Arkansas eyes dreamers, diamonds in the rough

By: Richard Davenport
Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema talks with the media before a private Signing Day in the Rock event Thursday evening in Little Rock.
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema talks with the media before a private Signing Day in the Rock event Thursday evening in Little Rock.

The story of J.J. Watt is likely one Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema uses to persuade potential walk-ons to attend the University of Arkansas.

Watt, who had to pay his own way at Wisconson during a redshirt season after transferring from Central Michigan, became a star with the Badgers and was taken with the 11th selection in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Watt has gone on to even greater success with the Houston Texans, earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012.

Bielema might not be able to duplicate the Watt story at Arkansas,but the Arkansas coach and his staff are putting renewed emphasis on the walk-on program and it is paying off.

At least five in-state athletes are planning to bypass scholarship offers from smaller schools to walk on and chase their dreams of being a Razorback.

Pulaski Academy fullback Tyler Colquitt, 5-11, 235pounds, 4.60 seconds in the 40-yard dash, turned down offers from Central Arkansas and Murray State to join the Razorbacks. He said he realized he was wanted after seeing Bielema, running backs coach Joel Thomas and tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. visit his school.

“It was tough at first when they first put the offer out on the table,” Colquitt said. “I was kind of like, I don’t know about this, because it’s hard to turn down scholarships. Once I thought about it more, it really got real when Coach Bielema came and saw me. I talked to him a couple of times on the phone.”

Colquitt, an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette All-Arkansas selection, recorded 74 unassisted tackles, 29 assisted tackles, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions at linebacker and rushed 38 times for 374 yards, a 9.47 yard per-carry average and 7 touchdowns along with 9 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown.

“I feel like I would be a tough matchup for linebackers,” Colquitt said. “Linebackers are very athletic. I would know, I’ve played it for the last four years.”

Colquitt, a four-year starter, reports a 330-pound bench press, a 490-pound squat and a 265-pound power clean.

Forest City linebacker Jaylin Johnson, 5-11, 205, 4.67 seconds in the 40, turned down offers from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Arkansas Tech, Alabama A&M and Ouachita Baptist to walk on to Arkansas. He said Lunney helped him decide to be a Hog.

“Certain coaches have been straight up with me,” Johnson said. “Coach Lunney was the main one, and I felt like other coaches were just feeding me dreams and stuff. I kind of like what he brought to the table. He told me I could make an impact on special teams, which I would like to do, so I can learn thesystem first. It sounded pretty good.

“I always wanted to be a Razorback.”

Johnson, who had 107 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and an interception as a senior, has a 3.65 grade-point average.

“Some people would say football is first, but football is second to me,” Johnson said. “Academics come first. I was always told if you don’t have academics, you can’t play sports.”

Watson Chapel linebacker Joshua Harris, 5-11, 215, 4.79 in the 40, recorded 145 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 3 interceptions as a senior. He had offers from Arkansas Tech, Southern Arkansas and Henderson State.

“I decided to walk on because I believe it was an opportunity and challenge and I didn’t want to pass it up,” Harris said

Two offensive linemen, Johnny Gibson Jr. of Dumas and Jackson Hannah of Bentonville, turned down scholarship offers to be Hogs.

Gibson said he decided to be a Razorback after talking to his parents.

“We all came together and decided it was the best place for me,” said Gibson,who plans to study electrical engineering. “Not only for sports, but for school and my major.”

Gibson, 6-4, 320, 5.0 seconds in the 40, reports having offers from Henderson State, Ouachita Baptist, Arkansas-Monticello, Southern Arkansas and others.

“I pretty much had offers from all of the D-II schools in the state,” Gibson said.

Gibson was recruited by Lunney but also heard from offensive line coach Sam Pittman about a week before making his Feb. 5 announcement that he was walking on.

“Coach Pittman called me and asked if I was still ready to come play, and I said ‘yes sir,’ ” Gibson said.

Gibson, who reports a 3.837 grade-point average, said he is appreciative of his parents, Johnny Sr. and Irene, for pushing him to excel in the classroom.

“They always pushed the student of student-athlete the most,” Gibson said. “Without them, I don’t know how my grades would be. Being able to go to Arkansas as a walk-on, you have to have the grades and scholarships to make it up, so I’ll have the opportunity to earn a scholarship from football.

“Without them I wouldn’t even you have a chance to go to Arkansas.”

Hannah, 6-2, 285, 5.2 seconds in the 40, had offers from Arkansas Tech, Henderson State, Pittsburgh State and Missouri Western.

North Little Rock safety Payton Holmes, 6-0, 185 pounds also plans to walk on at Arkansas.

E-mail Richard Davenport at

Sports, Pages 33 on 02/16/2014