State of the Hogs: Bad Ball

Bobby Petrino is a coach with a mind for details. When he saw a football that didn't match, it made a quick exit from practice.

After 35 years of covering college football practices, you think you would have seen about everything. Then there was Tuesday's Arkansas spring football practice when Bobby Petrino chunked a football into the stands.

Petrino wasn't happy about much that happened throughout the day. Perhaps it was just the thought that they couldn't go full contact since they weren't in full leg pads. Petrino does like full contact days in the spring.

Perhaps he just wanted to keep his troops on edge. But the highlight came about one third of the way through the day, when he hollered for Cobi Hamilton to bring him a football at the end of a kickoff return drill. Petrino then took a big step and tossed it into the first few rows of stadium seats about 35 yards away.

Fans scrambled for it. Eventually it landed in the hands of a youngster who probably didn't care that the Razorback coach didn't like it.

Turns out it was an NFL-brand football, not the college style. Arkansas does use Wilson footballs, a certain style that is similar to the NFL shape.

So how does an NFL football get into a college practice? It probably happens more than you might guess since NFL footballs are around for NFL pro day in the spring. The bag of footballs they were using for the kickoff segment — when it showed up — is probably full of beat up balls. They not only are kicked a lot, but they are also stuck in the mechanical gun that shoots balls into the air during kickoff return periods.

I talked to quarterback Tyler Wilson a little about the NFL football showing up in practice Tuesday. He wasn't aware of it. He chuckled a little when told that Bobby Petrino chunked it into the stands. He missed that and hadn't heard about it.

I asked if he had ever thrown an NFL football. He said he'd seen them, but hadn't thrown them.

"I think as far as throwing, what we have is about the same as an NFL ball," Wilson said. "There are a couple of college balls you can pick from and we picked the one close to the NFL ball. So we have one that's pretty easy to throw."

So what's the difference?

"I don't really know," he said. "Maybe the NFL ball is easier to kick? Maybe it flies a little better. I'd heard that before, but I'm not really sure. I know we have them around so the guys working out for the NFL scouts on pro day can use one. But I didn't know one got into our practice. I am pretty sure that we've never had anything but the right football for any of our practices as far as what the quarterbacks use. I think I'd remember that happening."

I've heard stories of footballs tossed aside before, but never one exactly in this manner. The next best I've heard involved former Razorback offensive lineman Steve Korte during his rookie training camp with the New Orleans Saints.

Korte played guard during an All-America career with the Hogs, but the Saints coveted him as a center. It was during the end of Ken "Snake" Stabler's pro career and a brief fling with the Saints.

Korte and Stabler could not complete the center snap. Korte said it had a lot to do with his nerves trying a Hall of Fame quarterback. Snap after snap hit the ground.

Finally, Stabler walked over to a ball that bounced off the mark, picked it up, looked it over from all angles, then turned and tossed it over the fence. He turned back to Korte and said, "Just like I thought, a bad football. We needed to get rid of it."

It was an obvious attempt by Stabler to loosen up the practice. It worked. Korte and Snake didn't botch any more snaps.

I don't think there was any humor intended at this Arkansas practice. Petrino didn't seem happy with the way the football was being delivered by the machine on kickoffs. He didn't like much else about the practice. It was clear he was trying to get his players to increase the intensity after giving them two days off following Saturday's scrimmage.

They never really got there.

What does it mean for the coming season? Probably not much. There will be more times that Petrino isn't happy with the focus or the mental edge before they play any games.

It's his nature and what makes him a good coach. He reminds me a lot of Lou Holtz. If it's not exactly where he thinks it should be, he'll let everyone know about it. That goes for coaches, players and administrative staff.

The thing that most learn is that you just keep moving forward. Most were ready to move forward from Tuesday's practice and get to a new day minus one football.


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