FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — La’Michael Pettway can sum up his greatest improvement over two years at Arkansas in one word: “Maturity.”
Having the physical tools to be a playmaker for the Razorbacks was never a concern for Pettway, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound wide receiver. He arrived at Arkansas in 2015 seeming to have the build and skill set to earn playing time.
Larger obstacles prevented Pettway from becoming a regular. The most prominent, according to Pettway and Hogs coach Bret Bielema, was a necessary level of maturity. As Pettway told reporters on Tuesday, that’s an area in which he believes he made tremendous growth.
“Having 5 great players in front of me — the Drew Morgans, Keon Hatchers and Dominique Reeds — it makes you mature,” Pettway said. “I mean, sitting back and learning the playbook, that helped me a lot.
“It was a plus for me sitting back and watching them play.”
Pettway primarily played on special teams last season as a redshirt freshman while waiting his turn behind veteran receivers. He had 1 reception, for a 10-yard touchdown against Alcorn State.
Hatcher, Morgan, Reed and Cody Hollister — all ahead of Pettway on 2016 depth chart — are now chasing NFL opportunities. The only receiver now firmly in front of Pettway is senior Jared Cornelius.
“It was either now or never for me,” said Pettway, who this spring is a starter along with Cornelius and fellow redshirt sophomore Deon Stewart.
“I feel like I had to take a big step,” Pettway said, “and I feel like I’ve taken that step.”
Football’s “mental side” was all Pettway lacked, Bielema said earlier this spring. Three weeks into spring practices, Bielema believes Pettway exceeded expectations of the coaching staff. He says Pettway is further along than at any point since arriving in Fayetteville.
“I feel like (I’m) a lot better, because I know what we’re trying to do,” Pettway said. “I know the scheme. I’m getting the plays and everything like that. The mental side is coming.”