Staying True

FAYETTEVILLE -- When Casey Dick was introduced as Arkansas' next true freshman starting quarterback in the Broyles Center on Monday, the irony was unmistakable.

A few feet away from the squeaky tape recorders and camera flashes surrounding Dick was an illuminated picture of Barry Lunney Jr., the last Arkansas quarterback to win his first start as a true freshman.

The left-handed Lunney was shown high above a wall of blockers while seemingly firing a pass in Dick's direction as the 18-year-old calmly answered questions about his debut against South Carolina in Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday.

Lunney knows how it feels to be in the spotlight. In his first start in 1992, he helped beat No. 4 Tennessee 25-24 by completing 13 of 19 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.

"It was one of those deals where we didn't have a whole lot to lose," said Lunney, now an assistant at Bentonville High. "We were struggling and Tennessee was really good and ranked pretty high. But I was smart enough to know that I wasn't going to try to do it all myself."

Dick will be the seventh true freshman to start at quarterback for the Razorbacks. His situation is unique because he'll become the first starter without any prior college experience, other than the snaps taken during practice this fall.

Zak Clark, the last true freshman quarterback to start for Arkansas, admitted he may have pressed too hard. He was 14 of 29 for 164 yards and two interceptions in a 38-24 loss against Ole Miss in 2000.

"At that point, we were still fighting for a bowl spot," said Clark, now an assistant at Fayetteville High. "I wanted so many good things to happen that I almost tried to do too much. I wanted to do well so bad that you really don't take care of business and play within the system."

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt knows a thing or two about starting true freshmen at quarterback since he was one himself back in 1976. He led Arkansas to an 18-13 win against TCU in his starting debut while completing 1 of 2 passes for 7 yards in coach Frank Broyles' run-oriented offense.

"Coach Broyles didn't tell me anything until pregame warm-ups," Nutt said. "But then he said, 'Houston Nutt's going to be our quarterback. He's been our quarterback before and he's won before. You guys get behind him and let's go.'

"I never will forget the butterflies and the feeling that I felt right there. You just feel like the state and everything, you've got it all on your shoulders."

Getting rid of the feeling is the tough part. The excitement and pressure of playing in front of 70,000 fans for the first time is impossible to bottle up.

However, calmness in the huddle and a cool head under fire is needed, according to those who have been in Dick's shoes before.

"The biggest thing is that he shouldn't go in there and try to feel like he needs to win the game by himself," Lunney said. "Obviously, with the way they've ran the ball, they're going to be able to continue to run the ball. So, he can be an operator and simply make the throws that he needs to make. That should be sufficient enough for them to win, I would imagine."

Clark said he was the "last man standing" when he got his first start after injuries sidelined starter Robby Hampton and reserve Jared McBride. The Hogs even grabbed John Rutledge off the intramural fields as a backup that week.

"It's going to be his first start so he's going to do good things and he's going to do bad things," Clark said. "He needs to realize this is a big chance, but it's not going to be his only chance. Just go out there and have fun and relax. It's not a big deal.

"The whole thing is just staying calm, letting the game come to you and being able to think out there."

Everyone agrees adjusting to the speed of the game will be the most difficult task for Dick to overcome Saturday. Lunney said it's the equivalent of starting a sophomore in high school or a rookie in the NFL.

"He's going to be going a lot faster than what he's used to," Lunney said. "Even though he's been going against the first team defense, it'll be faster than what he's used to in practice for sure."

Clark, who still throws a tight spiral for the Bulldogs' scout team offense, even noticed the play clock starts faster since officials spot the ball quicker than in high school or in practice.

"The good players and good quarterbacks can really slow the game down in their mind," Clark said. "Nobody is going to be great when bullets are going off a thousand miles an hour around you, so the important thing is being able to calm down and go through your whole thought process during the game as you normally would during practice."

Recalling what's been taught in practice is vital, according to Nutt.

"Once you get out there and start playing, once you get the first snap, it goes back to that remote memory of being on automatic pilot," Nutt said. "You tell yourself, 'This is what I've practiced. This is what I've done. I'm going to hand it to these great backs and throw it to my guys.' You go back to playing football and that's the focus and concentration that you have to have.

"There's going to be nervousness and there's going to be butterflies, you're going to have all that. But after that first snap, after that first handoff and after that first time you get hit, you know you're going to be all right."

Hogs quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke notified Dick he would be the starter during a meeting with quarterbacks Sunday. He started true freshman Jeff Throne at quarterback for Eastern Illinois in 1990. Thorne had growing pains, but helped pilot the Panthers to a winning record.

"(Thorne) played well that year because he had some good people around him," Wittke said. "He was a mature kid and even though he struggled at times, he always managed to stay positive."

Staying positive will be Wittke's game-day advice for Dick.

"Stay focused on the fact that the next play is the only play. It's a 60-minute game," said quarterback coach Roy Wittke. "The true measure will be how he handles it if something happens and something goes wrong. How he responds. He doesn't have to shoulder the entire burden on his own, he's got plenty of people to help him.

"He just needs to do his job and if he does his job to the best of his ability, he'll be OK."

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