With their season opener just 27 days away, all 105 Razorbacks expected to be on hand reported Sunday as Arkansas begins its push toward playing at defending SEC champion Auburn on August 30.
Redshirt junior defensive lineman DeMarcus Hodge (6-1, 335), who has undergone a transformation this summer with the loss of 13 pounds, expects that point alone to help jump-start fall camp as practice gets underway Monday afternoon around 2:30 p.m.
“I believe in that case it helps us guys because we are playing the defending SEC champions in Auburn,” Hodge said. “Just a year ago they were a very different team (3-9 in 2012) and between them and Missouri they only had two (SEC) wins. We can see what they did last year and that's just more motivation for us. We get a chance to come out the first game of the season and prove ourselves against the defending SEC conference champs.
“We can show all the work and preparation that we did in the off-season and the spring and show what we can do.”
The Razorbacks are coming off their own 3-9 season, which in and of itself is motivation according to Hodge, who likes what he sees from the group that had its first meeting late Sunday afternoon.
“I like how the team looks, how we've come in,” Hodge said. “It looks like we are focused and ready for camp to get started. It is just a great feeling in the locker room and we just can't wait to get out there and get prepared for Auburn.”
Hodge is coming off a season in which he played in 11 of his team's 12 games and had 27 tackles, but should see increased playing time this season after an off-season under Razorback strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.
The Louisiana prep star, who chose Arkansas over Tennessee, Mississippi State and others, ended the summer with a squat of 700 pounds.
“The biggest thing with me is just that I am ready to go out there and contribute as long as I can and give all my effort,” Hodge said. “I think I had a good summer, did a lot of good work with Coach Herb with the off-season workouts and conditioning. I think we all took some big strides in the summer with that.
“At spring, I believe I was about 348 and right now I am about 335 starting camp,” Hodge added. “We are just hoping it will constantly keep going down the next three weeks and just be ready and be in the best shape that I can for Auburn.”
Hodge was put on a strict diet and had his teammates along for the ride.
“It was a struggle starting off,” Hodge said. “Coach Herb told me that the first four weeks were going to be the hardest, but once you get started it is kind of a lifestyle change and it gets easier and easier as it goes.
“I had all the support in the world,” Hodge added. “I had to pick five teammates out of the whole defense. Each and every other night night I would sleep (in the room) with any one of them to make sure I wasn't provoked to try to eat something at night and (helped) keep me off of it. With that support group and Coach Herb, it just gave me all the motivation I needed to get things headed in the right direction.”
He expects to be able to chase the ball much easier than he did last season.
“I feel a lot quicker, I feel a lot faster,” Hodge said. “If you ask him yourself, I think he is greatly impressed with how I am moving now and it is going to constantly get better as camp goes on.”
The defensive line added former offensive lineman Cordale Boyd (6-3, 295) to its group over the summer.
“He's been a real nice addition,” Hodge said. “I like him much better now that he is on the defensive side of the ball. He is just a big, strong, aggressive guy with a lot of lower body power and from his body size and the way he is built, it seems like he was made to play defensive line from the start.”
The Razorbacks are also adding freshmen defensive tackles Bijhon Jackson (6-2, 334) and Armon Watts (6-5, 288) to the mix.
“Bijhon is going to be a very good player for us,” Hodge said. “He came in as strong as an ox, good hips, good lower body strength. We just kind of have to get him more conditioned and more adjusted to the style and pace of football we play in the SEC.
“Armon is a good body kid and he has got to come in and do a lot more in getting his weight on,” Hodge added. “But he is a very strong kid and has good technique. He is a sound kid that comes in and I think in a couple of years he is going to do great things for us.”
Arkansas can't practice in pads for the first three days, but Hodge admits he can't wait to put them on.
“That is something that I have been waiting for all summer,” Hodge said. “In the summer, we haven't got pads on so we technically feel like they have an advantage, but when we get pads on we can actually touch them and kind of surprise them a little bit. They have been kind of soft on us the last eight weeks.”
“I feel like that first day (in pads) is going to be a little bit wild, but we'll get calmed down and adjusted to it,” Hodge added. “People are going to be flying around and getting after each other, but after that everybody just has to act normal.”
Arkansas held its first team meeting of fall camp on Sunday afternoon.
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