No one overlooking Nance now

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, September 30, 2017
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance scores a touchdown during a game against TCU on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance scores a touchdown during a game against TCU on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has become an impact wide receiver for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

It's just not who was expected.

Brandon Martin, rated the No. 2 junior college player last year by ESPN, has struggled with back and hamstring injuries and played in just one of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville's first three games. He doesn't have a catch.

Jonathan Nance, rated the No. 117 junior college player by 247sports, has emerged as the Razorbacks' top receiver.

Nance has team-highs of 9 receptions for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns going into today's game against New Mexico State. Six of his catches have gone for first downs, and his 22.2-yard average ranks fifth in the SEC.

"I love J-Nance," Arkansas senior quarterback Austin Allen said. "Wherever you throw the ball, he's going to catch it. He's a guy I've got a lot of trust in.

"He's already proven he can be a big-play threat. He understands the game, understands how to get open, understands leverages."

Nance, a junior from Gulfport, Miss., figures to become Allen's go-to receiver with the loss of senior Jared Cornelius to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury against Texas A&M last week.

"I feel like I'm ready to step up and make some plays for the Razorbacks and for Austin," Nance said. "I'm just going to continue to keep doing what I've been doing."

Nance had three catches for 100 yards against the Aggies, including a 44-yard touchdown reception and a 45-yard gain that set up a touchdown. He also had a 49-yard touchdown catch against TCU.

"I feel like I'm doing a good job," Nance said. "It's exciting to play against these teams you used to watch when you were a kid."

Martin chose Arkansas over offers from Florida, Georgia, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Louisville.

Nance's offers besides Arkansas were Colorado State, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy and Western Kentucky.

Shoulder and foot injuries limited Nance to 13 catches for 153 yards last season.

"I was hurt most of the time in juco, so I wasn't recruited heavily," he said. "But I knew I could play.

"I knew I just had to work as hard as I could once I got here, because other people have bigger names than what I had."

Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith said he's not surprised by Nance's success.

"We recruited him for a reason," Smith said. "The kid is a good football player. He's just taking advantage of the opportunities he's been given, and he's doing well.

"He's an SEC-type wide receiver and that's why he's playing wide receiver in the SEC."

Nance, 6-0 and 180 pounds, said he's been timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.

"I'm thin, but I'm rough," he said with a laugh.

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Nance attracted attention from the Razorbacks' staff members as soon as they looked at his junior college game film.

"Here was a guy who kept on showing up," Bielema said. "Then when you got a chance to be around him, just his composure, his demeanor, his attitude, his maturity was very, very clear."

Nance enrolled at Arkansas in January, so he went through winter workouts and spring practice and had a strong showing in training camp.

"At practice when you get the chance to make a catch or run the right route, you've got to make sure you're doing everything correct and getting the coaches' trust so they can put you on the field," he said. "Then when you're on the field, you make the plays so you can get Austin's trust so he'll throw you the ball."

Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Nance reminds him of Cornelius in terms of his ability to get open and make catches.

"He's got a knack," Enos said. "He's somebody you're going to see continue to get better as he gets more comfortable. I'm excited about him as being a guy that we can build some things around."

Nance began his college career at Southern Mississippi in the spring of 2015 after graduating early from Gulfport High School. Southern Mississippi's coaches had him work at cornerback, so Nance transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College after one semester.

"They told me that I was going to have a chance to play wide receiver, but when I got there they had me in the corners room," Nance said. "So I knew what was going on. They didn't let me take any reps at receiver. When the summer came, I didn't go back."

Smith said the fact Nance has worked at cornerback and receiver for a Division I team speaks to his athletic ability and intelligence.

"We're just blessed to have him," Smith said. "I'm proud of the way he's playing. I just have to stay on him, don't ever let him get complacent because he's never going to be good enough in my eyes.

"I think that's the way he wants it. He doesn't want to be 'good enough,' so he's going to keep practicing hard and hopefully we continue to get the type of play he's had so far."

Arkansas senior defensive back Kevin Richardson said Nance's skills as a receiver were apparent in spring practice, and he made a lot of improvement over the summer.

"He's a competitor," Richardson said. "You can see it every day. He wants the ball, and we want him to have the ball.

"I feel like he's going to be one of the top receivers in the SEC."


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