Rookies, Subs Draw A Lot of Attention

FAYETTEVILLE --It clearly isn't a case of identity theft, but a lot of Arkansas football players seemingly have wound up in the missing person's file this fall.

Because they are simply being redshirted or buried so deep on the depth chart they can't be found, Razorbacks reserves have been lost in the shuffle during the regular season.

They've resurfaced this month since Arkansas has earned its first bowl trip in three years.

For that reason, the No. 12 Razorbacks have had almost a month to take inventory of the hidden talent they have.

Arkansas meets No. 6 Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on New Year's Day.

"This is like having another spring," Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt said. "Playing in a New Year's Day Bowl before gives us the opportunity to look at the young guys and see what they can do.

"They've worked hard all year and this gives them a chance to play and show what they've got."

During this month, Nutt has praised several players and reintroduced some unfamiliar faces to playing time.

As the names rolled off his tongue, some reporters had to scramble for media guides to figure out who Nutt was talking about.

Many of them were redshirt freshmen, others were backups, others were wannabe starters, who find themselves just dying for the opportunity to contribute, or, at the very least, get an audition.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Andrew Norman, who had a productive high school career at Springdale, was among those appreciative of the time allotted, as was redshirt offensive lineman Ray Dominguez.

"It's been good to redshirt," Norman said. "But, also it's good to get back into the groove of things. It was good to get out there and compete again.

"At times, you want to be out there playing. Of course, everybody does. You know, overall I think it was a good idea to redshirt. A lot of these guys think it's a good idea. You get bigger and stronger and you focus on that.

"We play on scout teams. It has its ups and downs but overall you get to play against the first team, so you're going to get better."

Dominguez agreed.

"It's the best thing I've done so far," Dominguez said. "The upperclassmen have helped, especially Tony Ugoh. That's who I look up to. He told me that was the best thing he did as well. I came in only benching 225 (pounds), only six times. Now, I'm benching 20 times.

"I weighed 265 when I came in. Now, I weigh 307."

Sophomore Mark Bonner, a fiercely dedicated and determined linebacker who prepped at nearby Fayetteville High, is one of many players who have caught the coaching staff's eye during these bowl preparations.

Bonner, a regular special teams player, said he's thankful for the opportunity he's gotten this month.

"It's been huge having this extra time," he said. "I mean, I'm an in-between guy. I'm not on scout and I don't get all the reps. I've got to know the defense in case of an emergency. I don't get a lot of reps and I don't get to work on my skills as much. It helps out with confidence and just getting reps.

"You at least get noticed. It gives the coach a chance to know your name. You just go out there and bust some heads and make some plays.

"It's just like spring. That's where the focus is, the spring, because we are losing a lot of good players. You never know what could happen. It builds depth and confidence.

Bonner, who missed parts of the season with a dislocated left shoulder and fractured chest, probably could have seen more playing time at his position had it not been for his injuries.

"I missed about four weeks and came back after the bye week (Sept. 30)," Bonner said. "That set me back. Every day I wondered because during those weeks, there were two or three injuries.

"You always wonder if you could have had a shot."

Dominguez knew in the summer he wouldn't get his legitimate shot until next year because a redshirt season was already fitted for him.

"It's been a lot of help," Dominguez said. "I came in not knowing the plays. Me being ... only playing one year, my senior year in high school. It helped me out with my fundamentals and learning the plays. Coach (Mike) Markuson (offensive line coach) has been real patient with us.

"Plus, I'm on scout teams. Going against people like (All-America defensive end) Jamaal Anderson and (All-Southeastern Conference defensive tackle) Keith Jackson is going to make me even better."

Even the starters, who've been given some much-needed rest this month, are grateful for the reserves.

"They've been real valuable," Anderson said. "They've often times given us some time off. It's given us time to help them, too. Those other guys have picked up the pace.

"It's fun to see them work hard and get their chance."

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