Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Bumper Pool impresses in debut
Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool returns a fumble during a game against Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE It has been an almost lifelong dream for Bumper Pool to play football at Arkansas, evidenced by him continually wearing of a Razorback jersey when he was a toddler.
His father, Jeff, is a University of Arkansas graduate and his older sister, Maddie, attended college in Fayetteville and worked for the football program. It was almost a given that Bumper would follow suit.
But never in his wildest dreams did Pool envision a debut that included six tackles and a fumble recovery that he returned 60 yards in the Razorbacks’ season-opening 55-20 win over Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
“It was amazing,” said Pool, a former standout at Lucas, Texas, Lovejoy High School. “It was a blessing. I was just excited to be on the field and go do it with all of my teammates.
“It was a dream come true. I would say it was one of my biggest dreams to play for Arkansas and getting out there and being the first game was just amazing. I didn't expect it, but I was excited and prepared to be in there whenever I could.”
Pool, who chose Arkansas over Alabama, LSU, Michigan and USC among others, ended up playing 39 snaps, a majority of them in place of senior linebacker Dre Greenlaw. Pro Football Focus gave him an 81.3 grade, second-best among SEC linebackers.
“I did some good things and some things freshmen do,” Pool said. “I have to clean that up.”
Pool had 324 tackles in high school, including 166 as a senior, and lots of congratulations on his phone after the game.
“I had a lot of family members reach out,” Pool said. “It was real cool to see everyone that was watching the game send me texts. A lot of old buddies were getting excited so that was just real sweet.”
Pool earned praise from Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis, not one known to compliment young defenders early in their careers, and head coach Chad Morris.
“I thought Bumper Pool played exceptionally well as a true freshman to be put on the main stage as he was tonight,” Morris said Saturday following the game.
Greenlaw had a team-leading 10 tackles before getting injured late in the first quarter.
“I was excited, not to see Dre down but to get in there and get the opportunity to show what we've been working for,” Pool said. “It was exciting.”
Pool, who earned the distinction as the first Arkansas freshmen allowed to do interviews in the Chad Morris era, is likely to start in Greenlaw’s place Saturday at Colorado State.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Pool said. “I’m just excited to be out there and get a couple of reps. If I get out there, Dre is always coaching me up when I'm with the twos making sure I know what to do. He's always been a great mentor to me. I'll just be excited to get in.”
Pool also credited junior linebacker De’Jon “Scoota” Harris for helping him out on the field.
“It’s awesome,” Pool said. “Having so much talent around you, you kind of just feel that you have to play up to that talent. Trying to line up, he would always give me a little side note here and there to make sure I was on my assignments to not let the defense down.”
Pool came close to scoring a touchdown on his fumble recovery, but was tackled at the 4-yard line after picking up a fumble caused when D’Vone McClure sacked the quarterback.
It appeared Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley was trying to get Pool to hand him the ball instead of going for a block as they neared the goal line.
“When I was running with him I honestly thought it was somebody trying to tackle me,” Pool said. “I was trying to be high and tight and keep going and I saw it was Pulley and then I didn't realize I was on the 5-yard line when I got tackled. I thought I was on the 20.
“They were already giving me grief for not scoring. I said, 'Hey, I could have used a couple of blocks.’"
Pool was also credited with blocking a PAT, but photos reveal it was defensive lineman McTelvin “Sosa” Agim.
“I got through and I don't know if I blocked it completely,” Pool said. “I was through and I felt the wind blow, but I don't know if I can take full credit for that one.”
Pool was an early enrollee and thinks it helped him be more prepared for his first game.
“It was huge and this fall has been a huge thing for me being in Dre's back pocket," he said. "I have questions for every little thing that he does and having (Chavis) on my tail 24/7 making sure I'm doing everything right is huge.”
Pool admits it is a blessing having sister Maddie around, too.
“She’s the best," he said. "Having an older sister, I would say is the greatest thing ever. Even if sometimes she is on my tail making sure I am doing all the right things. But having her always there to talk to after practice every day, just asking how it went, is pretty special.”
Pool sized up Colorado State, which is 0-2 this season with losses to Hawaii and Colorado. The Rams have thrown for 718 yards and rushed for 219 yards while being outscored 88-47 in their two losses.
“They have one tight end and two tight end sets,” Pool said. “They like to run the ball. They've got a good quarterback. I actually got through watching film of them today. I'm excited what they have to offer. I think we have a good game plan for them.”
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