FAYETTEVILLE – Questions on the resumption of college athletics abounded when the impending repercussions from the coronavirus Covid-19 first cancelled sports in mid-March just days before new Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman was supposed to commence spring football practice.
They still abound for this in coronavirus jeopardy season even as Pittman’s Razorbacks have lifted weights and conditioned since June 8 in Fayetteville and are scheduled to begin non-contact football practice walkthroughs beginning July 24 leading into the August preseason.
The Razorbacks are scheduled to commence their season Sept. 5 hosting Nevada in a nonconference game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Chances of the Hogs, or anybody in the SEC’s states with their coronavirus numbers more rising than falling will be playing in September, appear dim.
Pittman can’t approach it that way and isn’t.
“We can only control what we can control in here,” Pittman said in a Tuesday Zoom press conference that later included running back Rakeem Boyd of Houston and defensive back Montaric “Buster” Brown of Ashdown. “In our SEC head coaches meetings, everything is going on as planned, scheduled for Sept. 5. That’s what we’re preparing for. Obviously there’s a lot of different scenarios and things of that nature, but as of today and in the near future, we’re looking forward to starting the season off Sept. 5.”
Hard to motivate players for a Sept. 5 start as they hear the pessimism?
“Well I think the media thinks we’re not going to have a season more than we do,” Pittman said. “There hadn’t been one ounce of conversation between myself and our team about not having a season. So it’s not hard to motivate them about not having a season because we all believe we’re going to. If it changes, we’ll adjust, but we’re preparing for Sept,. 5 and that’s what we believe is going to happen.”
And if it doesn’t?
“If it doesn’t, we’ll just have to figure out what our next step is,” Pittman said. “But it hadn’t been hard because we don’t talk about it.”
The players can’t control the coronavirus but they can control their conditioning which was all up to them at their homes from mid-March until the UA reopened its athletic facilities to its fall sport athletes on June 8.
Pittman said the offensive linemen he wanted bigger got bigger and reports strength coach Jamil Walker saying the team obviously did their prescribed home workouts.
“Well, I think they (strength coaches Walker and Ed Ellis) are really pleased with what’s going on and how the kids returned,” Pittman said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. I think we’re in pretty good shape for where we’re at right now and at this point in time of the season. We’ve got a much bigger football team than we had in mid- to late-March.”
Myron Cunningham, not big enough as a junior college transfer offensive lineman in Pittman’s film viewing of last year’s 2-10 Hogs under former Arkansas Coach now Auburn offensive coordinator Chad Morris, is a bigger man in the eyes of his new coach who has coached collegiate offensive lines since 1994.
Arkansas from 2013-2015 and Georgia from 2016-2019 comprise Pittman’s last seven years coaching O-lines before his first head coaching job since piloting Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College in 1992 and ’93.
“Well, Myron Cunningham (6-7) was about 285-287, and he’s about 319 now,” Pittman said. “He needed it. It’s hard to set the bull when you don’t have enough butt to set it with. I had a nice conversation with him, and I’m thinking he’s going to have a nice season. He worked hard at gaining that weight and staying in shape.”
Senior running back Boyd, netting 1,113 yards rushing last year despite Arkansas’ undersized line and a 2-10 team, expects bigger things behind a bigger Cunningham.
“ Myron and those guys are in shape,” Boyd said. “I’m very proud of them. That’s probably the most impressive group right now. I would say the O-line and DBs have been the hard working groups.”
Brown, one of the hard-working defensive backs that Pittman cited, noted the secondary indeed has put forth primary conditioning.
“I can say for me that everybody has been working their tail off,” Brown said. “We’ve been listening to Coach Walker and going by him. The guys that have emerged to me are Greg Brooks and Jerry Jacobs.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3 Sports Action