FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas senior defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. acknowledges that he didn’t meet the lofty individual expectations many — including himself — set before the 2016 season began.
But Wise feels good about where he’s mentally at entering the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech. And physically, Wise is feeling better than he has in months.
The last month since the regular-season finale at Missouri has allowed Wise’s body to heal.
“It was tough not playing well some games, because there was a lot going into the season,” Wise said. “A lot of expectations and I felt like, at times, I wasn’t meeting them. But I knew that I was injured and I knew that if I just keep on pressing, keep on working, that everything would start falling into place.”
After recording 8 sacks in the Hogs’ final 7 games last season, Wise was projected by some as a potential 2017 first-round NFL Draft pick.
Wise himself did nothing to tamp down those expectations; he declared at SEC Media Days in July that he would record at least 13 sacks during his senior season.
In the fourth quarter of Arkansas’ season-opening win over Louisiana Tech, Wise and fellow senior Jeremiah Ledbetter sacked quarterback J’Mar Smith for a 10-yard loss — a play that virtually sealed a victory.
But on that play, Wise said he broke his hand, an injury he played through the rest of the season.
Then during the Razorbacks’ Oct. 22 loss at Auburn, Wise separated his shoulder. After that injury, he worked more as a third-down specialist the rest of the season.
But he said Tuesday that he never considered sitting out any regular-season games to allow his body to heal.
“I just wanted to play,” Wise said. “I didn’t want to be the type of person who would sit out, you know?
“A lot of people were telling me to sit out but I just ignored them and just kept trying to fight through it.”
Although he finished this season with just 3.5 sacks — far short of his preseason goal — Wise said he was able to show his versatility in some ways by playing in different positions on the defensive line.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, Wise will play in the East-West Shrine Game, an opportunity to show his skills against some of the other top talent in the country.
But before then, he’s got some unfinished business at Arkansas. Wise said he never considered skipping the bowl game, a la LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
“I know I didn’t I guess meet everybody’s expectations,” Wise said, “but I feel like this was a good season for me to do different things.”