Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Like It Is:
Razorbacks fall in line behind their big bookends
Arkansas offensive tackle Brey Cook goes through drills during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
It might be difficult to find two bigger bookends in the country than Dan Skipper and Brey Cook, who are the starting tackles for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Skipper goes 6-10, 316 pounds and Cook is 6-7, 322.
In a short time, Skipper has become a big story. He started the last eight games of last season as a true freshman, and while he made some learning mistakes no one -- no one -- doubted his might and his fight.
His battles with Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche last year resulted in Nkemdiche taking a swing and getting ejected, but Skipper had to be restrained or he would have been headed to the sideline too.
Nkemdiche is a two-time high school All-American and five-star recruit who goes 6-4, 277, and is already considered a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft because of his strength and athleticism.
Those who know Skipper weren't shocked that he not only stood up to Nkemdiche, but he aggressively blocked him.
There is a story about Skipper, who started playing football when he was 10 years old. Apparently his parents promised him a trip to the local Dairy Queen and his choice of treats if he didn't get called for a personal foul.
Skipper's first trip to DQ was when he was 15.
Cook came to Arkansas much more heralded. He turned down scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Oklahoma and Southern California to be a Razorback and was an All-American at Springdale Har-Ber.
He played in all 11 games as a freshman and was counted on heavily to block for Zach Hocker's extra points and field goals. His sophomore year he started six games and played in all 12.
Last season he made 11 starts and established himself on the field, and this summer he became a true leader. When the offensive players met twice a week without coaches, he was one of the vocal leaders.
"Brandon Allen was the main leader, though, don't forget that," Cook said during media day last week. "He's come a long way as a vocal leader and, yes, he's yelled at me to step it up."
Count Cook as one who believes in Allen, the starting quarterback who struggled through most of last season after a shoulder injury.
Those meetings were as serious as taxes, and Cook said the goal was simple: "To perfect our system."
Incidentally, not much of that system was shown in last Saturday's public scrimmage. Wisely, some of that might have been because the coaching staff knows Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn still has many friends in Northwest Arkansas.
Arkansas opens with Auburn on Aug. 30.
Cook rededicated himself to watching film and the weight room in the offseason, and his leadership landed him in Hoover Ala., as one of three Razorbacks representing Arkansas at SEC media days.
He also was named a team captain.
When asked if part of his preparation was because this is his last season, which is commonly known as the money year for anyone hoping to play in the NFL, Cook was candid.
"Every football player dreams of playing in the NFL, and maybe this is my money year, but right now I'm not even thinking about that," he said. "If it happens, it happens. All I'm focused on is this football season.
"All of my goals have to do with what happens the next few months. My every thought is about this team and getting us on the right track."
With the Razorbacks expected to count heavily on three talented running backs and Allen making the right throws at the right time, Arkansas' optimism comes in large part from having perhaps the two biggest bookends in college football.
Sports on 08/20/2014