Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Harrell's mindset making transition to tight end easier
Arkansas tight end Chase Harrell makes a catch Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas senior tight end Chase Harrell (6-4, 245) has grown up a lot in the last few years, not necessarily because he wanted to, but because there was no other choice.
Harrell’s older brother, Cole, was murdered in December 2017 at a house party in Houston that he was also attending.
A few months later, he got a DWI in Lawrence, Kansas, and decided it was time to get a fresh start as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.
That led him to Fayetteville, where he had an inconsistent first year as a wide receiver. But he has emerged as tight end who will be counted on heavily this season.
“Everybody's gone through a bunch in their life,” Harrell said. “I'd say definitely the things I've gone through ... I lost my brother in 2017. That's what led me to transfer, and a couple of schools I wanted to go to got blocked, and then the recruiting process slowed down and it really gave me a chance to realize who I am and take a step back and look at myself and know that, 'I'm going to have to grind through this. I'm going to have to get stronger.'
“I feel that defines me as a man and a person who just keeps going and keeps going. Perseverance.”
As he looks back on it, having two years left to play became very important after a rocky start fitting in with his new teammates.
“I’d say that helped me a lot,” Harrell said. “Coming in my first year I was like an outsider. I didn’t know any of the guys and it was kind of awkward.
“With more time with the team, they’ve kind of accepted me and now I can call them my brothers because we’ve been working and grinding together. I really enjoy that.”
Harrell, who went from 220 to 251 pounds in the offseason and is now at 245 pounds, has a sense of urgency with this being his last season of college football. He will also become a father next month.
"I've got to think of why I’m doing what I’m doing," Harrell said. " I actually have a child on the way. He’s due in September. He’s due the third game. Whenever it was hard I would hone in and realize what I’m doing it for. In order to be successful at this position you have to be an effective blocker and effective in the passing game, so I was really gaining weight for that."
Harrell, who had 30 catches for 302 yards and five touchdowns at Kansas, played in 10 games last season for the Razorbacks. He played 120 snaps with 58 coming at wide receiver.
He had four catches for 60 yards in the season opener, but did not have a reception in the other nine games. He thought maybe a position change would be to his benefit.
Harrell approached Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney, Jr., near the end of the season about a possible position change.
“I mentioned it to Coach Lunney with like two weeks left in the season,” Harrell said. “I was like, ‘Hey, you want me to put my hand in the dirt?’ I was just kidding, but I guess they picked up on it and they wanted me to switch. After that he told me to just think about it. Then like two days later I was like, ‘Yeah, coach, I want to switch.’”
Ironically, Harrell might have ended up at Texas after his high school career at Huffman (Texas) Hargrave, but the Longhorns wanted him to be a tight end instead of a wide receiver.
“Coming out of high school I only had like three offers,” Harrell said. “Texas said they wanted to move me to tight end but I thought, 'Nah, I'm not worried about that.'
“I've always been a fast guy. But my speed at receiver was kind of average. But once they moved me to tight end my speed kind of went up. I'd say I've been embracing that. I love the role.”
Harrell feels like he has become a better receiver during the offseason.
“I would say I’m actually catching the ball better,” he said. “I’ve been working super hard over the spring and then summer. I’ve just been putting in a lot of work, so I feel like I’m good in the receiving game.”
Harrell sees himself as someone who tries to do the right thing all the time.
“I bring leadership by example,” Harrell said. “I don't miss any meetings. I don't miss workouts or anything. I try to do everything right, so other people can watch me and say, 'I see him doing that. I want to do that, too.'"
Lunney and Arkansas wide receivers coach Justin Stepp are a bit different, according to Harrell.
“I'd say coach Lunney is more laid back, which isn't bad,” Harrell said. “Every coach coaches different. Coach Stepp is a technician guy, which Coach Lunney is, too, but Coach Lunney is more laid back. He cracks jokes and stuff, which is pretty good.”
Harrell caught two touchdown passes in the Razorbacks' last two workouts - Saturday’s scrimmage and in Monday's practice.
The Monday scoring grab was a part of the day in which the offense won the coveted championship belt, which Razorbacks coach Chad Morris awards to the side of the ball that has the best day.
“We got in the red zone,” Harrell said. “We dominated the red zone and coach Morris said that's our belt.”
Harrell has even been given the nickname "Jimmy Graham" by one of the strength and conditioning coaches for both his versatility and resemblance to the former New Orleans Saints and current Green Bay Packers tight end.
Arkansas seems to have a talented tight end room this season with senior Cheyenne O’Grady, junior Grayson Gunter and celebrated freshman Hudson Henry joining Harrell as scholarship tight ends.
O’Grady was challenged by Morris last week and has responded, according to Harrell.
“He’s been doing good,” Harrell said. “I really notice him in the meetings. He's interactive with coach Lunney and stuff, and I feel he's had a good camp. I just feel he needs to keep at it.”
Harrell’s biggest adjustment has been the extra blocking that goes with being a tight end.
“Once again, I’d go back to mindset,” Harrell said. “You’ve got to want to block. If you don’t want to block it’s going to be a little harder. But, I’m more of a physical guy, so I like blocking. It has been challenging and I do have to work on my technique within blocking. I’d say it’s getting easier each and every day.
“…I’m going to get me some pancakes this year.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.