Forte Assumes Leadership Role

HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas linebacker Elston Forte didn't know he was going to represent the Razorbacks at Southeastern Conference Media Days until last Thursday.

Only two days ago, he saw himself on the cover of Arkansas 2008 media guide along with coach Bobby Petrino and center Jonathan Luigs.

So it would make sense if the senior was still coming to grips with the fact he has become the face of Arkansas' defense. But Forte said Friday he's already grown very comfortable in the role.

"I'm stepping to the plate," Forte said. "That's what (Petrino) asked me to do. That's what I'm doing. No problem. No questions asked."

Forte told the assembled media in the Wynfrey Hotel that he has embraced his new responsibilities as the 2008 season nears. The familiar faces that starred for the Razorbacks the past two seasons are long gone, leaving Arkansas grateful for Forte's willingness to step into the limelight.

They're even more thrilled because of the position Forte plays. Arkansas' biggest concern entering the new era is the talent and depth at linebacker, but Petrino believes Forte will the Razorbacks some stability when preseason practice opens next week.

"We do have some great leadership there," Petrino said. "He's a young man that understands the game, can play on both outside linebacker positions, rush the passer.

"So we'll be counting on him to really make the call, settle everything down and make sure we're executing on the front seven very well."

It will be a different challenge for the Little Rock native, who started six games in 2007.

Forte was 11th on the team in tackles (51) and second in fumble recoveries (two). But when the Hogs looked for leadership after the departure of veterans like Weston Dacus, Matt Hewitt and Matterral Richardson, Forte wasn't the obvious choice.

He went out and grabbed the title, though.

"Last season we had seniors," Forte said. "We had other people that took those roles on.

"This season, it's me and my other teammates who are willing to take that role."

Forte's rise has coincided with the troubles of other linebackers. Three players — Freddie Fairchild, Wendel Davis and Freddy Burton — were arrested in separate incidents in the offseason.

Fairchild was dismissed. The status of Burton and Davis hasn't been determined. But Davis has missed workouts this month with a broken hand.

"All we can do is just pull them in and talk to them as a team and as a whole," Forte said. "It didn't really affect us. We know people make mistakes. We all make mistakes. You forgive and forget."

Without Fairchild, Forte's guidance will be critical for the rest of a group that includes redshirt freshman Jerry Franklin and sophomores Ryan Powers and Jermaine Love. The Razorbacks are so thin they'll count on incoming freshman like Tenarious Wright and Jelani Smith to help too.

But Forte, Arkansas' new defensive leader, doesn't believe the depth will be a concern.

And he was very comfortable saying so Friday.

"We have people who are more than willing to do what they got to do to play a big part of our team," Forte said. "That's all we need."

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