Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino gave the team the afternoon off, in effect ending the Arkansas team's two-a-day practices in a surprise. The Hogs had worked close to three hours in the morning. Instead of the scheduled afternoon workout -- which will not be made up -- the team split into three buses for community service visits at the Jones Center in Springdale, the Fayetteville Boys and Girls Club and the Yvonne Richardson Center in Fayetteville.
"I think it's a lot of fun being out here with the kids," Mallett said. "I'm sweating like I am at practice. Playing dodge ball is a lot of fun. It's good to always come back and interact with the kids.
"Athletes used to do this with us and we looked up to them. I personally loved it when athletes came and talked with us and hung out with us. I wanted to do the same thing."
Mallett nailed a few teammates in the game of dodge ball, often unloading two foam balls in rapid succession.
"I'm always with the underdogs, the kids," he said. "I always like to be with the underdogs. Some of those little kids out there have some arms. One guy hit me right in the chest and hit me hard. It was a lot of fun. We are 2-0 right now."
The last time Mallett played dodge ball was in his father's 7th grade middle school PE class.
"We used to play with a volleyballs back then until a couple of people got hurt," he said. "Then they made us stop using volleyballs."
Most times, his teammates ran from Mallett as he fired his foam throws.
"They were trying to get in a little group to protect themselves," he said. "We went and got them, got after them."
Defensive end Adrian Davis was covered in sweat, too, after a couple of dodge ball games. Who did he think was the dodge ball champ?
"So far it was Ryan Mallett," Davis said. "He's got the little arm, the gunslinger. He was hitting everybody out there."
"It's always good to give back to the community," he said. "It's always good to come out and be with the people who support us all year round in every sport.
"This was really a surprise. It was a good thing to give back, like I said. This was a good thing to be together and build more of a relationship with the juco and freshman and make them feel a part of the team."
Asked if it was a good getaway from practice, Mallett said, "I think it is and it also builds chemistry with the team. We are out there competing against each other in dodge ball and it was fun. We have fun playing football, too, but this was a good break. It will help us get rested up for tomorrow's practice and Saturday's scrimmage. Being out here with the kids made my day."
Mallett said the team has "attacked fall camp with a great deal of intensity. To be a great team we have to do that. I'm looking forward to the season, counting down the days to Sept. 5. The rest of the guys are, too."
While most of the thoughts Thursday afternoon dealt with the dodge ball game, Mallett did field at least one football question. He was asked if he got the feel the whole state was looking at him to lead the team back to on-the-field success.
"As a quarterback, whatever team you play for the fans look at the quarterback to make plays and lead the team," Mallett said. "Just being able to do that in my home state is a great honor and I have a lot of pride in doing that."
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While Mallett's group was on the west side of town, Malcolm Sheppard led about 30 players in a game of basketball at the Yvonne Richardson Center on the south side.
Sheppard didn't want to talk much football, but instead focused on what the players were doing in giving back to the community.
"It's mainly just about the kids in Fayetteville and being able to come out and spend time with them and give them something to root for," Sheppard said. "For something so small to us it's so big to them.
"It's great because I remember times when I was a kid and when the athletes would come back. It was something so small to the athletes was something so big to myself when I was a kid."
Asked how practice went today, Sheppard said the players were looking forward to their afternoon obligations.
"We were focused on getting out here and giving back to the community," Sheppard said. "That's what this whole day was about.
"Football is always going to be there but taking time out of our schedule to do what we're doing today is all we've got our mind on right now. We're giving something back to the kids and doing something positive."
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Junior tight end D.J. Williams, whose well-documented story included a stay in a Little Rock youth center as he and his family got away from an abusive father in Texas, was among the group of players that showed up at the Jones Center.
"It's hard for us not to because we all know where came from and will never forget that," Williams said, "and now we know what we have been blessed with and it's our job to give back. We don't feel like it is a burden and we don't feel like it is something we have to do, it is something we want to do."
Seeing the smiles on the youngsters' faces really hits home with Williams because of his former situation.
"I would say the biggest thing it gives sometimes the kids a needed break," Williams said. "They are always caught up in a struggle here and a struggle there and that's how it was for me. Every time people did stuff like this for us, it just gave us a break and we didn't have to think about all the hard times we were going through. For once, we could just sit back and enjoy life and hopefully that is something that we can do today."
Williams said it is important to keep the players' egos in check and this does it.
"It's huge and it keeps you grounded," William said. "We get caught up sometime in the all the success we get – the media and everything like that. But once you come back and see people that aren't as fortunate, it once again reminds you of where you are from. It makes it very easy to come out and do things like this for the community."
It was a surprise as Arkansas was planning to have a second practice on Thursday. They were told by Petrino to only talk about the visit and not any football-related issues.
"We found out about it after practice that we would not be going out to our second one that we had scheduled for today," Williams said. "But we are not going to just take that time off, we are going to do something good for the community. It's good for our community and hopefully we can put some smiles on some people's faces today."
Clay Henry, Dudley E. Dawson and Matt Jones all contributed to this story - photos by Marc F. Henning.
D.J. Williams signs an autograph for 12-year-old Jamie Murchado.
Tyler Wilson chats with 11-year-old JoAnna Estrada.