Arkansas athletes create a SPARQ in Arlington

By: Richard Davenport
Published: Sunday, May 4, 2014
North Little Rock Charging Wildcats' K.J. Hill keeps his eye on the end zone during their game against the Lake Hamilton Wolves Sept. 6, 2013 at North Little Rock High School.
Photo by Melissa Gerrits
North Little Rock Charging Wildcats' K.J. Hill keeps his eye on the end zone during their game against the Lake Hamilton Wolves Sept. 6, 2013 at North Little Rock High School.

ARLINGTON, Texas - Several Arkansas athletes were among the standouts Saturday at the Nike Football SPARQ Combine at AT&T Stadium.

Nike hosts numerous events throughout the nation that help decide who receives invitations to The Opening, the nation’s most prestigious recruiting event for college football prospects held each summer at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

North Little Rock safety Tyler Phillips turned in the nation’s top SPARQ rating with a 141.36. The previous best was 138.84 recorded by receiver Kirk Merritt of Destrehan, La.

SPARQ ratings are used as a standardized measure of athletic ability and take into account an athlete’s speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness.

Phillips, 6-2, 206 pounds, was electronically timed at 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 4.00 in the pro shuttle. He recorded a 40.7-inch vertical leap and tossed the power ball 42 feet.

Phillips was unable to participate in the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp on April 6 because of a hamstring problem.

“It’s been an unbelievable day,” said Phillips, who has a 3.58 grade-point average. “I’m extremely blessed and so thankful my patience and perseverance has paid off, because I was kind of upset about not going to participate in the NFTC.”

Phillips, who will play free safety next season after playing outside linebacker last season, plans to attend football camps at Arkansas, Tulsa and Memphis among others.

Charging Wildcats Coach Brad Bolding said he believes Phillips’ move to safety will show he has SEC talent.

“We really believe this young man is special,” Bolding said. “His work ethic is second to none. He’s an [advanced placement] student with a high football IQ and can run and jump.”

North Little Rock linebacker Justice Austin, 6-1, 242, had the second-best SPARQ score of 129.96. He was timed at 4.82 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 4.13 in the pro shuttle with a 35.8-inch vertical leap and a power ball toss of 43.5 feet. He had the highest SPARQ rating at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp.

North Little Rock receiver K.J. Hill recorded a 126.30 SPARQ rating. He ran the 40 in 4.59 seconds and the pro shuttle in 3.93 seconds, and recorded a 37.1-inch vertical with a 40-foot power ball toss.

Hill, 6-1, 190, recorded the nation’s 11th-best SPARQ of 123.66 at the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp and had already secured a spot at The Opening. He bettered his performances in every event Saturday except for the power ball.

“I just came up here to compete with everybody else,” Hill said. “I love to compete, even though I have an invite to The Opening.”

Highland athlete Avery Johnson, 6-1, 211, recorded an impressive score of 115.44 despite having a tight hamstring. He ran the 40 in 4.75 seconds and the pro shuttle in 4.04 seconds while turning in a 30.8-inch vertical leap and tossed the power ball 41 feet.

Johnson’s rating was even more impressive because officials allowed only one rep in the vertical leap, the pro-shuttle and the power ball toss because of time limitations.

“I felt like I did well considering,” Johnson said. “My quad has been hurting me from track, but I feel like did as well as I could in the 40.”

Johnson, who has recorded an electronic time of 4.54 seconds in the 40, has scholarship offers from Arkansas State and Southern Miss. There is a good chance he will received an offer from Arkansas if he performs well in June at the Razorbacks’ camp.

Phillips, Austin and Hill unofficially finished first through third in the SPARQ combine while two other Charging Wildcats also finished in the top ten to give North Little Rock five in the top ten.

Johnson finished eighth.

Bryant junior offensive lineman Cameron Davis and sophomore defensive lineman Cameron Murray also turned in good performances.

Davis, 6-3, 270, said he slipped during his two attempts in the 40-yard dash while recording a time of 5.29 seconds. He ran the pro shuttle in 4.60 seconds, had a 26-inch vertical leap and tossed the power ball 36.5 feet for a SPARQ rating of 76.72.

Murray, 6-2, 272, turned in one of the better SPARQ ratings among the linemen with a score of 86.19. He ran the 40 in 5.03 seconds and the pro shuttle in 4.55 seconds. He had a vertical leap of 25.4 inches and tossed the power ball 38.5 feet.


Arkansas also will be well-represented at today’s Elite 11 Regional Quarterback Competition at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Six quarterbacks from the state will take part in the competition: Bentonville sophomore Kasey Ford, 6-5, 237 pounds; Little Rock Central junior Cooper Westbrook, 6-3, 220; North Little Rock junior Heath Land, 6-0, 200; Pulaski Academy junior Will Hefley, 6-4, 205; Hoxie junior Cole Sears, 6-3, 205, and Wynne junior Ross Trail, 6-3, 210.

Ford, who received his first scholarship offer from Louisville on April 23, completed 107 of 185 passes for 22 touchdowns and was named the All-Arkansas Preps sophomore offensive player of the year by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this past season.

“I think it’s a blessing,” Ford said of the Elite 11 invite. “I’m certainly blessed to be able to participate with some of the best quarterbacks in the nation.”

He didn’t exactly expect to be picked to compete in such an elite competition.

“I was shocked,” Ford said. “I didn’t know sophomores could do it. I thought it was just for upcoming seniors. I guess they can invite a few select sophomores. I’m excited.”

Ford, who is also a standout pitcher for the Tigers with a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-80s, is confident going into the event.

“I’ve been throwing a lot lately, working on my timing, working on my drops” Ford said. “I feel confident I still have a lot of stuff to work on. There’s always room for improvement. I’m going in there with a confident attitude.”

E-mail Richard Davenport at

Sports, Pages 30 on 05/04/2014