Nothing Normal For No. 5

FAYETTEVILLE--In the world of a Heisman Trophy front-runner, theory and reality are out of sync.

The man squeezed between "be yourself" and demands from the national media is Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, No. 2 in the Heisman voting last fall and No. 1 on magazine covers this fall.

On media day at Arkansas, the players are arranged alphabetically in chairs along the three walls of the artificial surface area in the bowels of the Broyles complex. Media people turn in a list of players to be interviewed and the UA sports information office distributes a check-off card to each player.

At registration, media folks receive a checklist with the names of their prey and are reminded that players with a red star by their name should be interviewed early because they only have one or two requests and can make an early exit.

Summer school is still going on and fewer players than normal showed up Monday morning for the sitdowns with the print media and the stand-ups with the TV folks.

McFadden was present but on the move. If he had been chairbound, he would have spent the entire morning answering the same questions from a couple of dozen individuals. In lieu of that, he did an 11 a.m. Q and A with any and all who wanted to participate. About 20 people showed up for his take on the perfunctory queries about the renamed Wild Hog package, opening up the offense, his privacy, life since his toe injury a year ago and a few other topics.

Smiling often, wearing his No. 5 jersey and slippers, he supplied the answers. The whole thing lasted less than 15 minutes.

Never has Arkansas done anything similar for another player. But, McFadden's preseason hype and status is unmatched in Razorback football history.

At the recent Southeastern Conference media days in Hoover, Ala., Arkansas asked that McFadden and linebacker Weston Dacus be interviewed in separate rooms. Routinely, two players from the same team share an interview room and media gravitate from one to the other.

The idea was to expose McFadden to as many people as possible, as effectively as possible. Tennessee requested the same treatment for Peyton Manning and so did Georgia with David Greene.

ESPN News picked up part of McFadden's news conference live.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said he had touched on the Heisman race at the first team meeting and that there is a plan.

" ... winning, that's the best plan," he said. "(Darren) is the front runner and we all know that."

To No. 5, he said, "You worry about being Darren McFadden."

Good advice, but a formidable task when USA Today, ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated need some of your time.

Anticipating demand during preseason practice, the UA said McFadden would be available Wednesdays and Saturdays. The only other player with a specified day for interviews is quarterback Casey Dick. In years past, it's been more catch-as-catch-can after practice.

In virtually every such setting, McFadden talks team first and that's always a good thing, particularly when the people up front are responsible for clearing the path to glory.

Nutt said McFadden can't get trapped into thinking he has to break an 80-yarder just because the game is on TV.

"Just worry about getting those four yards and getting your assignments," Nutt said. "The worst thing we can do is press and say, ‘We have to do this, we have to do that.'"

By the same token, Arkansas can't afford to overload McFadden. There is a part of any offensive planner that says let's take the best running back in the country and snap it to him on every play. From there, he can keep, pass or even run the option.

In a perfect world, Nutt said, McFadden would touch the ball 20 times per game. If Arkansas is up against it, at Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, or Baton Rouge, for instance, McFadden might have the ball 30 times.

"The bottom line is, when we win it brings more attention to the team and when you're winning, good things happen for everybody," Nutt said.



Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau. e-mail: hking@arkansasnews.com.

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