Arkansas offensive lineman Nate Garner waited a long time to earn a starting job with the Razorbacks.
For four years, the Roland native toiled behind veterans like Zac Tubbs and Tony Ugoh. He watched closely. He studied. He tried to prepare for his opportunity, whenever it came.
After spending most of his career as a reserve, Garner has finally become an anchor for the Razorbacks at right tackle. The fifth-year senior has started every game this season and is one of the top performers on an offensive line paving the way for running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
And Garner said the wait has been worth it.
"It's awesome," Garner said. "It's great to be able to block for D-Mac and Felix. It's a great responsibility to be a starting offensive lineman for the Razorbacks."
Garner has been on the field in spot situations for the Razorbacks throughout his career. He has played in 24 games and even earned a start in last season's season opener against Southern California. But Garner said the experiences have been nothing like the responsibilities he has with the Hogs now.
"Following behind Tubbs and Ugoh, those are a couple of great guys to learn from," Garner said. "I just studied for four years straight to know everything when I get out here."
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Garner played one of the best games of his career against South Carolina. He was part of an offensive line that paved the way for 541 rushing yards. That included an 80-yard run by McFadden and a 72-yarder by Jones.
Offensive line coach Mike Markuson said Garner played "very well." It came a few weeks after Markuson challenged the entire group after a poor performance in the 9-7 loss to Auburn.
"Certain games that we played that were just, it wasn't as sharp as you'd like," Markuson said. "Sometimes with as many long runs as (McFadden and Jones) have had in their career here it's easy for guys to watch them because they can make so much happen.
"Point being is, when you play a good opponent, no matter who it is, they're ready to go tackle them they're going to go tackle them. You've just got to block better."
Garner is the first to admit he hasn't been perfect. In fact, he was partially responsible for the big hit that knocked quarterback Casey Dick out of the Florida International game.
But the 6-foot-7, 319-pound Garner said he has plenty of confidence after his performance against South Carolina.
"If you have a penalty or a missed assignment or something, you've just got to go to the next play," Garner said.
He said the next task — Tennessee — will be just as challenging for the offensive line. The Volunteers' defense has struggled to stop opponents this season, but Garner said blocking them won't be easy. But he plans to be ready for them.
"We're expecting their best game," Garner said. "We've got to expect their best."
HI.com Feature: Nate Garner
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