FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Maleek Barkley has made a move from wide receiver to running back entering his first spring at Arkansas. The position is only new to him at the college level, though.
Barkley served as the primary running back at Lake Travis High School (Austin, Texas) in 2016 as a senior. He rushed for 1,345 yards — with a 9.2 yards per carry average — and 18 touchdowns while leading the Cavaliers to a state title.
Though the Hogs’ new coaching staff didn’t bring Barkley to Arkansas, they’re very familiar with what he can do at running back. New Arkansas coach Chad Morris spent two years in the same role at Lake Travis and has kept a close eye on the program since leaving for his first college job in 2010. Running backs coach Jeff Traylor was coaching at Texas — 20 miles from Lake Travis — during Barkley’s senior season.
“My daughter [Jaci] goes to high school at Lake Travis,” Traylor said. “Coach [Hank] Carter, his high school coach, and I are from east Texas together. Coach Morris used to coach there. So, we knew about Maleek and his skill set. When we got here, we knew we were going to find some things for Maleek to do.”
When Morris reviewed the roster in December, he saw the need to subtract from the number of scholarship wide receivers. With Michael Woods signing in December and enrolling early, Arkansas was set to have 13 scholarship receivers for spring practice. Morris aims to have at most 11 receivers on scholarship.
Additionally, a fifth scholarship running back was desired for spring drills. Junior college transfer Rakeem Boyd signed in February, but he won’t be on campus until June.
It was the perfect situation for Barkley, who redshirted last season, to make a move.
“Let’s see what he can do if we put him at running back,” Morris said. “It gives us five on the roster at running back to give us the depth that we need for the physicality we are going to demand in spring practice.”
Barkley will have the chance to be featured much the same way he was as a high school senior. That’s assuming he can adjust to the offense and his new role, because the talent appears to be there. In addition to his impressive rushing total that season at Lake Travis, he also caught 40 passes for 613 yards.
The ability to be a productive receiver and runner out of the backfield is exactly what Arkansas’ new staff is looking for from its backs. That makes Barkley’s switch even more logical.
“It’s just a good way to get the ball to him,” Traylor said. “There are going to be other ways to get the ball to him besides just handing it off. We’ll throw some screens to him, swing him out, motion him around and get the ball to him in all different ways.”