Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Bielema, Bucknam teaming up for success
Arkansas wide receiver Eric Hawkins carries the ball in the first quarter of the game against Southern Miss on Saturday September 14, 2013 at Razorbacks Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Eric Hawkins won't be the first Arkansas football player ever to run for Chris Bucknam's Razorbacks track and field team when Hawkins leads off the' 400 relay Sunday at the SEC Outdoor Championships in Lexington, Ky.
Hawkins will become the first football player for Bucknam truly trained for track. After spring football ended with the April 26 Red-White game, during which Hawkins closed the first half by dashing behind a stunned first-team defense and catching a 45-yard touchdown pass, the receiver became a sprinter with no football strings attached.
Unlike former Razorbacks receiver Cobi Hamilton's outdoor season with Bucknam, Hawkins won't run track while also burdened by off season football work that includes weights and conditioning.
The former Texas state high school 200-meter runner-up has been cleared by second-year football coach Bret Bielema to be all track all the time during the outdoor season.
"Bret has given us complete control for this month," Bucknam said after Hawkins joined a championship team that is trying to complete its third consecutive SEC triple crown with conference titles in cross country, indoors and outdoors. "Eric is doing our lifting. He is in our wheelhouse 100 percent.
"We appreciate they are putting him in the best position to have success. You can't do preseason lifting and do in-season track. The sports are married in what comes naturally, but there are differences."
Differences that must be mutually respected, Bucknam and Bielema concur.
"Eric is a full-fledged member of the track team right now," sprints coach Doug Case said. "It's great for his sake and great for our sake."
It could be great for football's sake, too.
"My philosophy is you have a happy mind and a happy heart, you usually do better," Bielema said. "Sometimes you let these kids build confidence [in track], it carries over in a way that you can only dream of. One thing I learned is you get a bunch of fast guys running with other fast guys, they only get faster."
Bielema and Bucknam said "this should be the beginning of things to come" in the recruitment of dual-sport athletes.
"When I first met Buck, I saw he obviously had set himself in a world apart with the tradition that they had here that Buck carried forward," Bielema said, alluding to the 40 national championships and the 84 conference championships the Razorbacks track team won under John McDonnell. "I thought if we can get our hands on some of the elite speedsters in the world it can only help us.
"I don't know why you would want to prevent that."
Neither can Hawkins, a third-year football sophomore who is ready to roll in two sports.
"I appreciate Coach Bielema letting me really run track and train for track," Hawkins said. "I appreciate them letting me do this."
No doubt having a football player like Hawkins flashing a SEC championship track ring would be appreciated for football recruiting.
"Man, that's the ultimate goal as a student-athlete," Hawkins said. "Win championships and get rings."
Sports on 05/17/2014