Publicity of dual-sport status does good for whole team

By: Nate Allen
Published: Saturday, February 16, 2019
Arkansas pitcher Connor Noland warms up Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, during practice at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas pitcher Connor Noland warms up Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, during practice at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- In accepting generally highly publicized college football players, generally under publicized college baseball players generally prove an accommodating lot.

Though you would think from listening to sports talk radio that freshman quarterback-pitcher Connor Noland of Greenwood is the one and only University of Arkansas football player also to play Razorbacks baseball, today's starting pitcher in the season's second scheduled baseball game at Baum-Walker Stadium against Eastern Illinois is just the latest in a long line of Razorbacks combining the two sports.

While Noland may be the first of Baseball Coach Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks era significantly doubling from Arkansas football, as a so-far four-games redshirted freshman off a 2-10 football team, he's not even the most heralded quarterback of Razorbacks baseball.

Bill Gray, the Razorbacks Hall of Honor elected backup quarterback/starting safety of Frank Broyles' 1964 national football champions, played for the then-baseball-independent Razorbacks coached by the late Hall of Fame trainer Bill Ferrell.

Scott Bull, the UA Hall of Honor elected quarterback of Broyles' 1975 Southwest Conference champions, and current Razorbacks tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., quarterbacking Danny Ford's 1995 SEC West champions, both pitched for retired College Baseball Hall of Fame Razorbacks Coach Norm DeBriyn.

Former Broyles era starting quarterback Mike Kirkland hit for DeBriyn's Hogs. Playing football for Coach Ken Hatfield, also a Broyles All-Southwest Conference defensive back/punt returner and Ferrell baseball letterman, Kendall Trainor doubled as All-American kicker and DeBriyn outfielder. He remains the lone Razorback played both in the Cotton Bowl and the College World Series.

The late Mel McGaha in the 1940s starred with UA Hall of Honor recognition in baseball, football and basketball and then Major League managed the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City A's.

Others include for Lou Holtz and DeBriyn, the late Darrel Akerfelds, a linebacker become Major League pitcher, and Broyles/DeBriyn-coached John Jenkins, later the Houston Cougars head football coach.

So historically the Connor Noland football/baseball novelty isn't quite the novelty it appears.

Something else hasn't changed. At least from the DeBriyn era dual sportsmen witnessed here. They would join the baseball team in the spring and immediately net more publicity than those working baseball year round.

Baseball players understood. Attention to football players joining the baseball team wrought baseball more attention. And if the crossovers could help the baseball team as all these dual sports athletes listed did, the purely baseball players were purely overjoyed.

Just like today. Coming off a national runner-up at the 2018 College World Series, these baseball Hogs easily accept the spotlight shining on a football player whose baseball prowess might help advance them to Omaha again. Especially a Noland fitting in with a plus fast ball minus a blazing ego playing for Van Horn, an all business coach who never would promote a novelty above his best.

"Obviously he's been good enough to be our Saturday night guy," sophomore Preseason All-American outfielder Heston Kjerstad said of Noland. "He's earned it."

Sports on 02/16/2019

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