Return class

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TAMPA, Fla – A sizable group of 10 super seniors returned to the University of Arkansas roster in 2021 in search of more wins, more playing time and more camaraderie – in short, a satisfying ending to their career as a varsity player.

Almost for a man, these Razorbacks found what they were looking for.

Above all, in their minds, the team’s success has been achieved. A group that had only seen losing seasons as contributors, whether it was a sixth-year senior like linebacker Grant Morgan or the others, embarked on an 8-4 run that ends Saturday at 11 a.m. during the Central Outback Bowl against Penn State in Raymond. James Stadium.

“I am thrilled with this program, to be able to change this program and put it on the right track,” said Tyson Morris, graduate of Fayetteville High.

The Razorbacks’ season got off to a remarkable start with a 4-0 start that saw landmarks against longtime rivals Texas and Texas A&M, both of whom were ranked in the top 15 at the time.

A program that was a 7-27 cumulative over the past three years reached 8th place in the Associated Press Top 25 poll after beating the Aggies.

“I think those kids who decided to come back for their covid year, or their super senior year, I think the # 1 thing is that they thought we could have a special team,” he said. trainer Sam Pittman on his December 14 radio show. .

“I think it was something special about it. Then I just think it means more. It felt like it wasn’t my last year, I chose this year. I could be in. membership, I might be in the NFL but I chose to come back. “

The Hogs’ initial push ended in loss at the time, no. 2 Georgia to start a three-game slippage, but the Razorbacks have won four of their last five to reclaim a spot in all polls, including No.21 in the college football playoff standings leading up to the Outback Bowl.

“We’ve had our ups and downs as a team, but being able to have the success that we have is fair, it’s amazing,” said wide receiver De’Vion Warren. “It’s amazing from the coaches ‘point of view, it’s amazing from the players’ point of view… to be able to win and have respect in this league and college football is great. I’m happy to have been here to help with the reconstruction. “

Offensive tackle Myron Cunningham added: “I just wanted to leave the program better than I found it.… For us going 8-4 and having the potential to finish 9-4 not only helps, but this helps this team greatly for the future. “

The super seniors consisted of receivers Morris, Warren and TJ Hammonds, offensive linemen Cunningham and Ty Clary, linebackers Hayden Henry, Grant Morgan and Deon Edwards, tight end Blake Kern and defensive end Dorian Gerald .

Fourth-year seniors like Montaric Brown, Joe Foucha, Bumper Pool and Trelon Smith and transfer graduates John Ridgeway, Markell Utsey and Tre Williams have given the Hogs plenty of veterans to be the conduit for Pittman and his staff.

Morgan was fortunate enough to serve as a defensive captain for two years and to win the Burlsworth Trophy as the top varsity player who started his career as a substitute.

“I’m a better football player now because of it, a better man now because I’ve taken steps towards a better leadership role,” Morgan said. “And so I’m excited. I didn’t know who we were going to play against, but I knew we would play in a good bowl. The Outback Bowl is good for me.”

Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek highlighted the key leadership provided by upper class students in his description of the turnaround.

“We had guys, especially on the defensive end of the ball when you watch a Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry and Bumper Pool, Joe Foucha, these guys, they came back and they wanted to win,” Yurachek said.

“They had been through a lot as a team when you talk about these guys who had been through a few seasons 2-10, then last year 3-7 and before that 4-8. We just had great leadership. To bring back so much. of these guys taking their covid year was a big deal, and they were able to further establish the culture that Sam was trying to create.

Kern, a former replacement like Morgan, said his goal was always to be the starting tight end, something he achieved last year during the Razorbacks 3-7 All-SEC schedule in which the seeds of a turnaround were clearly planted.

“It was always what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t sit here and tell you five years ago, when I was a 19 year old kid, that I would be where I am today. ‘hui,’ Kern said. “I couldn’t do that. I have been blessed in so many ways in my life with my family, my coaches and my teammates.

“Looking back … I could have changed some things, I could have made some things different, but overall it was a great experience. It was great.”

Kern will always remember as a senior catching a hand for a 32-yard touchdown from starter Reid Bauer on a false field goal at No. 2 Alabama.

The Razorbacks have become something of a national darling after beating No.7 Texas A&M 20-10 in the Southwest Classic on September 25 to go 4-0.

This has led to several national media appearances for Pittman and the Players. It was the first of three trophies won by the Razorbacks.

The Super Seniors were also able to participate in the historic first year of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) Opportunities.

Even the Razorbacks whose playing time could have been affected by the return of the super seniors were excited about their return for what it meant for the team.

“I think it had a huge impact,” said junior defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols. “Because, you know, we were starting to build some good things last year. And it’s like we started something and we didn’t quite manage to finish it. So to bring everyone back. , then the transfers, you know, ‘Kell, Tre and Ridge on the D line, just bringing all these guys back and having these older guys, it definitely had a huge impact.

“You know, Grant and Hayden, and all the other guys. So I think without them we wouldn’t be the full team that we are now.”

Junior Safety Simeon Blair said, “They brought that experience and even though another group of guys came along they brought that work ethic because they had that experience. And they thought if you want to reach the summit, you have to practice, you have to watch the movie. I feel like they did a good job giving young people experience and a lot of knowledge. “

Henry said the 16-13 overtime win at LSU was the highlight of his season.

“Because when I was growing up we lived in Atlanta and we would come back every Thanksgiving and watch LSU play the Hogs,” Henry said on the Pittman radio show. “It was at the War Memorial a lot. This game was so special to me. Definitely the highlight of my season, finally winning the Boot and beating LSU.”

Arkansas offensive lineman Myron Cunningham (76) is part of a super senior squad who contributed to an 8-4 streak that ends Saturday in the Outback Bowl against Penn State at Raymond James Stadium of Tampa. (Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette / David Beach)


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