Football season has officially begun on the Arkansas campus. The newcomers, minus three academic casualties, met in the Wilson Matthews "A" Club to begin orientation with school officials at 5 p.m. Thursday. First up on the agenda was a session on table manners.
The only newcomer who was not on campus that the Hogs expect this season was junior college transfer Chris Wade. A paperwork delay kept Wade from reporting. He's a blue-chip defensive end already listed on the depth chart and should be cleared soon, perhaps before practice begins Saturday afternoon.
It didn't take long to figure out the main character in the new bunch. Sports Information Director Kevin Trainor asked for guidance on that subject and got a quick answer from wide receiver London Crawford.
"It's me, or DeMarcus Love," Crawford said. "I think it's probably me. I like to be the one who makes people laugh. I like to have fun."
Crawford said he's more than a fun guy.
"Let me be clear, I'm a football player first," he said. "I came here to play. There will be no games, no parties for me. I'm a serious guy and football is what I came here for and you'll see that when I get on the field.
"What I think you'll see is that we have a great bunch of wide receivers in this group. We are going to mesh. You look and see the talent in this group, you see why I came here. I played with Ramon Broadway and Damian Williams at the All-America games in Shreveport. Damian and I were both committed somewhere else and the only way we could be together was for us to come here. I'm telling you, we are going to have some fun playing together with this bunch of wide receivers."
Quarterback Mitch Mustain laughed when told of Crawford's remarks.
"It's easy to see London is a little different," Mustain said. "It doesn't surprise me (that he said that)."
Crawford said he was excited for practice to begin on Saturday. He is ready for everyone to see that the "hype of this class isn't just hype. We can play."
The 6-3 freshman from Mobile, Ala., said he's been around Fayetteville since early June when he and his favorite high school teacher made the drive to get familiar with his new city.
"I wanted to get to recognizing the city, know what it's about," Crawford said. "She's been my teacher since the ninth grade and helped me make it out of the projects (of Mobile). I've had a horrible life and this was a new beginning so I was anxious to get started."
The teacher -- Janice Givens -- has taught several classes to Crawford, including Latin I and Latin II. She's also been her teacher for English.
"She's going to re-locate here, too," Crawford said. "She's a special lady. I wouldn't have made it from the projects without her. I had no daddy. No mother. All I had was a grandfather and a grandmother. She gave the guidance I needed. I owe her a lot."
Crawford said he wants Arkansas fans to know that this is a special freshman class.
"I know the people have heard the hype," he said. "What I want is for the people of this state to see it happen on the field. This is going to be fun.
"It's exciting that it is about to start."
The Hogs -- varsity and newcomers alike -- will be in meetings all of Friday. The newcomers began their time as Razorbacks with etiquette classes.
"We are giving them some lessons on table manners, what fork to use when, something we all should have gotten," said Paul Kirkpatrick, the Hogs' head academic counselor. "We started to take some of you reporters and use you as examples of how not to do it."
Most of the players signed last February made it to campus. The academic casualties, mostly expected, are Freddie Barnett, Dee Williams and Allen Gardner. The rest were on campus Thursday, except for juco transfer Chris Wade. Wade, defensive end from Broken Arrow, has completed all of the required course work, but Arkansas officials are still waiting for some of the paperwork to arrive. UA officials do not expect Wade's delay to last long.
The media crowded around Mustain, the national player of the year last season at Springdale High School. Mustain said the start of his Arkansas career Thursday was dampened by the death of Paul Eells, the Voice of the Razorbacks since 1978.
"The death of Mr. Eells has taken the edge off the excitement," Mustain said. "He was one of the few guys in the media that I looked forward to seeing. I was stunned at what happened. I got a call from Andrew Norman at 2 a.m. and I thought it was a joke. I couldn't believe it. I thought I'd be talking to him today."
Mustain said he was ready to get on with football practices. He said he felt no real pressure now that it was time to put on the Razorback helmet.
"The pressure I felt was before I signed," he said. "I had everyone asking me where I was going to be going. There was pressure to make a decision. Now, it's just about performance. I've had that all my life so I can handle that. I've always handled that.
"It's an exciting time. Do I feel pressure to play this year? No, if I'm ready, I know the coaches are going to play me. If I'm not ready, then I won't play. So if I'm playing, it means the coaches think I'm ready. I want to play. I came here early, earlier than everyone else. I came with Damian Williams and Andrew Norman in late May. I came in early and we worked every day so we could see if we could play this year."
What about the jump in levels? The hits will be harder in the SEC than they were in the AAAAA-West Conference.
"I'm going to get hit harder than I've ever been hit," he said. "I know that. We'll see if I can take a hit at this level. I do know I'm going to get hit hard.
"I know the talent is going to be on a bigger level and at a faster pace. That will definitely require me making an adjustment. I don't think we have many cupcakes on our schedule so it's going to take an adjustment. I'm excited to see if I can make it."
Someone asked if it was a comfort knowing he was running the same system he ran in high school under Gus Malzahn, the Hogs' new offensive coordinator. He made it clear that it was quite different.
"We've got a big playbook, bigger than we had in high school," Mustain said. "There is a lot more to it. We've got the plays they ran in the past (at Arkansas) and things they've added from (Alex Wood) and we've got some things that we ran at Springdale under Coach Malzahn.
"There is a comfort level with some things we've done in the past. But it is a lot different from what we ran at Springdale, a lot more."
The thing that he likes the most is that it's time to get started.
"Early this summer, it was just me and two other guys from Springdale, and it was quite boring," Mustain said. "Then, the rest of the freshman and the other members of the team came in. It started geting fun then. Now, it's time to get on with practice. We are all excited.
"I'll say that the group of newcomers is a lot of fun. It's very exciting. I can tell you that there are some really talented guys in this class. You've got some real talented wide receivers. We've had fun in summer school. There was one class we all had together. That was a blast. There are some characters in this group and the talent in that wide receiver class is pretty good. That bunch of wide receivers has some really good players in it."
The linebacker class appears to be special, too. At least one in that group is a bit surprised he's not at tailback, but it didn't take long for him to realize that he's got a chance to play quicker on defense.
"I wanted to be a tailback," said Ryan Powers, listed already as the Hogs' backup at will linebacker behind Sam Olajubutu.
"But when I came here this summer, I saw that they had a bunch of All-Americans at tailback with McFadden, (Felix) Jones and (Peyton) Hillis. It was clear that if I wanted to play quick, it would be at linebacker. I'm fine with that. I want to play this year. I want to play special teams. That's what I want to do, help this team and get on the field this season.
"I did think I could play tailback. I liked that in high school. But I'm past that. I'm a linebacker now. Coach (Reggie) Herring got me and showed me where I'd play quicker on defense. I'm all defense now."
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