State of the Hogs: DeMarcus Love
The most decorated football player on the 2008 Arkansas football team is Jonathan Luigs. He's been the SEC's best center for most of the last three seasons and capped a second straight All-America season by winning the Remington Award.
This will surprise some – and it's obviously twisting the facts to suit the story – that Luigs isn't the Arkansas offensive linemen with the most time on the big screen. That honor would go to offensive guard DeMarcus Love.
What? Love wasn't even a fulltime starter last season and he didn't even finish the last one he started, against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
Like I said, we are twisting and turning the facts to suit our purposes when we throw that out, but there is at least a little fact behind the lead of this column.
Love, 6-5, 302-pound sophomore-to-be from Dallas Carter, burst on the national scene as a high school sophomore when he helped out in a small role in the hit movie Friday Night Lights.
The climax of Friday Night Lights pits Odessa Permian against Dallas Carter in the Texas state high school title game. The start of that game featured the big, bad Carter team streaming onto the field. Yes, that was Love wearing No. 53 front and center in that scene.
"When the movie came out, it was pretty neat," Love said. "When I got the DVD, I watched it four or five times. I'd rewind it and see that part again."
Teammates have watched it a few times with him, too.
"He's shown it to us," said wide receiver London Crawford, Love's roommate. "It is pretty cool to see him in it."
Doesn't look much like Love now, Crawford said. It was a skinnier version.
"I was pretty lean back then," Love said. "I was always one of the biggest kids in my class growing up. That's how I got into football. My first time to play was when I was 10 and my coach talked me into it by telling me that football was perfect for me. He'd say, ‘Look, you will be the biggest on the team. You have to play.'
"If I hadn't been the biggest, I probably wouldn't have played. I was just a chubby kid until middle school. In the eighth grade, I was 5-10, then shot up to 6-2 in the ninth grade. I was a real skinny 205 when I was in the movie, but probably 285 by the time I was done from high school."
By then, Love was coveted by Kansas, Kansas State, Utah and Arizona before picking the Razorbacks.
Coaches raved about him throughout a redshirt season in 2007 and some even predicted he would challenge for playing time at guard. A knee injury midway through August derailed his progress until things went sour in the offensive line during the Tennessee game because of an injury to Jose Valdez the previous week.
Robert Felton, the right guard most of the year, was moved to left tackle against Mississippi State. Love was inserted in the lineup at right guard and with good results. The results were even better six days later when the Hogs won at LSU with Love helping neutralize All-America tackle Glenn Dorsey among others.
"I really don't remember that much about Dorsey," Love said after spring drills about five weeks ago. "I know I saw some of him. To be honest, it was such a long game that LSU was rotating their inside tackles a lot. I saw a lot of different players that day. They were all pretty good, but we did well against them."
Things fell apart early in the Cotton Bowl. Felton struggled at tackle and was eventually moved back to guard with Valdez returning outside on the left side. That sent Love to the bench.
Love was one of the anchors of a good offensive line in the spring. He stepped in at the strong guard slot in Bobby Petrino's weakside-strongside flip system. Love said the concept is exactly what he played in high school.
"Obviously, this is more complex, but we did the same alignment style at Carter," he said. "It just minimizes the total number of plays you have to learn. You flip sides when it's called the other way and just block it the same way."
Love likes it, but admits there is still a lot to refine both this summer and in August. He is thankful for Luigs.
"He's the best in the country," Love said. "I've got him right beside me to help guide me and make those calls for us up front. He is just so good at everything. Smooth. He can do everything you want at center."
Smooth might be the right word for Luigs. It seems nasty is the one most use to describe Love. In his post-spring assessment of offensive personnel, coordinator Paul Petrino said Love has a nasty football nature about him. Crawford said that's what makes his roommate special on the field.
"He just is plain nasty out there," Crawford said. "You want to follow that kind of a player. You want to run behind him because of that nasty streak."
The run game is what Love likes the best. He's like most offensive linemen in that regard.
"I do like run blocking and I'm trying to learn all the situations that the coaches are showing us in the pass block scheme," Love said. "That's one of the things we are going to really focus on this summer, getting the calls and steps right."
One of the things the offensive linemen will do on a daily basis is hold hands. Yep, you read it right. Those big nasty linemen link hands to focus on the snap count.
Obviously, Luigs has his hands full with the center snap each play. However, guards and tackles link inside hands when they come to the line and drop them at the snap.
It's something Bobby Petrino and line coach Mike Summers did at Louisville to help the tackles in their pass set drops. In loud stadiums, it is sometimes difficult for the tackles to hear the count. Guards hear it better and can also see the snap out of the corner of their eyes. Tackles can't see the snap since they are often focused on a defensive end set wide of their outside foot.
Otherwise, there wasn't a lot of hand holding done last spring. The new staff coached toughness, both mentally and physically. No one wanted to miss practices because of the nature of the rehab assignments.
"It was easier to practice than not practice," Love said. "I had a sprain to the MCL (knee ligament) in one of the scrimmages. I had them tape it up and I got back out there for the next drive. That was the best way to handle it, just get back out there. We all figured it out pretty fast."
It will likely lead to more leading roles on the big screen. This time that screen sits atop the Broyles Center. Change the title to Saturday Night Lights.
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