FAYETTEVILLE – Some Arkansas Razorbacks sports have thrived on graduate transfers.
Unfortunately football isn’t among them.
Versions of Jimmy Whitt helping Arkansas men’s basketball achieve a 20-12 season and a fighting chance for NCAA Tournament entrance before the coronavirus closed the sports curtain, a Trevor Ezell helping the 2019 Razorbacks reach the College World Series, and especially a Katie Izzo winning the SEC Women’s Cross Country Championship and being Arkansas’ first finisher for Coach Lance Harter’s 2019 NCAA Cross Country champion Razorbacks, haven’t materialized on these last two Razorbacks football teams consecutively foundered 2-10, 2-10 and two 0-8 whiffs in the SEC.
Fired Arkansas Coach Chad Morris tried changing last season’s fortunes with graduate transfer quarterbacks.
Ben Hicks, a successful quarterback when Morris head coached SMU, never got Arkansas untracked.
Nick Starkel, the graduate transfer from Texas A&M, supplanted him but then threw six interceptions in an embarrassing home loss to San Jose State, ironically the team that Starkel now seeks to quarterback in his final season of collegiate eligibility.
The ultimate irony crescendoed when Charleston’s Ty Storey, the 2018 Razorbacks quarterback seeing himself eased out by the supposedly hot grad transfer items, returned to Reynolds Razorback Stadium quarterbacking Western Kentucky’s 45-19 slaughter of the Hogs.
Morris was fired the next day.
Knowing these Hogs have so many holes to fill, new Coach Sam Pittman dipped buckets into the grad transfer portal. He signed five.
Quarterback Feleipe Franks via the University of Florida; defensive back Jerry Jacobs via Arkansas State; defensive lineman Xavier Kelly via Clemson; linebacker Levi Draper via the University of Oklahoma and place-kicker AJ Reed via Duke.
All are counted upon though none have logged an official Razorbacks practice. The coronavirus cancelled spring ball before Franks and Jacobs could debut.
Kelly, Draper and Reed still had their degrees to achieve at their original schools during the spring semester.
From the January to mid-March offseason he had with Franks and Jacobs, Pittman liked what he saw.
“I think everyone in the world knows why we recruited Feleipe,” Pittman said. “Because he is a really good, proven quarterback in the SEC. But he knows the starting job has to be earned.”
Jacobs played throughout Arkansas State’s secondary.
“Here he’s on our board at corner,” Pittman said. “Just depends on how we are there at that position or whether he’s a starter. Obviously if he’s able to start, we’ll leave him there. We feel like it’s a little bit easier to move a guy from corner to safety than it is safety to corner.”
With Arkansas graduating its best 2019 defensive lineman, Sosa Agim, best linebacker Scoota Harris, and 3-year superb place-kicker Connor Limpert, opportunity knocks for Kelly, Draper and Reed.
Olan Burns, a sophomore end on the Bowden Wyatt coached “25 Little Pigs” Southwest Conference champions and a starter for Coach Jack Mitchell’s 1955 and ’56 Razorbacks, has died, 1954 Razorback Eddie Bradford reported.
Originally from Earle, Burns was a high school coach at Cabot and Jacksonville before entering the construction business in Malvern.