Now on scholarship and starting, Blair stays focused

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Saturday, October 3, 2020
Arkansas defensive back Simeon Blair looks on during a play in a team practice on Sept. 19, 2020 in Fayetteville.
( Walt Beazley, Arkansas Razorbacks )
Arkansas defensive back Simeon Blair looks on during a play in a team practice on Sept. 19, 2020 in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — In the matter of a couple of weeks, Simeon Blair went from walk-on reserve safety for the University of Arkansas to scholarship player starting the season opener against No. 4 Georgia.

But it didn’t all happen for Blair overnight. He’s a redshirt sophomore in his third season.

“Oh man, it’s been a long journey,” Blair said earlier this week. “It’s a journey I’ve enjoyed. I’ve learned a lot of things about growing as a person. I’ve grown with my teammates and my family. It’s just been a real great experience for me.”

Blair, who played quarterback and defensive back at Pine Bluff High School, said he had scholarship offers from some smaller colleges, including Southwestern Athletic Conference programs. But he decided walking on at Arkansas was his best option.

“I picked Arkansas because I felt it was a great opportunity,” Blair said. “I knew that I was a hard worker, and I felt that I would be able to earn myself a scholarship if I kept working hard, and that’s what happened.”

Sam Pittman, the Razorbacks’ first-year head coach, placed Blair and offensive lineman Luke Jones — a transfer from Notre Dame — on scholarship before the season.

Blair played in 11 games last season on special teams and made one tackle, and he got some snaps on defense against Auburn and LSU.

“I think he’s starting on four special teams for us,” Pittman said before the Georgia game. “A guy that’s unselfish that works hard … that’s a big deal for us.

“To me, if you start on all four teams, you’re a starter, so I think he’s earned that [scholarship].”

Blair, 5-10 and 204 pounds, was a surprise starter on defense as well against Georgia, and he made three tackles and had a pass breakup in the Bulldogs’ 37-10 victory.

“I was really pleased with the way Simeon played,” Pittman said. “He’s detail-oriented, and he played really hard.”

Arkansas junior cornerback Montaric Brown, in his second season as a starter, said he was impressed by Blair.

“He’s versatile. He can play any position,” Brown said. “He did his job, and he’s going to help us in the future.”

Blair said he found out Tuesday before the game that he might be starting against Georgia.

“We had some people that were out,” he said. “[The coaches] put me in there, and they told me I was probably going to be playing. So I just took my time and studied and made sure I made the best out of my opportunity.”

Blair could get another start tonight against No. 16 Mississippi State. If he doesn’t start, he figures to get playing time on defense and special teams after Bulldogs quarterback K.J. Costello completed 36 of 60 passes last week for an SEC-record 623 yards in a 44-34 victory at LSU.

“Our coaches tell us all the time, ‘As long as you do your job, we’ll be all right,’ ” Blair said. “So what we’re expecting to do, we’re going there and everybody’s going to do their job.

“We’ve been practicing hard. Like Coach Pittman tells us, ‘We’re going to practice like we play.’ So we’ve been trying to practice real hard. That way those habits will come out in reality Saturday.”

Blair found out he was going on scholarship when Pittman texted and asked him to come by the coach’s office. The scholarship offer wasn’t videotaped and shown later on social media or Arkansas’ website.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” Pittman said of offering a scholarship to a player. “But I’m not a ‘Hey, look at me’ guy, Therefore, we didn’t video it and all that kind of stuff.

“If I make a big deal [in front of the whole team] about one guy getting a scholarship, well, there’s 34 more guys that aren’t getting a scholarship in there that would like to have one. I like to do it personally. One on one. I called him in and told him that he had earned his scholarship. He was very, very grateful. Very thankful.

“It’s a really neat moment.”

Pittman said he wanted to make sure Blair had bigger goals than earning a scholarship.

“A lot of times you reward a scholarship and that’s as good as a guy gets,” Pittman said. “That didn’t happen with Blair. He’s already exceeded the day I was able to reward him the scholarship.”

Redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon — one of the Razorbacks’ most heralded signees in the 2019 class — said he was happy to start alongside Blair against Georgia.

“I know the story and how far he’s come,” Catalon said. “For him to get the opportunity and make the most of it, and the plays that he made, I’m so proud of him.”

Sophomore receiver Treylon Burks, who led Arkansas with seven catches for 102 yards against Georgia, said going against Blair in practice has helped make him better.

“Simeon comes to work hard every day no matter if it’s practice, weights, meetings,” Burks said. “He’s attentive in everything.

“He works hard, and he deserves to be put on scholarship and to be starting. You can tell from Saturday he’s a baller. I’m just glad that Coach Pittman did that. The team is happy for him.”

Blair said he worked hard to earn a scholarship.

“So I can’t say that I didn’t expect it,” he said. “But I was very excited. I mean, that’s one of the biggest accomplishments that I’ve had. I feel like all my hard work is starting to pay off.”


Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.