As it turns out, the University of Kansas did Zach Stadther and the University of Arkansas a huge favor.
After defensive tackle Stadther (6-1, 295) committed to the Jayhawks, former Kansas coach Mark Magino abruptly pulled his scholarship just a couple of months before national signing day.
Luckily for Stadther, Bobby Petrino's new UA staff saw something they liked in the former North Little Rock standout – who had not received an offer from the previous UA staff.
"I think I have proven my worth," Stadther said.
Stadther, who will join his teammates in resuming spring practice on Tuesday, played as a true freshman out of sheer necessity.
He played in all 12 games and actually started the last 8 games of the 2008 season while amassing 56 tackles.
After starting 8 games again last season with 42 tackles, he comes back this upcoming season as a junior poised to be one of the best defensive tackles in the SEC.
"I am not at my peak right now, but I am right there," Stadther said. "Especially from coming in my freshman year and playing. That was a big change. It is coming to me. I know what to do, I know the defense, I can read offensive linemen better. I pretty much know what I am doing."
The Arkansas defensive line loses star Malcolm Sheppard, but has Stadther, LaVunce Askew (6-3, 290) Patrick Jones (6-1, 309), Alfred Davis (6-1, 326) and D.D. Jones (6-5, 307) all returning.
The Razorbacks should see immediate benefits from signee Byran Jones (6-2, 310) of Junction City and would be even more stacked if Tulsa prep star and fellow 2010 signee Calvin Barnett (6-3, 300) is eligible next season.
"Malcolm was a big loss, but we still strong as a D-line," Stadther said. "Pat Jones is going to step up and take his spot and we have got D.D. Jones right behind him."
"It's tough losing him, but we are still going to be okay," Stadther said. "We need depth in this league for sure to be rotating in and out in the game. New additions to the d-line are going to help out a whole bunch. I am pretty excited about that."
Pat Jones is a player that has been around the Arkansas program for awhile and had his name called over the loudspeakers a few times for big plays.
But he appears to be on the verge of reaching his full potential and is running first-team in spring drills.
"I am happy for him," Stadther said. "He is a good player and is the fastest D-lineman we have on the team right now. He ran a 4.8. I am happy for him to finally get the chance.
"I think over the years he has been holding back with his ankle injury two years ago I believe," Stadther added. "He is going to be pretty good this year."
Pat Jones has several strengths per Stadther.
"I think his speed," Stadther said. "He is not as fast as Malcolm, but he is right there. He has good speed, good technique, is a good pass rush, quick with his hands and quick with his feet."
D.D. Jones certainly showed his potential last season with some key plays, including two sacks against Florida's Tim Tebow.
"At first looking at him when he first got here, I didn't think he would be where he he is at today," Stadther said, "but he is one hell of a football player. I am happy he is going to be playing with me for the next two years."
Arkansas is changing things up a bit on the defensive line during pre-snap this season.
"We have this new tilt (different stance) in, which is pretty good," Stadther said. "My pass rush is getting better. You know how Terrence Cody from Alabama lined up with a tilt – that's how we are doing it now."
Stadther, who benches 410 pounds, admits he wants to have a big junior season because like everybody else he wants to play in the NFL.
"I hope this year coming up, well, I am going to try and get out of here," Stadther said. "I am going to try and have a good junior year. If it is there, I am going to to go. If it is not, I will be happy to stay and play my senior season."
Photos by Marc F. Henning
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