Razorback Q&A: Jeb Huckeba
Jeb Huckeba had better have some pretty big feet, because this fall he is being relied upon to fill some awfully large shoes in the middle of the Razorback defense. Last year at this time we were all worrying and wondering just who would step in and replace perennial stud, Quentin Caver. Of course, as the story goes, Senior Jermaine Petty would step in and quickly erase all doubt, earning All-SEC and All-American honors with a dominating performance to lead the Hogs' vaunted defensive attack. Now with Petty gone there is once again an apparent void in the defense.
But this year there is a noticeable lack of anxiety about the spot vacated by Petty, as the Arkansas players and staff know the position is in good hands with the 6-4 235 pound Huckeba. After seeing spot duty in 2001 on special teams and as a reserve outside linebacker, Jeb, a true sophomore from Searcy, Arkansas, has beefed up and is quickly maturing into one of the leaders for the Razorbacks' defense. Huckeba turned down offers to football powerhouses Nebraska and Florida State to suit up for Houston Nutt's Hogs and now he's looking to prove that he made the right choice. But first he took a moment with me so I could get to know the Razorbacks' new man in the middle.
Nathan Striegler: Didn't you originally want to redshirt last year?
Jeb Huckeba: Coming in, I felt like I needed a year to put on some weight. I had the speed but I thought 15 to 20 pounds of muscle would really help me before I stepped up into the SEC. But Gavin (Walls) got hurt so I got moved up to second string outside linebacker, backing up Caleb (Miller) and the team needed me. It's all about the team so I said that I would play. I think that experience that I got last year is really going to help me this year. I won't be as anxious. I'll be able to focus more and settle down.
NS: How much weight have you put on?
JH: I reported last year at 207 and I've weighed about 235 from mid July up until now (August 10). So I've been in Brough Commons (One of the on campus dining halls) a lot and you know that food is gonna put it on you.
NS: Do you ever look back at yourself last year and wonder how you even managed to make a tackle at that size?
JH: In this league speed is the name of the game. I had the speed last year and I was able to make some plays but the thing that hurt me was my weight. A couple of times I was playing up on the tight end and a big tackle would get on me and once he locked on it was hard for me to get off of the block. Inexperience hurt too. I'm glad that I've got the extra weight now.
NS: I remember seeing you come in for your visit in high school and I thought you were a really tall kicker.
JH: In high school I played wide receiver and linebacker. I had a pretty good year at wide receiver but the coaches that saw my highlight film said that I was a college linebacker and they knew they could put the weight on me and get me stronger and I had the speed. They felt like I could do it and I felt like I could do it.
NS: Now you actually had an in-home visit from Bobby Bowden right?
JH: Yeah. Bowden ate dinner with me and my family and that was a very nice treat. I felt real privileged to have him in my home. I felt like I was in that one percent of recruits that get to do that and I was very fortunate to take some unbelievable visits. My first visit was to Nebraska. They picked me up in a private jet. It was just the pilot, the co-pilot and me. They had a steak dinner waiting for me on the plane. They did me right.
NS: How did you say no to all that?
JH: It was hard but, you know that stuff eventually isn't going to matter. The stuff that does matter is the people. I love the coaching staff here. I'm three hours from my family here and they're real important to me. Just being a Razorback is really something. I saw something different in the players here. I wanted to be a part of something that was on the rise and not something that had already been established were if you win a National Championship it was their fourth or fifth one. I wanted to be a part of the first one here in a while.
NS: What was it like when you first went into the UNLV game?
JH: I was so excited/nervous/I had a ton of energy. If you watch the film on the first play I'm at linebacker just tapping my feet. The ran a fullback iso right at me and I just pulled the trigger, hit the dude, and the tailback had to jump over him and Petty stripped the ball from him so we got the turnover. I felt pretty good about that. I just hoped that kind of stuff would keep happening to me.
NS: How much of a change is it going from outside linebacker to inside linebacker?
JH: It's a little bit different. When coach Thompson was here we would usually play a 4-3 or a 3-3 but now we're playing more of an eight man front with two linebackers up close to the d-linemen. I like being closer to the line and especially in an eight man front with the mike and the stinger up close I just feel like I'm closer to the ball and I'm going to make more tackles. Inside is a little different. You don't take on as many iso fullback blocks and that leaves you with the opportunity to get more tackles. This year I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win, because that's what I'm hear to do…to win a championship.
NS: Is it overwhelming being the next in such a prestige lineage of linebackers, like Quentin Caver, and Jermaine Petty?
JH: Those last two linebackers, Caver and Petty were just awesome, unbelievable players. I can't be them. I've got to be myself. Quentin Caver is 6-5. Hopefully someday my frame can look like his. I'm trying to work on that right now. Maybe someday I can play at that level but for now I'm just trying to do the best that I can. I love playing for coach Allen. Everyday he makes me better and I'm just looking forward to getting to play three more years for him.
NS: The defense is already being hit with some hefty praise. How much pride do you guys take in your performance?
JH: We compare our defense to anybody in the country. We're trying to be the top, that's not to say that we are, but we're shooting for the moon. We take as much pride as you can. There is no messing around. This is business. It's a serious job and when we get out there everybody feels the same way.
NS: The offense was criticized constantly last year. How big of an improvement did you notice this year in the spring?
JH: We've got a lot of talent on offense. We've got three real good quarterbacks. Some of our O-linemen are young, but they are so talented. I feel like this year both sides of the ball are going to be clicking and we're just gonna roll with it. I think they're going to do a great job and hopefully we'll do a great job on defense to match them.
NS: Since you've been on campus, how many people have actually pronounced your last name correctly on the first try?
JH: Four or five people out of a thousand. It looks like hu-ke-ba, so everybody is like, "Why would you pronounce it hu-ka-bee?" I really don't know why we pronounce it like that.
NS: How much have the older linebackers shaped your development?
JH: Coming in I was looking at those guys and just trying to watch and learn. They're starting and making plays in the SEC so I try to see what they do and apply it to what I do. I feel like everyday I can work and get better.
NS: After growing up in Arkansas, watching Arkansas football, and seeing these athletes that seem almost like Gods, how does it feel to now be one of those guys?
JH: It's pretty awesome. Sometimes you've got to step back and look at what the lord has blessed you with. I'm real fortunate that he has blessed me with the ability, so now I've just got to take care of it and do my part by using it for his glory. It's an honor and a privilege and I looked up to those guys when I was little and I'm just glad that I can, hopefully, be a role model to others now.
NS: Your father is the head coach at Harding University. Do you think it helps you, being a coach's son?
JH: I think it helps to a certain point. I've always loved football just because I was always around it from such a young age. I got to live every boy's dream, being the ball boy for a college team. I had a blast and I developed a real love for the game. Then I started playing it and the rest is history.
NS: It seems like every player that I talk to has something weird or kinda dorky about them. Have you got any dark secrets to tell?
JH: I love to play Playstation 2 NCAA 2003 football. I went home last weekend and my grandpa has an old Nintendo with Mario and Duck Hunt. I'll plug in Mario and play till I die ten times. I try to beat it every time. Another thing I like to do is play music and sing. Me and my brother always sing together. He's a good singer. I sing alright but I just love music. I don't know if that's embarrassing or not.
NS: What kind of music?
JH: Anything. Country. Pop music.
JH: I like some of their songs. I'm not really into the group.
NS: No posters up in your room?
NS: Should we be expecting a solo album any time soon?
JH: Nope. If you talk about cutting a record talk to Gerald Howard and Fred Talley. They're into it big time.