-on-7, headed west.

The trip began on a sour note, with many players not arriving at their hotel until after midnight Friday morning because of flight delays, resulting in one group having to bus in from an airport an hour away from their hotel.

Once the Bulldogs finally arrived at the competition on Friday, July 15, it quickly became clear the event was two parts showcase and one part competition.

Reporters from newspapers, television stations and Internet sites from out west who hadn't seen Springdale play and had only heard of Mustain and Co., used every opportunity throughout the day to corner anyone they could with Springdale.

And their focus was Mustain.

From the moment he arrived at the field, Mustain was eyed and sought out. Before games, between games, after games, it didn't matter when --just as long as everyone got their soundbite from the top quarterback in the country.

"Everyone here wants to see him," tournament director Greg Biggins said. "Every team here has heard about this quarterback from Arkansas, and they want to see if he's all that."

Despite the distractions, the Bulldogs played well at the event -- dropping a heartbreaking 44-39 loss to Valencia (Calif.) High School on the last play before rebounding with a 26-19 win over Edison (Calif.) High School.

Mustain wowed the crowd in the two games, throwing for 10 touchdowns and just one interception on 32-of-59 passing.

However, only two teams were guaranteed three games at the event -- and those were the two which won their first two games and reached the championship game. So, after just two games, Springdale was done.

"Sure, a lot of people wish they were still playing," Biggins said following the Bulldogs' win over Edison. "I'm not going to lie and say they're not.

"But, they played well and did everything that could be expected after all of their problems just getting here."

Of more importance to Springdale coach Gus Malzahn following the competition was the free day the team had on Saturday, July 16. While most of the coaches headed to Universal Studios, Malzahn and the players headed to nearby Hermosa Beach for a day of volleyball, shopping and yes -- babe-watching.

That evening, the players stood outside a club near the beach, watching Arkansas native Jermaine Taylor defeat Bernard Hopkins for boxing's world middleweight championship.

Following the return home, Malzahn reflected on the short trip and whether it was worth the time and money.

"From a competition standpoint, no," Malzahn said. "But, from the standpoint of team and chemistry building, yes.

"When the realization of only playing two games set in, it was tough. But our guys got a chance to relax and have a good time, and that will pay off for us some time this season."

COOKED IN 'BAMA Whereas the Los Angeles trip was about team building, the Bulldogs trip to Hoover, Ala., the following week was all business for Malzahn.

Hoover was where Springdale and Mustain had their collective coming-out parties a year ago, winning the Southeast Select 7-on-7 Tournament over annual national-power Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian High School in the championship game.

It was in Hoover where Mustain took control of the Bulldog offense, and his performance there was what sparked the initial scholarship offer from Arkansas coach Houston Nutt.

This summer, the 16-team tournament was once again loaded with talented teams and talent -- with more than 90 Division I college prospects on hand.

"There's such good players here that there's no real margin for error if you're a quarterback," Hoover coach Rush Propst said. "(Mustain's) a phenomenal player, but he's not the only one (Springdale's) got.

"They're loaded from top to bottom, all the people out here just to watch (Mustain) will figure that out pretty quick."

The Bulldogs did their best to live up to Propst's words during the tournament, finishing pool play 7-0, making easy work of some top teams from across the Southeast along the way.

On that Saturday, July 23, however, the Bulldogs fell to host Hoover in the semifinals of the winner's bracket in tournament action when Malzahn elected to go for a two-point conversion and the win near the end of the game rather than a one-point conversion and a tie.

"If we hadn't gotten that one-point conversion, I would have felt sick," Malzahn said.

Following the loss, Springdale rallied with three straight wins in the loser's bracket to earn a rematch with Hoover in the championship game. However, the game was the Bulldogs fifth straight of the day in the oppressive Alabama heat, while Hoover was only playing its third -- with rests between each game.

The exhaustion showed as Springdale fell behind 19-0 and never challenged.

Following the game, three Bulldog players suffered heat exhaustion and were taken to a local hospital.

"They laid it all out there for us," Malzahn said. "We fought back, but we just didn't have enough gas."


Following the media frenzy in Los Angeles a week earlier, Malzahn took a proactive approach before the tournament in Hoover began -- telling all those with cameras and microphones not associated with the team to stay away until after the tournament.

"He needs to worry about the team right now," Malzahn said of Mustain. "He doesn't need to talk to anybody."

The media blackout, though, didn't keep those who came to watch the Bulldogs from getting their point across.

One unidentified fan parked his car outside the stadium before action began on the second day of competition, with the Arkansas fight song blaring over and over -- making clear where he wanted Mustain and his heralded teammates to attend college.

Later that same day, an unidentified blonde female who garnered looks from the Bulldog players as she passed behind the team's bench, asked Mustain if he was "going to be a Razorback."

"Who knows," he coyly responded, followed by laughter and disbelief of his teammates.

"Man, she was hot," one teammate said.

The blackout also didn't stop those with cameras from trying to talk to Mustain, including one reporter who pulled up next to him as he walked from one field to another between games on that Friday.

It was only after Malzahn pulled him aside following the interview that Mustain became aware he was off-limits to the media. Even had he known, however, it would have been difficult for him to say no.

"You just get used to it," said Mustain, who before last season walked the halls at Springdale High School anonymously.

Later on the same day, after Springdale's final game of the evening, another cameraman and reporter approached Mustain as he was walking off the field. This time, however, Malzahn was standing nearby, telling the two, "Guys, this is going to have to wait until after the tournament."

After they had walked away, showing their frustration through their body language, Malzahn showed his frustration as well, saying "Can you believe those vultures?"

Miller Safrit, a recruiting analyst for, said he understood Malzahn's position, but quickly added that the attention is an expected part of the recruiting process anymore.

"That's what happens when you have the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the country," Safrit said. "It's the sexy position."


One by one, the Springdale Five announced their college decisions following the busy two-week stretch this summer.

Senior offensive tackle Bartley Webb said he was headed to Notre Dame while his teammates were in Hoover, and senior tight end Ben Cleveland chose Florida a week later.

Senior receiver Damian Williams decided on Florida as well after two-a-day practices began in August, and on Aug. 15, the last two of the group -- Mustain and senior receiver Andrew Norman -- silenced the recruiting frenzy when they announced on live television their decisions to attend Arkansas.

Since the decisions, the cameras are few and far between at Springdale practices, and a noticeably relaxed Malzahn has had only the pressure of the upcoming season to worry about.

It's the kind of pressure he's used to, though even he will admit this season will be like no other before he's experienced.

"It will be remembered no matter what at this point, that's for sure," Malzahn said. "One way or another."

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