Arkansas Soap Opera Ends With Transfer

FAYETTEVILLE -- At one time, four of the Springdale Five played for Arkansas. Only three are left.

After a week of speculation and wild rumors, the soap opera involving Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and three former Springdale High star players came to an end -- at least for now.

Freshman wide receiver Damian Williams sent word Wednesday afternoon that he has decided to transfer to another school. Meanwhile, quarterback Mitch Mustain and wide receiver/tight end Ben Cleveland assured Nutt during a team meeting later in the day that they'll remain with the No. 12 Razorbacks.

"It was something that we all kind of had to reconsider, but I was happy with the way it went this year," Mustain said following Wednesday night's practice. "That's just something that I'd kind of like to keep between us, the people that made that decision.

"I'm willing to give it a shot."

Williams surprised Nutt with his decision to transfer less than three weeks before Arkansas faces No. 6 Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day.

Nutt said Williams' father, David, called Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn on Wednesday and informed him that Damian was transferring to another school.

Malzahn coached all three freshmen -- plus Arkansas wide receiver Andrew Norman -- to a state championship at Springdale High last year. The four players made up the majority of a high-powered senior group that was dubbed the Springdale Five.

Malzahn was also one of the main reasons why Williams decided to sign with Arkansas in February after previously committing to play for Florida.

"He's a good kid. He had to make his decision that he felt like was best for him, but we've got to coach the guys that are here," Malzahn said.

Nutt said he will grant Williams a release from his scholarship, though the coach added that he's not sure where the freshman will go. Williams started five games this season, and he was the team's second-leading receiver with 19 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns.

A message left Wednesday night on Williams' cell phone was not returned.

Though the three freshmen had gotten significant playing time during the regular season, their dissatisfaction with the way things have gone came to light late last week. The parents of Mustain, Williams and Cleveland met with Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles last Thursday to express their concerns about certain issues.

"I made it very clear at the first of the meeting that I was not there seeking assurances, promises or guarantees about the future of the program," Beck Campbell, Mustain's mother, said in a written statement sent to the media on Wednesday. "There was never discussion by any parent regarding the playing time of any player.

"We discussed matters that would be of any concern to a freshman parent."

Mustain, consensus national player of the year last season,, went 8-0 as a starter for the Razorbacks this season. But the freshman quarterback has seen little playing time since getting benched after he threw an interception on his first pass attempt in a 26-20 win at South Carolina on Nov. 4.

Sophomore Casey Dick has struggled since taking over as the starter.

There was much talk on Internet message boards and on local sports radio shows that Mustain was leaning toward transferring to another school. But he dispelled that notion by assuring Nutt that he was staying for the immediate future.

"I'm here right now, and that's what I plan on doing," Mustain said. "I came out today, and I'm going to keep on fighting for (the starting job) as long as I am (here)."

Mustain took half of the reps when Arkansas returned to practice Wednesday, giving the impression that the quarterback job is up for grabs.

Cleveland also agreed to stay at Arkansas despite his father being vocal over the last few days about his son not getting the chance to play to his abilities.

"We're going to be a Razorback, and we're going to be a Razorback for the next three years," Cleveland said.

Cleveland said his decision to stay was based largely on the fact that Malzahn was at Arkansas, though his father had his reservations.

"I don't know if that was the best decision, but it's his decision and he'll have to live with it," Rick Cleveland said. "... He pretty much has line loyalty to Coach Malzahn.

"My fear is that if Coach Malzahn leaves next year for a head coaching job, our kids will be abandoned."


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