Arkansas Unleashes (Likely) Largest Offensive Line in Program History

Kirkland keeps playing like he did on Saturday, and he’ll be fielding plenty more questions in the years to come. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

10/17/2014 UPDATE:

References to Norse mythology’s Great Hall of the Slain, Residence of the Supreme God Odin, do not every day percolate the chatter of the Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly afternoon radio show based in Northwest Arkansas.

But not every day does Matt Stinchcomb, a former All-American tackle at Georgia who analyzes college football for the SEC Network, chime in with Bo about the way Arkansas’ offense is grounded in a historically massive offensive line.

“That offense is like Valhalla,” Stinchcomb told Bo earlier this week. “When we all get off this mortal coil, anybody who was ever unathletic enough to have [had to play] offensive line, that’s what we would spend eternity doing – is just running double-team blocks and just cramming tailbacks down a defense’s throat. It’s an incredibly explosive offense.”

Original article:

To the surprise of many, the Razorbacks only lost to Texas A&M 33-45 on Saturday night. A big reason for this slimmer-than-expected margin was the stellar play of some of their freshmen – guys like Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams, Hunter Henry and Korliss Marshall.

Less conspicuous on the final boxscore but far more conspicuous in person were two true freshmen who made their first career starts against the Aggies. Guards Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper started the game with left tackle David Hurd, center Travis Swanson and right tackle Grady Ollison. But Brey Cook subbed in for Ollison during the course of the game.

When I saw this Tweet, I knew Bielema ball was here for good.

Here we have an enormous line totaling 1,625 pounds. That would qualified as the heaviest offensive line in the SEC last season, beating out LSU by  11 pounds. With an average of 325 pounds per player, it would have also ranked as the second-heaviest line in college football last season.

Here’s the breakdown:

David Hurd (senior) 6’6″, 318 pounds

Dan Skipper (freshman) 6’10”, 317 pounds

Travis Swanson (senior) 6’5″, 315 pounds

Denver Kirkland (freshman) 6’5″, 345 pounds

Brey Cook (junior) 6’7″, 330 pounds

Height isn’t as important as strength, balance and agility on the offensive line, but still – you won’t find many lines that tower over their opponents like this one.

Curious as to how this line stacks up size-wise against Arkansas’ two best O-lines from the last ten years?

First to the 2003 line, which featured 6’5″, 353-pound All-American Shawn Andrews. The image below right is from a preview of that season’s LSU game. Click on it to see the size of the players.

offensive line
Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Another sterling line emerged in 2007. Here’s the starting roster by the late part of that season:

Tackle Jose Valdez (junior) 6’5″, 313 pounds

Guard Mitch Petrus (junior) 6’4″, 315 pounds

Center Jonathan Luigs (junior) 6’4″, 314 pounds

Guard Robert Felton (senior) 6’4″, 328 pounds

Tackle Nate Garner (senior) 6’7, 318 pounds

These biggins still pale to their 2013 counterparts. If you can find a bigger 5-man offensive line in Arkansas history that went serious minutes together, let me know. I doubt there has been one that weighed more than 325 pounds with an average height of more than 6’6″, as the one which battered Texas A&M did.

Let’s also look at the size of Bret Bielema’s best offensive line  when he was at Wisconsin. The following o-linemen from the 2011 season were the cornerstone of a Wisconsin offense that shattered numerous school records:

Left Tackle:

Ricky Wagner 6’6″, 320


Travis Frederick 6’4″, 330


Peter Konz 6’5″, 315


Kevin Zeitler 6’4″, 315


Rob Havenstein 6’8″, 345

That’s an average of 322 pounds, which these Hogs have already passed. Becoming as good will be another matter altogether – three of these Badgers racked up first team All-American honors and a first-team Big Ten selection. Good start so far, though. Arkansas racked up 201 yards rushing, protected quarterback Brandon Allen long enough for him to throw for nearly 300 yards and helped limit the Hogs to only one penalty for five yards.

I repeat: one penalty, five yards, for a team that started two true freshmen in what would have been the most electric atmosphere of their careers. Skipper and Kirkland have impressive bodies, but it’s this kind of mental discipline which will help make them great.

UPDATE: The 2014 edition of the Hogs’ offensive line is slightly less heavy, but stronger after another year in the strength training system of Ben Herbert:

Former Razorback Anthony Chambers Charged with Negligent Homicide

Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Anthony Chambers, former head coach at LR McClellan High Shcool Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

chambers mug













Over the years, Keith Jackson has made a lot of good memories with his friend Anthony Chambers.

When they were kids growing up in south Little Rock near Roosevelt street in the 1970s, they’d often walk a couple miles to LR Central’s stadium to sneak into Tiger football games.  In little league football, Chambers was always one of the players who was quick to offer help to teammates and take leadership responsibilities,” said Jackson, former NFL player and head of Little Rock’s Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids organization.

The good times kept rolling when as teenagers Jackson and Chambers – a 5-11 fullback – teamed up on powerful Parkview Patriot football teams. Along with the likes of Rickey Williams (another childhood friend), Bill Ingram and James Rouse, they formed one of the talent-laden teams of the modern era in 1983.

Throughout the regular season and the first three games of the playoffs, those Patriots did not win a game by less than 12 points. They were upset by fourth-seed Fort Smith Southside 9-6 in the AAAA Finals.

Jackson attended the University of Oklahoma, where he became an All-American tight end. Chambers, like Ingram, Williams and Rouse, became Razorbacks. Chambers added depth at fullback on some of Ken Hatfield’s powerful flexbone/wishbone offenses. He practiced with and against the likes of Barry Foster, JuJu Harshaw and Joe Johnson (no, not that Joe Johnson) and graduated in spring 1989 with a degree in industrial education.

By 2003, Chambers had parlayed that degree into a job as head football coach at McClellan High School. Through the next nine years, he, like so many other LRSD head coaches – was on the front lines of trying to bring the glory back to football in the metro area.

From 2006 through 2011, Chambers averaged one win a season. On August 24, 2012, a week before the season opener, Chambers resigned, citing differences with school administration, according to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Two days later this happened, as reported by this account:.

One person is dead and several others injured following an accident early Sunday morning…

The accident report identifies the fatality as 50 year old Timothy Hester of Little Rock, who was in the rear passenger-side seat of the vehicle. 45 year old Ricky Franklin, of Little Rock, who was also in the rear passenger seat, was seriously injured. Three other people were also injured in the one vehicle accident….

Pulaski County investigators say the driver of the 2005 Mustang convertible, 48 year old Anthony Chambers of Little Rock, apparently lost control and slammed into a power pole, just before 4:00 a.m. The accident report indicates that Chambers admitting to drinking prior to the accident and told the investigating officer his last drink was just before the accident happened.

“He’s a really good guy, one of my good friends – I will say that – and always has been, who made a horrible mistake,” Keith Jackson said.  “It’s just one incident. It doesn’t define who you are. He’s helped a lot of kids and he loves being a coach. It’s his calling. ”

For now, that calling is on ice. Chamber still teaches at McClellan, which was 3-7 last season, but has legal issues to deal with.

Continue reading Former Razorback Anthony Chambers Charged with Negligent Homicide

Former Star Razorback Quarterbacks: Where Are They Now? Part 2

Here’s part Part 2 of my feature which originally ran in Arkansas Life magazine.  

joe ferguson
Fergin’ it. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Joe Ferguson
Years Lettered: 1970-72
Ranks with Mitch Mustain as the most highly touted high school quarterback to ever sign with Arkansas. The record-setting dropback specialist also went on the most successful pro career of any Razorback QB.

After College: After an 18-year NFL career, worked in real estate before a 1997-2000 stint as Arkansas’ quarterbacks coach. Then re-entered real estate, becoming a vice president for Lindsey & Associates.
Residence: Bella Vista, Ark.

Scott Bull
Years Lettered: 1972-74
Led Hogs to a 10-1 record in 1975 and, in the Cotton Bowl, triggered a 31-point second half to rout Georgia 31-10.

After College: Played three seasons with San Francisco 49ers. Since 1979, has been the CEO of Pace Industries, LLC, the leading die cast manufacturer in North America.
Residence: Fayetteville

ron calcagniRon Calcagni
Years Lettered: 1975-78
First quarterback of the Lou Holtz era, Calcagni led Arkansas to an 11-1 record including a stunning 31-6 upset of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Heading into the season, the Hogs were been picked to finish sixth.

After College: Played in the Canadian Football League for three years, then started a coaching career that has included stops at high school, CFL and college levels (including a 1983-86 stint as QB/wide receivers coach at Arkansas State University). Has coached Pulaski Heights Middle School in Little Rock since 2009.
Current Residence: Conway, Ark.

Kevin Scanlon
Years Lettered: 1978-79
Led Arkansas to a 10-2 record in 1979 for a share of the SWC championship as conference offensive player of the year. His 66.2% completion rate that year remains an all-time record.

After College: Worked as an aide on ex governor Bill Clinton’s staff. Then entered finance industry, joining Stephens, Inc. in 1987 to oversee now-defunct Stephens Sports Management. Rose ranks to become executive vice president and director of Stephens’ private client group, overseeing 225 employees across eight states.

Residence: Little Rock

Tom Jones
Years Lettered: 1979-82
His tenure wasn’t as successful as predecessors’ but did help lead the Hogs to a mid-season 42-11 romp of No. 1 Texas in 1981. It was the program’s largest win ever over Texas.

After College: Moved to Little Rock and worked for a general contractor until 1987, when he returned to his hometown of Ruston, La. There, he took ownership of Triad Builders, a mainly commercial construction business, from his father “Dub” Jones. He still works in the same building as his 88-year-old father, a former Tulane All-American football player who later coached Hall of Famer Jim Brown at Cleveland.
Current Residence: Ruston, La.

brad taylor
Always around the pigskin.

Brad Taylor
Years Lettered: 1981-84
Shared time with Jones early on, then took reins to become Arkansas’ all-time leading passer, finishing with 4,802 yards.

After College: Worked for Chambers Bank in his hometown of Danville until a few years ago. On his Yell Country farm, has raised cattle and pigs – up up to 2,500 at one time.
Current Residence: Belleville, Ark.

Continue reading Former Star Razorback Quarterbacks: Where Are They Now? Part 2

Hendrix Football: Ole Miss Romping, Booster Gifts & Other Trivia

As you can tell by these T-shirts, the Hendrix football program is embracing its history.
As you can tell by these T-shirts, the Hendrix football program is embracing its history.

I’ve had a couple recent pieces out on the Hendrix football program, which will have its first game this Saturday since 1960. One is an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the other is a Q&A with Karen Tricot-Steward of KUAR 89.1 FM.

Here’s an expanded version of my article’s beginning:

In cinema, this has been the summer of the rehash: Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6. A glance down the list of top-grossing movies of 2013 makes no bones about it—when there’s money to be made, nothing more dependably does the job than going with the tried and true. Turns out, this line of thinking also applies to the world of higher education. Many small liberal-arts colleges across the nation shuttered their football programs in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, in part to save money.

But in the last couple of decades, many of those same colleges have developed long-term growth plans that depend on a significant increase in student population and the attendant boost in revenue their tuition and board payments would bring. A new football team typically means an immediate infusion of 80-100 new students. Which can mean something in the vicinity of $3 million after those new football players’ tuition and board payments are totaled. 

Vance Strange, a former Hendrix football player and current booster, said that it’s projected a roster of 65-70 Hendrix football players (the roster is currently 54) would annually produce about $1.8 – $1.9 million revenue for the school.

An all-time high of 12 U.S. colleges are starting or restarting football programs this fall, and Hendrix kicks off its new era in Conway against Missouri’s Westminster College. Although its program sputtered in the 1950s, Hendrix had a highly successful program in previous decades. It twice tied the University of Arkansas and lost in a 14-7 contest in 1926 that attracted 6,000 people—said to be the most spectators to attend a sports event in Arkansas to that point. In 1913, the Hendrix Bulldogs beat Ole Miss 8-6…

You can read the rest of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article here. [paywall warning]

To me, one of the most unique aspects of early 20th century football was how openly boosters gave gifts to student-athletes. Back in the day, though, hooking a star player up with goodies was common. As I wrote:

Now: The National Collegiate Athletic Association forbids its student-athletes from receiving payments or gifts from boosters—supporters who donate to the player’s program. The college athlete is supposed to be an amateur, and such payments jeopardize what the NCAA defines as amateur status.

Then: The NCAA was in its infancy and Hendrix, like hundreds of other football-playing schools across the nation, wasn’t a member. Less bureaucracy surrounding the game meant fewer rules and less manpower to enforce them.

Case in point: In 1924, Hendrix football player Wright Salter received a knitted necktie from Keith’s Millinery Shop for blocking the first pass of an opponent during a Thanksgiving Day game, Lester wrote. Salter’s teammate Bill Meriwether won a fruitcake for his sterling play that same game.

I asked Bill Wilson, who played for Hendrix in 1959 and 1960, if he had ever heard about booster gift giving in the late 1950s. He said no, but did add that he heard it happened at what’s now Arkansas Tech University and Southern Arkansas University.

For more of my interviews with Wilson and Tricot-Steward, check out the KUAR 89.1 FM piece here.

Former Star Razorback Quarterbacks: Where Are They Now? Part 1

Don Christian
Don Christian

Statewide celebrity. National acclaim.

Arkansas Razorback quarterbacks know these well. It looks like the next one in line will, too, as starter Brandon Allen completed 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns in Arkansas’ season-opening 34-14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Allen has taken the reins from departed star Tyler Wilson, who was waived Sunday by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and yesterday landed on the team’s practice squad. Former Hog star Ryan Mallett, meanwhile, could be a Tom Brady injury away from calling the shots for the New England Patriots.

While Mallett and Wilson have remained very much in the spotlight, most other former Razorback quarterbacks join the rest of us in our normal, every-day worlds. They work in our offices, sit next to us at restaurants and frequent our favorite golf courses.

They typically don’t end up in far-flung locales. As you’ll see in the following article originally published in Arkansas Life magazine, after leaving the pocket, the most accomplished Arkansas QBs rarely stray far from home:

Lamar McHan
Years Lettered: 1951-53

Directed Otis Douglas’ split-T offense and helped Arkansas beat No. 4 Texas and No. 18 Texas A&M. Finished career as second-best runner in UA history and was ninth in Heisman Trophy balloting as a senior.

After College: Played in the NFL 1954-64 before a career as a coach. Spent a decade as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints. Died in 1998 from a heart attack.

George Walker
Years Lettered: 1954-55, 1957

Led Arkansas to a No. 4 national ranking in 1954, its highest ever until then. Masterpiece came against No. 15 Rice, when he completed nine of 13 passes for 119 yards, returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and punted six times for a 43-yard average.

After College: Worked with Union Bank in Little Rock, then moved to Pine Bluff in 1963 to join Simmons Bank. Retired as vice president in 1999, but still works for Simmons on ad hoc basis.

Current Residence: Pine Bluff

Note: While I’ve used the term “quarterback” to describe McHan and Walker’s position, a more accurate term would be single wing tailback, says Razorbacks historian Jim Rasco. In an e-mail, Rasco added:

The Razorbacks ran the “Tennessee -Balanced Line – Single Wing” under Coach Bowden Wyatt in 1953 and 1954 (and the January 1, 1955 Cotton Bowl, of course). So Arkansas didn’t have quarterbacks in 1953 & 1954.

In 1953, Lamar McHan came in second in the nation in total offense as the single wing tailback. He was voted second-team All-America in the Players Poll conducted by the Chicago Tribune. (He had been an All-SWC quarterback as a sophomore in 1951 – second team all conference quarterback in 1952 before playing tailback his senior season.)

In 1954, Sophomore George Walker was the single wing tailback and led the Hogs to the SWC crown and a berth in the Cotton Bowl. (His back-up tailback was Buddy Bob Benson –who was the long-time coach at Ouachita.)

Wyatt left for his alma mater Tennessee shortly after the Cotton Bowl – so Arkansas returned to the “T” formation and Walker moved to quarterback for the 1955 season.

Continue reading Former Star Razorback Quarterbacks: Where Are They Now? Part 1