FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas football released a schedule graphic last week with the tagline “Fall is Coming” scripted across the center. The graphic also displayed the faces of the Razorbacks’ 15 seniors on the 2017 roster. It was an idea derived from the popular HBO series Game of Thrones.
Fall is coming. pic.twitter.com/kOdYnctUKb
— Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) August 7, 2017
It’s true, another Arkansas football season is just 19 days away. But as the fall season approaches, something else is coming to Fayetteville — an impressive group of freshmen. And they’re coming for playing time.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has taken notice. Friday night, following a team meeting, he delivered a message to several older players on the verge of being passed up by the youngsters.
“I just said, ‘Listen, this is a different time now. Some of these freshmen … we’ve been able to recruit better athletes. Guys that can run, guys that can play, and I’m not going to sit them. If you’re a guy that’s been in the program year two, year three, year four and you haven’t done it yet, there’s somebody on your heels.’ “
Running back Chase Hayden has made the strongest case among the freshmen pushing for playing time. He was outstanding in his first career scrimmage Aug. 5. He rushed for 115 yards on 16 carries with a 74-yard touchdown working mostly against the first-team defense.
Full stats were unable to be kept because the media only saw the second half of the second scrimmage this Saturday, but Hayden looked impressive again. He had a 12-yard run where he showed off his abilities to make defenders miss and run through contact. A source told SEC Country he was even better in the first half of the scrimmage than the portion that was open to the media.
Hayden is billed as a make-you-miss back who relies on quickness and agility. He has that, and much more. He’s not afraid to run between the tackles and has the toughness to run through defenders.
“Chase Hayden is a guy that belongs on the field,” Bielema told reporters Saturday. “He’s a guy that stands out.”
At wide receiver, freshman Koilan Jackson has “put himself in position to play” right away, according to receivers coach Michael Smith. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos has said the Little Rock native seems to get better every day.
Jackson had a one-handed 45-yard touchdown catch in the opening scrimmage. He made the play with junior Ryan Pulley, the Hogs’ top defensive back, in tight man-to-man coverage.
Capable freshmen are also emerging on defense, particularly Chevin Calloway and Kamren Curl at cornerback. Bielema says Calloway has been “extremely productive” since practices began in late July. Curl made an outstanding play in the second scrimmage. He blanketed wide receiver Jordan Jones, one of the fastest players on the team, in one-on-one coverage before making a diving interception on a pass thrown by backup quarterback Ty Storey.
“Kam is very, very genetically gifted,” Bielema said. “He was raised in a great home. Pops and Mom push him. He was a highly recruited kid, we were very fortunate to get him. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what he can be. I think him and Chevin both have kind of separated themselves as DBs that’ll probably play for us.”
Even the walk-on freshmen have Bielema’s attention. Outside linebacker Hayden Henry, the younger brother of former Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry, and offensive lineman Ty Clary are viewed as future contributors. Both are blueshirts from the 2017 class, meaning they are walk-ons who have been promised scholarships in the future.
“Hayden Henry, I like that other Henry, but this one is pretty good, too,” Bielema said. “I think if you take the two guys that we signed late, Hayden Henry and Ty Clary from here in Fayetteville, those two kids are going to be really good football players. I’m very glad to have them in our program.”
So, fall is coming. That’s inevitable. The good news for the Razorbacks is that an impressive group of freshmen appears to be coming along, too.