Road to redemption

TE O’Grady thrives after falling in line

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2018
Arkansas tight end C.J. O'Grady (85) is congratulated by teammates after catching a touchdown pass during a game against Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas tight end C.J. O'Grady (85) is congratulated by teammates after catching a touchdown pass during a game against Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Cheyenne O'Grady continued his comeback Saturday against No. 1 Alabama.

O'Grady, a junior from Fayetteville, was a bright spot for the University of Arkansas in its 65-31 loss to the Crimson Tide as he had a career-high 7 receptions for 48 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Last week, O'Grady had three receptions for a career-high 77 yards when Texas A&M held on to beat the Razorbacks 24-17.

It's been a big turnaround for O'Grady after he was suspended for the first two games and played sparingly in the next two.

"It was really hard," O'Grady said of being suspended. "Just sitting at home and watching. That's not what I came here to do."

O'Grady was expected to thrive in Arkansas' new Spread offense. He caught two touchdown passes in the Red-White game in the spring after collecting 21 receptions for 132 yards last season.

But off-the-field issues resulted in Coach Chad Morris suspending O'Grady for the Eastern Illinois and Colorado State games.

Morris didn't specify the reason for the suspension, but Arkansas senior linebacker Dre Greenlaw -- who also was O'Grady's teammate at Fayetteville High School -- had a tweet Sept. 4 that shed some light on the situation.

"We need you on the team bro!!" Greenlaw tweeted at O'Grady. "Just asking you to come to workouts and class for your brothers. That's all man."

O'Grady said "something just clicked" that enabled him to overcome the suspension, and he took it upon himself to be more accountable.

"Coach Morris has a rule to be where you're supposed to be, doing what you're supposed to do to the best of your ability," O'Grady said. "That's what I've been really pressing on."

Morris said O'Grady's contributions on the field the past two games are reflective of his actions off of it.

"I think a lot of that runs hand-in-hand," Morris said. "There's a lot of parallel. I think he's had another good week in his preparation and how he's handled himself.

"His play-making ability continues to improve. I'm very impressed with C.J. and I look forward to watching him grow."

Greenlaw said after Saturday's game that O'Grady needed some direction from a friend earlier in the season.

"We're not perfect and sometimes you just need your friend to come in and tell you, 'Hey, you've got to pick up,' " Greenlaw said. "We all need that person."

O'Grady caught three passes for 35 yards on Arkansas' 75-yard touchdown drive -- including an 8-yard scoring play from Ty Storey -- that pulled the Razorbacks within 21-7 in the first quarter. His second touchdown was a 3-yard catch from Cole Kelley that cut Alabama's lead to 28-14 in the second quarter.

"O'Grady has been a big spark for us," Storey said. "He's really come along, and you can see the raw talent the guy has.

"I think it's important for us to keep improving on that. Still keep coming to work every day. He's going to be a huge factor for us going forward."

Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said last week that the coaches have encouraged O'Grady to be more consistent and mature.

"His play [against Texas A&M] was a direct reflection on his week and how that led to the game," Craddock said.

Craddock said O'Grady has been on the positive report for study hall.

"All those things lead up to doing the right thing on the field," Craddock said. "You do the right things off the field, it's a direct correlation on the field.

"I'm not ready to put him on a pedestal just yet. I'm hoping he'll do the right things, because obviously you've seen what kind of a weapon he can be with the ball in his hands.

"He's a guy that we've got our arm around. We've got to kind of pull him through a knothole and make sure we get him to the game on Saturdays."

O'Grady didn't practice Tuesday because he had strep throat, but he attended the practice.

"You could definitely see he was still focused on learning and seeing what we're doing this week," Storey said. "You could tell he was actually invested in it and trying to get his mental reps."

O'Grady, who returned to practice Wednesday, matched his career touchdown total Saturday. He had two touchdown catches coming into the game -- against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl in 2016 and against Ole Miss last season.

"C.J. is maturing more and more every day," Greenlaw said. "I know as somebody that's been going to high school with him and played ball with him for a while, he might not realize it, he's just got so much potential. I know the amount that he can contribute and help this team and really make us a lot better.

"I'm not surprised by his game. A lot of people are, but I've seen him do this for I don't know how long. I'm just glad he got the opportunity to really go out there and show the world what he can do."

Sports on 10/07/2018

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