Columnist appreciative after injury

By: Nate Allen
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012

— Hobbling around last week on a since-healing infected foot enabled a nonathletic sportswriter better to appreciate the hobbling athletes he writes about.

Arkansas senior quarterback Tyler Wilson and Arkansas senior long-distance runner Eric Fernandez foot the bill among Razorbacks to be admired for courageously running bad wheels on roads fit for only the fittest.

An athlete playing SEC football or running NCAA Regional Cross Country on painfully injured legs seems almost unfathomable to this nonathlete last Friday gimping from the Walton Arena press room to the press tables like Fred Sanford coordinating his junkyard.

No 6-6, 270 pass-rushing ends menaced the sportswriter nor was he trying to sprint the last 200 meters of a cross country 10K to advance his team from the NCAA South Central Regional to next Saturday’s NCAA Championships.

Too often, armchair quarterbacks of media and fans don’t acknowledge an athlete’s pain beyond maybe defeat.

Watching TV as Wilson, a human contusion before Arkansas’ 38-20 loss to South Carolina ever kicked off Saturday in Columbia, S.C., increasingly limp from ceaseless hits enhanced admiration for this battered captain’s commitment to a 4-6 sinking ship. The Greenwood native could have been the third quarterback taken in last spring’s NFL draft but instead answered his boyhood dream’s encore calling.

The dream has been a nightmare year for his team with his battered body, including a September concussion, bearing the brunt.

The captain won’t yield. He played as hard on the fourth-quarter touchdown drive making it 38-20 with 39 seconds left as his first series with the game still 0-0.

Right after Lance Harter’s Arkansas women’s team won its South Central Regional Friday morning qualifying along with runner-up Texas, seven of Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men stepped on the UA’s Agri Farm course.

Turned out one misstepped: Fernandez, the fifth-year senior captain, 2011 SEC champion and All-American and mainstay of 2011 and 2012 SEC championship teams.

“Eric Fernandez five minutes before the race stepped in a hole and rolled his ankle,” Bucknam said. “He couldn’t put weight on it for about a minute. We were scrambling around trying to find our alternate because I didn’t think he was going to run.”

The alternate, freshman Cale Wallace, was Arkansas’ fifth man at the SEC meet but Bucknam was trying to rest the rookie from consecutive weekends racing 10,000 meters.

“Poor Cale,” Bucknam said. “You could see his heart pumping.”

Fernandez, running last year’s NCAA meet as an individual because Texas and Texas A&M displaced Arkansas at Regionals, kept Wallace at rest.

“Eric jumped in there hurting like hell and we survived it,” Bucknam said of Arkansas advancing second to Texas into Saturday’s NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky.

Fernandez was Arkansas’ third man home scoring eighth in the meet and clocking 30:19 over a hilly 10K course.

“It just shows you tough the kid is to run 6.2 miles at that pace on a rolled ankle,” Bucknam said.

Really tough given that Friday somebody else groused about gimping from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Sports, Pages 16 on 11/12/2012