Once again in Tuesday morning's University of Arkansas football practice, defenders were seeing the back of Ronnie Wingo's jersey.
Be it on a handoff or catching a pass out of the backfield, the 6-3, 218-pound freshman tailback from St. Louis has shown he is ready to contribute right away this season.
"I am just ready to compete and there are like 10 of us tailbacks," Wingo said. "Only one can carry the ball at one time so I am just trying to make plays to get in the rotation. I am trying my best to learn the playbook, get my steps down and turn it loose."
Arkansas running back coach Tim Horton, who was also the lead recruiter on Wingo, said the youngster has gotten it done in the team's first six practices.
"I have really been pleased with him," Horton said. "I think he has got better ball skills than I originally thought and he is a very good learner. For a freshman, I think back to comparing him to Dennis Johnson and De'Anthony Curtis and while they did a good job, he is ahead of where they were, has got a good football mind and understands it well.
"He has busted very few assignments, which is a credit to him because it means he is obviously putting in the extra time to do it," Horton added.
Wingo, who rushed for 4,449 yards and 48 touchdowns while breaking 12 school records at University High, is well aware of how different things are on the college level from the high school one.
"It is real fast and you have to get up to the fast tempo in practice," Wingo said. "The linebackers are faster, the d-backs are faster, even the d-linemen are faster. I am trying so hard not to make a mistake, but sometimes you have got to realize that you are only a freshman, even one with high expectations and not put too much pressure on yourself."
Michael Smith, the Razorbacks' starting senior tailback and preseason All-SEC selection, has taken Wingo under his wing.
"I use him a lot," Wingo said of Smith. "He is a great leader and a great player. He is always there for me…He has been there for me since day one."
Wingo said that while there is great competition at the tailback spot, but also that the backs are getting along while trying to push each other and themselves.
"It is good chemistry back there," Wingo said. "There is no like hating on each other. Since there are so many people, when you get your rep, you have got to make the most of it. That one rep might be your only rep, or if you do get, you will get another. Every rep counts in that type of situation when there is so many of us."
While he is often described as being the big back-type of runner that Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino wants for his system, Wingo is also blessed with speed as evidenced by winning a couple of state spring titles.
"I won the state in the 100 and 200 and that was a good way to end my career because football didn't end the way I wanted it to end," Wingo said. "I may even do it here, but I am not sure yet. It just depends on what Coach Petrino says because I don't want to miss any football for track."
Horton thinks that track helped Wingo – who rushed for 403 yards and 7 touchdowns in a game against Vianney his senior season - come into camp ready to go.
"He came into camp in very good shape," Horton said. "I think his track career took him so long (into the summer) and he was doing well and that kept him in great shape. It did get his weight down, but since he got back into football he has gained 8 to 10 pounds back. It's good weight and he is back in football weight as opposed to track weight."
Wingo also put in plenty of work after the track season was over.
"I was working out at a place called Acceleration with my father so I wasn't just sitting around at home doing nothing," Wingo said. "I came here in shape and ready to go."
After being one of Missouri's top targets, Wingo became the villain when he signed with the Razorbacks instead of the Tigers.
"After I committed, I didn't get no love," Wingo said. "They got over it after awhile, but it was just a big surprise for them that I didn't go to Missouri.
"I ain't going to lie, I thought myself I was going to go to Missouri," Wingo added. "But my heart told me to come here and I followed my heart."
He admits that the recruiting process wore him out.
"It was great to get it over with and I had a big old sigh of relief," Wingo said. "I am glad I picked Arkansas. Nothing has changed from what they were telling me it was going to be like when I was recruited. They were honest with me and I appreciated that."
There is a chance that Marquise Hill, Wingo's cousin and another St. Louis standout that could play wideout or cornerback in college, could join him in Fayetteville.
Hill committed to Missouri early this year, but has since backed out and has Arkansas and Minnesota on his list now as well as his home-state school.
"He asked me when I first got here if I thought it would be a perfect fit for him, too," Wingo said. "I said it is perfect for me, but it might not be for you. It has been like a dream for us to play together in college and I would really like for that to happen, but I don't want him making the decision just based off me."
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