Former Hogs Looking To Go Out With A Win

SAN ANTONIO -- Vickiel Vaughn sat at his locker inside the Alamodome on Friday afternoon, making sure that no space on his Arkansas helmet went uncovered.

Vaughn carefully placed a University of Louisville sticker on one side of his helmet, not far from where a large Florida sticker had been applied and where other decals would soon go.

By the time he was finished, Vaughn wanted his helmet for the East-West Shrine Game to be covered from front-to-back with stickers representing the schools of his new teammates.

"We traded our Arkansas decals, too," said the former Razorback safety. It might be hard to tell judging by Vaughn's helmet, but Arkansas will have a noticeable presence when the East-West Shrine Game kicks off at 3 p.m. today on ESPN2. And there are more reasons for that than just because Houston Nutt is coaching the East team.

Following a short walk-through practice on Friday morning, Nutt said all five of his former Arkansas players will start the all-star game. That includes quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who transferred to Alabama State in the spring of 2003 after three season with the Razorbacks.

"That's one privilege I get," Nutt said of starting his former players, though he added that he'll change the lineup after every few series. But consider the possibility that former Arkansas center Kyle Roper will snap the ball to Jackson, who then hands it off to either former Hog tailback De'Arrius Howard or fullback Brandon Kennedy. It's like they're back in Fayetteville. Vaughn, meanwhile, will start at safety.

"It's been real fun being with all the guys from Arkansas, with Vickiel and B.K. and D-Howard and everybody," Roper said. "It's fun just having one last game with them."

The former Arkansas players have spent the last week running drills with Nutt, getting yelled at by Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring and meeting new quarterbacks coach Alex Wood.

But after finishing a disappointing 4-7 last season and missing a bowl game for the second consecutive year, the former Hogs admit they're looking at the East-West Shrine Game as more than just a reunion and a chance to impress NFL scouts.

"It's not like the NBA All-Star Game or the NFL Pro Bowl, where you can just go out there and put on a show," Kennedy said. "I came down here to win this game, because at Arkansas, we didn't have too many wins this year."

Nutt agreed to coach the East team because he didn't like the way his seniors went out, and in return, they have taken today's game seriously.

"It's definitely one of those things where everybody wants to go out there and win," Roper said. "I mean, we didn't come here for no reason. If we're going to keep score, (we) might as well win."

And there will be a familiar face standing on the opposite sideline, coaching the West team. Dennis Franchione beat Nutt in 2001 and 2002 before he left Alabama for Texas A&M.

But the rules for today's game will be slightly different from those in college football. Defenses are not allowed to blitz and must line up in a 4-3 formation. Offenses, meanwhile, are limited to only two formations, and wide receivers must get two feet inbounds for a catch to be ruled complete.

But those aren't the only changes that will take getting used to, especially when it comes to Jackson.

"I never thought that I'd ever play for Coach Nutt again, or ever even see him again," Jackson said. "So it's cool to come back and play for him again."

Jackson was voted by his teammates as one of the East team's two captains, and the Razorbacks will be represented in other ways. Nutt made sure to hand out Arkansas T-shirts so that people standing along his sideline are dressed in his favorite colors of cardinal and white.

In addition, a placard bearing Mitch Mustain's name was still above a locker inside the Alamodome from when the recent Arkansas commitment played in the US Army All-American Bowl earlier this month. It was a fitting touch considering the heavy Razorback presence.

"We come here to win," Nutt said.

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