True freshmen cornerbacks David Gordon and Darius Winston hated to see junior starter Isaac Madison lost to a season-ending injury, but know exactly what it means for them.
It's the time to get ready is now, not later.
Both Gordon (6-0, 175, 4.4) and Winston (6-0, 180, 4.38) saw time at the second-team field corner spot behind new starter Greg Gatson during Tuesday's pair of practices.
"It is bad thing that one of our top cornerbacks went down, some guy that I could watch and actually always watched and tried to learn from since I was thinking about coming here," Gordon said. "But I also understand now that I have to pick it up even more now because it has put me in a position to play right now.
"I have to get into my playbook, I have to work harder and I know that there is a lot of growing left for me, but I understand that and will work hard to get that done," Gordon said. "I know there have been and will be times in practice that I mess up, but I have to just stay focused and say ‘this is a learning experience' and move forward.'"
That's the same sentiment shared by Winston, the Razorbacks' lone 5-star recruit in the 2009 recruiting class and regarded as the best player in Arkansas last season while at Helena-West Helena.
"The secondary as a whole has just come together and knows that we have got to play for him," Winston said. "He worked hard every day and was so looking forward to this season and now we have to work hard just like him. I know that I have to step it up and be ready to play."
Ramon Broadway, the starter at boundary corner and now the oldest corner back there, says the two youngsters – who were both heavily recruited - are adjusting after a rude awakening.
"Both of them definitely didn't understand the tempo of this game," Broadway said. "It's not high school. But they have got us beside them and they got us in their corners and we are definitely trying to motivate them every play. We're on them, the coaches are on them and they are responding real well. It surprises me because a lot of guys come in and they get all down and depressed with themselves, but these guys are ready to play I am telling you."
Gordon, who was a star wideout, defensive back and track star at Tulsa East Central, is not lacking for confidence in his physical skills and just trying to get his technique down.
"I am getting the playbook down, I am not scared of any receiver and when it comes to speed, I believe I can run with anybody," Gordon said. "But speed is nothing when you don't have technique and that is my biggest issue right now. That's what I have been working on the most."
He got a jump on Winston by being here this summer, being in school and working out with his future teammates.
"It helped me with my conditioning and I got bigger and stronger and faster," Gordon said. "It was a good thing I came early. I am now at 175 when I started at about 160."
The secondary was lit up last Saturday on a number of plays, but Gordon thinks it is just a matter of effort that can be corrected.
To emphasize that, the cornerbacks are now all sporting green wristbands.
"As a whole, I think we can hustle harder," Gordon said. "That is actually why we have these wristbands. They say ‘Tap That Hat' and help us remember to stay positive with each other and remember if somebody makes a big play, hustle over there and tap that hat and get ready for the next call."
Gordon – who Arkansas track coach Lance Bucknam says has world class speed – will also run track for Arkansas.
"I am very excited and think it is a blessing," Gordon said. "Actually I know it is a blessing to come to a school that is not only good at football, but also at track. I just want to thank God for the opportunity."
Winston had been playing at the boundary corner for most of camp before switching to field with the injury to Madison.
"I love playing the wide side of the field and I think I can cover so much of it," Winston said. "I feel more comfortable on the wide side."
He notes that he is still searching to find his niche in this defense.
"I am still trying to find my place in the defense," Winston said. "I am still trying to get comfortable. I am still trying to adjust to the speed of the game and get comfortable with a brand new technique and just get ready to play."
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