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 Razorbacks Kickoff Luncheon:
Hogs yuck it up on the podium
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema gives a few remarks Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 at the 2014 Arkansas Football Kickoff Luncheon at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center in Springdale.
SPRINGDALE -- One thing Bret Bielema hasn't lacked in the run-up to the 2014 season is the willingness to talk up his Arkansas players and the improvements they've made since going 3-9 in 2013.
Bielema was at it again Friday at the annual Arkansas football kickoff luncheon at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center.
"The No. 1 reason we're going to be a better football team this year is ... because of the 105 guys you saw walk through the back of the room," Bielema told a full house of Arkansas fans. "Every one of them physically and mentally is better than they were a year ago. Case by case, there is not one guy who has regressed."
Bielema related a story of a fellow college coach who used to talk about his anxiety in going to bed on the weekends and worrying about "that phone call I'm going to get" regarding a player getting into trouble.
The Razorbacks have had one on-campus player arrested during Bielema's 21-month tenure, a DWI charge against defensive end Austin Flynn in February 2013. Flynn did not suit up in spring drills and was eventually dismissed by Bielema.
"I am convinced more than ever that I can go home on Friday night and Saturday night and lay my head down and not worry because of the character that we have," Bielema said. "I challenged these guys to help keep upholding what they've proven to do over the last year and a half."
Bielema segued into a message related to the Razorbacks' season opener at Auburn.
"Next Saturday, we have the whole world to show what we're about," he said. "We will earn everything that we get, play by play, negative or poor, positive or great, it doesn't matter.
"We will earn it on a daily basis, play by play, and that's probably what I'm excited about more than anything."
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long, who introduced Bielema, extolled the emphasis Bielema and his staff have put on academic achievement.
"I'm telling you they're doing more than ever before," Long said. "They're recruiting the right type of men."
Long said he also respected having a coach "who knows it's about more than winning football games," although Long stressed he's convinced the Razorbacks are going to start winning again.
"I'm more convinced now than ever we've got the right man," Long said.
Bielema also referenced his roster full of "18- to 22-year old characters" who "are all awesome," and the Razorbacks lived up to the "characters" part of his assessment at the luncheon.
Most of the players in the Hogs' two-deep chart came to the podium to introduce the player who followed him in numerical order, leading to hijinks.
The entertainment started immediately, with freshman receiver Jared Cornelius, who wears No. 1, introducing No. 2, cornerback D.J. Dean, as a guy whose confidence needs a boost after trying to cover him in camp the past three weeks.
"He's full of jokes," Dean said before taking a swipe at Cornelius' hairstyle. "Look at that mohawk."
The introductions gave quarterback brothers Austin and Brandon Allen of Fayetteville a chance to rib each other in front of their parents, Bobby and Marcela.
"I don't think there was one game that he [Brandon] didn't go crying to my mom," Austin Allen said, referencing basketball games around the house.
"First of all, it's the other way around," Brandon Allen said seconds later.
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Brandon Allen introduced tight end AJ Derby as a guy whose girlfriend played for the Razorbacks' basketball team and "can probably beat him in every sport."
"That's probably true, actually," Derby replied.
Cornerback Jared Collins brought tailback Jonathan Williams to the microphone by saying, "The next guy is the greatest. I actually had to ask permission to say his name."
Williams said fellow tailback Korliss Marshall is one of the fastest players he's ever seen "and he's been watching a lot of my film lately."
Marshall said he sees linebacker Braylon Mitchell get "a little scared" when he's charging on the perimeter toward him, ready to give him a shake.
"We're not going to talk about that play when Coach B got onto me when you came up the middle," Mitchell responded.
Bielema applauded the team's work ethic and its eagerness to show improvement from last year's record, the worst in school history.
"I have no idea about the number of wins and losses that's going to equate to, but I know at the end of the day I can hold my chin up high, and they can as well, about the way they conduct their business," he said. "We're building something that I hope to get to that plateau sooner than later."
Sports on 08/23/2014