Whaley inspired to lead running backs group

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Friday, July 6, 2018
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN --09/23/2017-- Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley (21) runs through Texas A&M defenders for a big gain in the second half.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BENJAMIN KRAIN --09/23/2017-- Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley (21) runs through Texas A&M defenders for a big gain in the second half.

— Just a few days after the 2018 NFL Draft, Arkansas junior tailback Devwah Whaley was doing an interview at the Fred Smith Center and noted that he had indeed watched the aforementioned event with a futuristic eye.

After seeing former Razorback tailbacks Alex Collins drafted in 2016 and David Williams this April, he would love to follow in their footsteps and hear his name called by one of the 32 NFL teams.

He knows the best way for that to happen is to be the best tailback.

“I felt so good for David,” Whaley said. “He came here last year, worked hard and it paid off for him and now he has that chance that we all want — to someday play someday in the NFL.

“Alex did the same when he was here and is now having great success, and I know that each one of us that are still here at Arkansas want to get to that level. We all know it is about putting in the work, but I think we all are also focused on helping turn around this team and winning. That’s the most important thing right now.”

Williams, taken in the seventh round by the Denver Broncos, was the leading rusher for Arkansas last season with 656 yards and eight touchdowns. It was the first time in 12 years that former head coach Bret Bielema did not have a 1,000-year rusher.

Whaley (5-11, 215) who had 602 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry as a freshman, was next with 559 yards and seven touchdowns, although he actually had a team-leading 127 rushes with his per carry average dropping to 4.6.

Freshmen speedster Chase Hayden (5-10, 192) had 326 yards with four touchdowns before suffering a leg fracture and T.J. Hammonds (5-10, 199) was given a shot late in the season and racked up 262 yards and a score.

Those four return and redshirt freshman Maleek Williams (5-11, 224) will join incoming junior college transfer Rakeem Boyd (6-0, 200), a former Texas A&M player who rushed for 1,211 yards last season in 10 games for Independence, Kan., Community College. That included closing with 302 yards on 34 carries in his team’s regular-season finale and 215 yards and three touchdowns in the Midwest Classic Bowl.

“We have a really good group of running backs and I feel like we all are going to be needed to get done what we need to get done this season,” Whaley said. “There are going to be plenty of carries and catches in this new offense and I think we are all really excited about the possibilities.”

Whaley was on the Doak Walker Award watch list as one of the nation’s top tailback prospects going into last season, but the Arkansas offense struggled because of injuries and inconsistent play on the offensive line.

“It was certainly not the offense that we envisioned having going into the season and one in which we just had too many mistakes and didn’t live up to our potential,” Whaley said. “It was very disappointing, as was finishing 4-8 and not making a bowl.”

The 4-8 mark led to the ouster of Razorback head coach Bret Bielema and his staff with Chad Morris coming from SMU to take his place.

“I hated that for those guys because they were the staff that brought me to Arkansas and I have a great deal of respect for them,” Whaley said. “But I think we are all very excited about a fresh start with the new coaches and about this offense.”

Morris and his staff — including offensive coordinator Joe Craddock and running backs coach Jeff Traylor — are thrilled to have the chance to coach Whaley.

“Here’s a guy that we loved in high school and recruited, but really knew we had no chance at because he was looking to go to a Power 5 school,” Craddock said. “To have it worked out where we now have the chance to utilize him in our offense has us all excited.

“In fact, we have so many weapons with these guys that you just get excited about what we have to work with here at Arkansas.”

Whaley, who has 14 catches for 195 yards and a touchdown in two seasons at Arkansas, is excited about his fit with the new offense.

“I think my skill set fits well in Chad Morris’ offense,” Whaley said. “I ran the spread in high school, so I know it well. I love catching the ball out of the backfield.”

Hayden is also enthusiastic about the new offense.

“I like it a lot,” Hayden said. “It’s a lot clearer. You won’t be facing nine in the box so much.”

Whaley was familiar with Traylor, so that got the two off to a good start at Arkansas.

“Coach Traylor actually recruited me at Texas, so I knew about him, and the fact that he is from East Texas like me means a lot,” Whaley said. “He’s a great person and a great coach. He knows what he is doing.”

Whaley was at 195 pounds coming into his freshman season and was up to 215 for his sophomore season.

“I actually didn’t put on a lot of weight between year one and two. I was pretty much the same size, but balancing muscle and body fat was my issue,” Whaley said. “From then to now, I have lost a lot of body fat and put on more muscle. I want to continue working on my body and my mindset as there is also room for improvement.”

Whaley admits that last season’s 4-8 mark after a 7-5 record in his freshman season was tough to take.

“I really felt good going into the season,” Whaley said. “I believe we had the right mindset, the right toughness and enough playmakers, even with the loss of (tailback) Rawleigh Williams.

“But it didn’t go right from the start and it taught me and my teammates a lot about how we prepare and the mindset that you have to have going into every game, every play, every practice and every time you are in the playbook.”

The loss of Williams to a career-ending neck injury in the last spring practice of 2017 was a shock to Whaley and his teammates.

“It’s something that I will never forget and I will never take anything for granted again,” Whaley said. “We all love this game, but it can be taken away from you in an instant. It makes you take everything in a little bit more, be even more thankful for the blessings you have and treasure the time you get to play the game you love.”

Hayden echoed those sentiments from his experience with his own injury.

“It just feels so good to be back out on the football field, to be healthy and have a chance to play the game,” Hayden said. “I think it is going to be a much better year for us than a lot of people are thinking.”

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