‘A Good Career' Comes to an End

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs stared at the scoreboard in disbelief last Saturday.

The Arkansas center had just watched from the sideline as Alex Tejada's game-tying field goal attempt pushed wide right. He saw Mississippi State's players spilling onto the field, celebrating its 31-28 win. And it hit him.

Arkansas wasn't going to a bowl game. Which meant it had only the season finale against LSU left. Which meant his college career was almost over.

"It was just the realization that that was the last nail in the coffin," Luigs said. "I knew that I had only one more game for sure. It was tough."

The first season of the Bobby Petrino era will come a close when the Razorbacks play LSU in War Memorial Stadium on Friday (1:30 p.m. kickoff). With it, comes the end of the line for one of the most decorated players in school history.

Luigs, a Little Rock native, never hogged national headlines like running back Darren McFadden, didn't reach cult-hero status like quarterback Matt Jones, and won't be remembered for his role in any magical play. But his four years of toiling in Arkansas' trenches have been pretty impressive.

He's one of four players in school history to win a national individual award after being named the Rimington Trophy winner — given to the nation's top center — last season. He has been dotted with all-SEC and all-American honors. He has been at the center of Arkansas' offense for four seasons.

"He has meant everything to this team and this offensive line," offensive tackle Jose Valdez said. "Without him, this is a whole different team."

There's no doubt Luigs has been a part of it all. Good and bad.

Luigs has started 48 games as a Razorback. Even more, he has started every game he has played. The only one Luigs missed in four years came in 2005, when he sat out a 24-13 loss to Alabama with a high ankle sprain.

Since, Luigs has started 45 straight games and 41 of those have been at center. He took over the position full-time on Nov. 19, 2005, when then Arkansas senior center Kyle Roper was sidelined with an ankle injury.

Luigs hasn't relinquished the spot since heading into the season finale.

"I tell you what he possesses, not only the knowledge of the game and what to do, but he's a tremendous athlete," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "To be able to be the size that he is and bend and stay on his feet, be able to adjust and get through. ... Center is a tough position. You've got to be a little bit sneaky, a little bit nasty, and it's certainly a learned position because of all the different things you have to do. And he's learned it well."

That was one reason Luigs returned to Arkansas for his senior season after briefly considering an early jump into the NFL Draft. Sure, he had learned how to play center in his three seasons. But he wanted to learn more.

Absorbing himself in Petrino's pro-style offense for another year gave him that opportunity even though it has been a remarkably challenging one.

Luigs was expected to digest the new system quicker than most others and pick up new techniques. He was counted on to help teach younger players. He was asked to help guide the offense during its transformation.

"I think it helped to know there was a guy in there that you could count on," offensive line coach Mike Summers said. "He worked extremely hard to learn the offense, which was critical for everybody up front. Because of his effort to learn, he helped all of us develop as the season went on.

"Now, there were good days and bad days, but I'm glad we had him."

Luigs was a little more critical about his performance Monday, though.

He said Arkansas has only won four games with the offense struggling much more than anticipated. The offensive line has yielded an NCAA-worst 40 sacks in 11 games. The rushing attack has lacked consistency.

So Luigs doesn't think he lived up to lofty preseason expectations as the nation's top center and one of Arkansas' team captains.

"I've had some good games and some bad games to be honest with you," Luigs said. "I wish I could be a little more consistent of a leader and keeping guys focused up there and getting them to the right spot. I think overall I've been average to be honest with you. ... I wish I could've done more."

Don't be mistaken, though. Luigs isn't deeming it a failure.

He said the 2008 season — for all its disappointments — has taught him a lot. Luigs feels more mature as a player. Leadership remains a self-proclaimed weakness, but Luigs said he learned through his ups and downs as a team captain. And he knows more about offense than he did last year.

"He's been exposed to a lot of things he hadn't seen for three years," Summers said. "And that's always difficult for you. Especially when you've been playing as much as he's been playing. But he did a good job with that.

"He always came in with an attitude of wanting to learn and wanting to understand what was going on. Because of that, I think he did get better as the season went on. I was proud of how he played."

Luigs will get one more chance to leave another impression on Arkansas' coaches and fans in his hometown Friday. It will be Luigs' 49th straight start. The last one in his decorated collegiate career.

And Luigs said he has one small request to cap it off: An Arkansas win.

"It doesn't matter if we win by one or 100," Luigs said. "Just so I can walk off the field and feel and remember my last game as a Razorback was a ‘W.'

"I think it will just be an exclamation point to a good career."

Senior Moments

Decorated center Jonathan Luigs is one of several seniors who will take part in their final game against LSU on Friday. Here is a list of the Razorbacks' senior class and what it has done — good and bad — this season:

Player Position Production

Jeremy Davis P Averaging career-best, 42.6 yards a punt

Casey Dick QB Started 10 games; 2,389 yards, 11 TDs, 14 INTs

Reggie Fish WR Worked with the scout team and hasn't played

Elston Forte LB Slowed by preseason injury, has 20 tackles

Cord Gray DT Has recorded seven tackles in eight games

Shedrick Johnson CB Notched 10 tackles, 1 fumble recovery in 10 games

Walner Leandre S Reserve has recorded 14 tackles in 10 appearances

Jamar Love CB Despite broken finger, has 37 tackles, 8 pass breakups

Jonathan Luigs C Started every game in 2008 and 48 in career

Ernest Mitchell DT Had 18 tackles, suspended for final two games

Alex Mortensen QB Reserve who has not seen the field in 2008

Antwain Robinson DE Two sacks, one TD, suspended for final two games

Lance Thompson TE Suffered preseason injury and hasn't played

Jose Valdez OT Slated to earn 12th start at strong tackle Friday

Dallas Washington SS Logged 40 tackles, 1 INT and 7 starts

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