Linebacker Proves To Be His Forte

FAYETTEVILLE -- Two years ago, Elston Forte weighed only 185 pounds, so naturally the idea of him playing linebacker sounded ridiculous.

Sure, he could lay a hit on a guy. But that didn't mean he was ready to quit being a strong safety so he could try his hand at weakside linebacker.

"No way could I see myself playing linebacker," Forte said. "I knew I had it in me to be tough, but I didn't think I had the size really."

That was 25 pounds ago.

It seems Arkansas' coaches have a new plan for the junior, who has never been more than a backup safety and a special-teams player.

Last Sunday, Forte received a phone call from Arkansas safeties coach Chris Vaughn. Forte could hear defensive coordinator Reggie Herring in the background.

The coaches told Forte that they liked what they saw from him in the Razorbacks' first preseason scrimmage on Saturday night. They then informed the junior that they wanted to try him out at linebacker.

"They told me I had a pretty good scrimmage, and they were impressed and they think it would be a good move for me to move to linebacker," Forte said.

"I told them (if) that's the best position I can be in to help the team, so be it. I'll play whatever."

It might have seemed like a gamble, but Herring is already impressed with what he's seen from Forte after only a few days of him lining up at weakside linebacker.

In fact, Herring called the move a "Christmas gift" come early. How else could he explain Forte going from being a third-team strong safety at best to a second-team linebacker in less than a week?

"Because (he's) a very sharp, intelligent, character kid, he's been paying attention in meetings and was able to line up at (weakside linebacker) and look like he'd been playing there," Herring said.

"He brings a little bit of physicalness to the game, and (I'm) very, very excited about the potential and the future for Elston."

Herring likes taking safeties who are fast and physical, moving them to linebacker when they get to Arkansas and then having them bulk up. He did that with Matt Hewitt last season, and Forte fits that same mold.

The Little Rock native has speed, possesses natural physical ability and is not afraid to hit someone. It also doesn't hurt that Forte has recovered from the pulled right hamstring that sidelined him for all of spring practice.

"There is no question that Elston has given us a shot in the arm at linebacker as far as depth and guys knowing what to do and playing the game fast," Herring said.

Forte said he welcomed the move to weakside linebacker as soon as it was suggested to him.

The junior has played in 24 games at Arkansas, but he has yet to crack the starting lineup. And it appeared unlikely that he was going to get a chance to do that this season with Hewitt holding down the strong safety position.

But already, Forte is redshirt freshman Ryan Powers' backup at weakside linebacker, and Herring said that Forte could easily push Powers for the starting job over the course of the season.

"I feel real natural there," said Forte, who now weighs 210 pounds. "I feel like I've been playing it all my life."

Elston Forte

Age: 19

Size: 6-foot, 210 pounds

Class: Junior

School: Little Rock Mills High

Notable: Forte has seen limited playing time in two seasons at Arkansas, and he missed spring practice because of an injured right hamstring. He has played in 24 games as a backup, recording 19 tackles and two interceptions. He's accustomed to playing multiple positions, evident by the fact that he split time at running back, wide receiver and safety during his senior year at Little Rock Mills High.

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