Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Arkansas switches things up
Arkansas senior associate head coach Randy Shannon directs linebacker Otha Peters during practice Thursday, March 20, 2014, at the UA practice field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - After two injury-filled seasons at Arkansas, linebacker Otha Peters had to shake things up.
So Peters ditched his old No. 5 jersey in favor of No. 22 this spring.
“I changed my number because 5, I felt like, was a curse,” Peters said. “I was hurt two years in a row in No. 5, and then my dad [the late Otha Peters] was No. 22 in high school. So I might as well carry on.”
Peters’ new No. 22 will come in a different style in the fall when Arkansas sports redesigned Nike uniforms next season. Peters also will be joined by a large array of teammates who will be sporting new numbers while strapping on the fresh jerseys.
On The Move
Arkansas players who have changed jersey numbers since the end of last season:
PLAYER, POS. CL. OLD NEW
D.J. Dean, CB So. 1 2
Scotty Thurman, WR So. 23 13
Eric Hawkins, WR So. 5 14
Otha Peters, LB Jr. 5 22
Tevin Mitchel, CB Sr. 8 23
Denzel Evans, RB Fr. 34 25
Reeve Koehler, OL Fr. 78 54
Cordale Boyd, OL So. 72 69
Demetrius Wilson, WR Sr. 81 85
Tevin Beanum, DE Fr. 80 97
Brandon Lewis, DE So. 89 99
At least 10 players - almost a tenth of the roster that will report in August - are changing numbers.
“If a guy’s got bad mojo going, maybe he’s had an injury or something like that, I oftentimes will suggest just making a transition,” Coach Bret Bielema said. “Otha Peters for instance … had a lot of bad luck, and he’s been in an upward strike ever since [changing to 22].”
There is a different story behind every jersey switch, often related to family or other personal reasons.
Cornerback Tevin Mitchel, who wore No. 8his first three years at Arkansas, switched to No. 23 for the spring.
“It’s not a special reason,” Mitchel said. “I just thought I wanted to change things up my last year and go with a new number. I like 23.”
No one could blame Mitchel if was bailing on No. 8 considering the run of misfortune he has experienced while wearing it.
Mitchel, who had an outstanding freshman season in 2011, suffered a severe concussion during Arkansas’ 34-31 upset loss in overtime to Louisiana-Monroe in the second game of 2012, and subsequently needed gall bladder surgery that kept him out for four games.
He was back as a starter last year, but after an interception return for a touchdown at Rutgers he struggled to tackle in space and was beaten for several big-play touchdowns during Arkansas’ season-ending, school-record nine-game losing streak.
Although he suffered a hamstring injury last week that is likely to keep him out of Saturday’s Red-White spring game, Mitchel’s desire to rebound as a senior has been evident to teammates and coaches.
“ I think he’s really tried to assert himself, both on and off the field,” defensive coordinator Robb Smith said.
Receiver Demetrius Wilson suffered a torn knee ligament during fall camp last year, but that’s not why he exchanged No. 81 for his new 85.
“One of my good friends, like my little brother, he passed away in high school and he wore 85,” said Wilson, referencing KJ Bowen in Arizona. “So I just decided to do it for the family and stuff like that.”
Sometimes a jersey change comes out of necessity.
Defensive end Brandon Lewis wore No. 89 last season, but because he and tight end Mitchell Loewen, who is No. 89 on offense, might be on some special teams together, Lewis is now in No. 99. Players on the same team can have the same jersey number, such as when Mitchel and quarterback Tyler Wilson both wore No. 8 for a couple of years, but they cannot be on the field together at the same time.
Several other Razorbacks have switched numbers in the past, like offensive lineman Grady Ollison (49 to 50), running back Kody Walker (40 to 24), linebacker Daunte Carr (24 to 52), safety Davyon McKinney (41 to 13) and deep snapper Alan D’Appollonio (53 to 82), whose change to an eligible number preceded his pass reception on a fake punt at Rutgers last year. However, this year seemed to bring out wholesale jersey switches.
Receiver Eric Hawkins swapped out No. 5 for No. 14 to honor his grandmother.
“I’ve done a lot of great things in No. 5, but I decided to change my number to 14 because it symbolizes the day that my grandmother died and it’s also her birthday,” said Hawkins, who wore No. 5 throughout high school. “She died on Feb.14  and her birthday is on Jan. 14. I wanted to change my number in honor of her.”
Cornerback D.J. Dean switched from No. 1 to No. 2 simply because he wore the latter number in high school.
Bielema said he’s OK with jersey switching.
“If it means something to you, I’m all for it,” he said. “I believe guys that have a heart that’s beating and a face that’s smiling and a mind that’s happy usually play better.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 04/23/2014