FAYETTEVILLE — It wasn't long ago that Arkansas receiver Carlton Salters rejected Bobby and Paul Petrino.
Salters was a three-sport star at Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian High when the two tried to convince him to sign with Louisville in 2006. The Petrinos thought he would be a perfect fit for their power spread offense and wanted to bring him on board.
The problem was, Salters was more intrigued by the chance to play in the Southeastern Conference. So he said thanks for the offer, but signed with Arkansas.
"They recruited me hard, but I told Coach Paul I just couldn't come to Louisville," Salters said with a smile. "I didn't like Louisville. It was nothing against them."
Three years later, Salters is running routes designed by Bobby Petrino and working closely with receivers coach Paul Petrino on the practice field. The 6-foot, 191-pound sophomore, who played sparingly for the Hogs in 2007, has emerged as one of the potential beneficiaries of the new staff's "feed the studs" mantra.
It's not a bad feeling considering Salters wasn't sure how the Petrinos would treat him after he turned down a scholarship offer three years earlier. But it didn't take Salters long to realize they weren't holding a grudge.
"I came in and coach Paul was like, ‘You were the first person I asked about when I got off the plane,'" Salters said. "I met coach Bobby in his office and I said, ‘Coach you don't remember me do you?' He looked at me and said, ‘Give me your name.' I said, ‘Carlton Salters.' He said, ‘Tallahassee, Florida. You're the one that didn't want to come play for us.' He remembered who I was."
Salters now has the best of both worlds with Petrino running the show at Arkansas. He has become one of the Razorbacks' most dependable pass catchers in practice, working in the slot in Arkansas' complex offense.
Salters had 23 catches for 282 yards and 2 touchdowns in three spring scrimmages. He had a team-high 79 receiving yards — 50 of which came courtesy of a blown defensive assignment that led to his touchdown — during Arkansas' first preseason scrimmage last weekend. He has caught many more in other practices.
"He knows how to get open," Paul Petrino said. "He has real good hands. He has the ability to read defenses and the ability to find open zones. Those are his positives."
Said Bobby Petrino: "He really understands the game, has great hands, can catch the ball in traffic."
Those traits will come in handy considering Salters will primarily work the middle of the field, searching for openings in zone coverages. He said the position takes concentration, fearlessness and toughness. It also requires plenty of preparation, which is why he has spent countless hours in the film room with Paul Petrino.
Teammate Lucas Miller believes the product on the practice field is proof Salters will excel in the role.
"To tell you the truth, I've learned a lot from him," said Miller, whose 13 career catches are 10 more than Salters total. "We always talk about coverages and what we're doing here or there. He's very knowledgeable. He's a great player. He's going to help us a lot."
Salters said he helped himself by realizing that slot receiver could be his niche when he first arrived on campus. He's not equipped with blazing speed like teammate and deep-play threat London Crawford, but Salters believed he had the instincts to get open and the dependable hands to catch the ball.
The problem was, he didn't get a chance to prove it last season because Arkansas' offense didn't call for it.
Salters — who said he understood the situation with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the backfield — played sparingly in nine games, catching four passes for 38 yards. But he remained patient with the process and now feels like Petrino's arrival was "a blessing."
Even if he turned down the chance to play for his new coaches at Louisville three years ago.
"It's just a great system for me," Salters said. "All I've got to do is to get to the spot and if the quarterback is on time, we've got a completion every time.
"It's what we've been asking for since we got here. If I don't make it happen now, it's on me."
Breaking Them Down
Wide Receivers at a Glance
Sure Thing: Receiver London Crawford should emerge as one of the Southeastern Conference's most productive receivers this season. Crawford has led the way for the Razorbacks in scrimmages and is the team's most consistent big-play threat. He'll get plenty of opportunities to prove his worth in Petrino's offense.
Big Question: The group is deep, but, in reality, few have significant playing experience. Crawford and Carlton Salters, the two top receivers, have caught 17 passes in their careers. So how the entire group holds up in big games against big players is still unknown.
Top Newcomer: All four freshmen could play, but former Warren High star Jarius Wright has been the most explosive in practice. Wright has latched onto several deep balls, runs reverses and is even Arkansas' top option as a punt returner for now.
Quotable: "They're hungry. They came in with a purpose. I think that was good for all of us because we saw that and said, ‘Hey, nobody's spot is secure right now.' No matter what you've done in the past or what your name is, this is a new era. They don't care how old you are, it's whoever proves himself on the field. That competition has risen each and every day."
— Junior Lucas Miller on the impact the freshmen have made on the rest of the receiving corps.
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