At this time a year ago, Hewitt wasn't even on Arkansas' radar. It seemed almost certain that the quarterback-turned-free safety would be punishing wide receivers in the Big Ten — not the Southeastern Conference.
But things don't always go as planned, especially in the crazy world of college football recruiting.
"Call it fate, but Matt just happened to be a good fit for Arkansas," said Mick Caba, Hewitt's former coach at Alfred State College in western New York.
Hewitt has fit in surprisingly well with the Razorbacks over the first two weeks of practice, so much so that he's pushing junior Michael Grant for the starting free safety job.
Usually, it takes a junior college transfer some time to get adjusted to playing at a big-time Division I program. But the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Hewitt has impressed Arkansas' coaches with his ability to pick up the defense so fast.
"He's real emotional about the game, so you can tell when he comes out there he's ready to work," Grant said. "Whoever works hard is going to get a chance with this defense."
But Hewitt didn't expect to be at Arkansas in the first place. He thought he'd be playing somewhere in the Big Ten.
While Hewitt was at Alfred State, Caba said he'd get phone calls on a weekly basis from schools like Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State.
They didn't make it a secret that they wanted to sign the safety, who has good hands, a knack for tackling and an intense demeanor on the football field.
But when the schools learned that Hewitt wouldn't graduate from junior-college until May — making it impossible for him to take part in their spring practices — they quickly backed off him.
"It was kind of hard for me. All of them turned me down, and then during the winter break, I was calling schools myself," Hewitt said. "I was calling like Penn State and Maryland. I was sending tapes out all on my own."
That's when Stan Spitulnik, Alfred State College's defensive coordinator, heard Arkansas coach Houston Nutt say during an interview on Rivals.com Radio that he was in desperate need of a free safety.
"(Spitulnik) heard that Arkansas needed a safety, so he said, ‘Coach, you might want to see if they still need a safety,'" Caba said.
One of Hewitt's highlight tapes was sent to Arkansas, and the coaches were impressed with what they saw. But jaded by what had happened with the Big Ten schools, Hewitt had his doubts.
"I was like, ‘I don't know. They're going to probably turn me down like other Division I schools,'" Hewitt said.
Arkansas surprised him by making him an offer a few days before National Signing Day.
"We really lucked out and it's very unusual for that late in the game to get a guy with that much quality," Nutt said. "We lucked out because there was some things he needed to do academically. Otherwise, he'd probably already have been gone."
Hewitt admits he had some difficulty at first adjusting to Arkansas' practices. He felt overwhelmed, but a few phone calls to his brother, Chris, helped calm his nerves.
"At times, I called my brother like, ‘Chris, you've got to help, man. I don't know what's going on. I don't know if I can handle this,'" said Hewitt, whose brother played four years in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints. "My brother (was) always telling me, ‘Just snap out of it. You just keep on working hard at all times and things will happen great for you.'"
So far, so good.
Hewitt Takes Unsual Journey to Arkansas
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