Mr. Versatility: Latham comfortable at any spot on O-line

By: Clay Henry
Published: Monday, July 4, 2022
Arkansas offensive lineman Brady Latham takes part in a drill Thursday, April 15, 2021, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.
( Andy Shupe)
Arkansas offensive lineman Brady Latham takes part in a drill Thursday, April 15, 2021, during practice at the university practice field in Fayetteville.

It was in August 1979 when the Southwest Conference press tour arrived in Fayetteville for the annual hype stop for football season. A little known offensive lineman took center stage.

In a bit of a spoof, center Mike Burlingame announced that he was mounting a campaign for the Heisman Trophy. His thoughts: Why not me?

Sports information director Rick Schaeffer recalls visiting with Burlingame over the summer in his preparation for the media guide. The returning starter at center quizzed him about who would be the top candidates for a run at the Heisman.

“He wanted to know how you got on the Heisman ballot,” Schaeffer said. “I told him there was no ballot and that anyone was eligible.”

So Burlingame asked if he could mount a Heisman campaign. The UA sports information staff did just that and sent out quotes from Burlingame after each game.

“He was hurt and missed a game,” Schaeffer said. “So Mike’s quote that week about whether or not an injury would derail his campaign was simple: I’ve got more time for interviews this week so anyone is welcome to call.”

Burlingame was a standout, but never an All-SWC player. The campaign fizzled, but not before most of the touring media at least noted his marketing campaign. Mission accomplished. There were lots of chuckles and ribbing within the football team.

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There was a happy ending. Arkansas Gazette sports editor Orville Henry gave Burlingame his third-place vote in December. He got one point in the final results.

Told that story, Arkansas redshirt junior offensive lineman Brady Latham thought it was great. He knows offensive linemen don’t win the Heisman Trophy. He came short of launching his own Heisman campaign, but he did defend his position as the team’s Swiss Army knife, an offensive lineman who can play all five positions in a pinch — and maybe a few other places.

It wouldn’t be the worst backdrop for a Heisman campaign, tongue and cheek or not.

“I’ve worked a lot at both tackle spots,” said Latham, a two-year starter at left guard. “I’ve played right tackle in a game. I’ve taken some snaps at center. I’m getting comfortable there.”

Then came the line that sparked the Burlingame campaign for the Heisman. Latham said, “If they need me to, I think I could play some quarterback if that’s what we need.” He was aware that offensive guard Sebastian Tretola once threw a pass for the Hogs.

He was not serious, but it was a thought that emphasizes what Latham is all about. He was clear when asked to describe his personal traits.

“I’d like to be thought of as a good teammate, someone who would do anything needed for the team,” Latham said.

That’s easy enough, but the part that makes Latham tick is more about a team trait. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman has always emphasized toughness. Latham oozes toughness.

“Coach Pittman always talks about that,” Latham said. “I’m tough. I’m blue-collar. What Coach Pittman always talks about, ‘You don’t make excuses. You don’t care what’s going on around you, you play tough.’ I want to be that for Coach Pittman.”

It really comes naturally. Latham’s father, Bob, was a tough offensive lineman at Oklahoma, the center between two great guards, All-American Mark Hutson and All-Big Eight Anthony Phillips. All-American Keith Jackson was at tight end.

He started in 1988 and lettered from 1985-88. Bob Latham played for Merv Johnson at OU, the offensive line coach at Arkansas when Frank Broyles coached the Hogs to the 1964 national title.

That sparked another quip from Brady Latham. He said he’d be just fine if Pittman decides they need another good blocker at tight end.

“I can play there, too,” Latham said.

Like Burlingame’s Heisman campaign in 1979, Latham is mainly joking. But there is little doubt he’d give it his all at any position of need. He’s going to know his assignments and play to the whistle.

Some of his teammates recall that he played past the whistle early in his time in scrimmages as a true freshman. A few scuffles resulted.

“I think it was just trying to play with an attitude,” Latham said about those early confrontations with high intensity defenders.

“Some people didn’t like that. I do stop at the whistle. All I was trying to do was get a spot. I think playing hard gets you noticed.

“I was taught that by a lot of my coaches growing up. I think I’m probably more laid back than my dad, but I know he played hard, too. He taught me to play hard.”

Bob Latham coached him in peewee football and little league baseball. Brady was good at both.

“Yes, my dad was my first coach,” he said. “I loved playing for him.”

Latham wasn’t recruited by many and maybe was a bit of a late bloomer. He said it didn’t bother him that the Sooners weren’t interested.

“Obviously, I followed them,” said Latham, from Jenks, Okla. “It was my dad’s school. It was just never about going there for me. I just wanted to play college football. I never felt like I had to go there.

“When Arkansas began to recruit me, I liked that because it was really close. I had kept up with them.”

It didn’t hurt that one of his best friends had just committed to the Razorbacks. Ricky Stromberg and Latham have known each other since battles in peewee football.

“Ricky had just committed right before I was offered,” Latham said. “We were training partners lifting my last two years of high school. We’d played against each other pretty well our entire lives, too. So that helped.”

Latham played at Jenks; Stromberg at fierce rival Tulsa Union.

“We were not in the same districts, but we played the second game every year,” Latham said. “They called it the Backyard Bowl. I didn’t like Ricky when we played in peewee football against each other.”

The best linemen go both ways, so they definitely saw each other on the field at times.

“We didn’t see each other in high school much, but my senior year we played in the semis of the state playoffs and I was at left (offensive) tackle and he was at right tackle on defense,” Latham said.

How did that battle turn out?

“We probably have different views of that,” Latham said, but noted that Jenks advanced.

They are alike in that both were undersized when they arrived at Arkansas. They both had lost weight.

Latham is now 6-5, 308 pounds and that’s his heaviest weight.

“I lost to 265 at one point,” he said.

Often body fat has to be shed from young linemen, then lean muscle mass added. That’s what Latham has now, pure muscle.

“I’m the biggest I’ve ever been,” he said.

His backup is Jalen St. John, a massive 6-5, 334-pounder. St. John has improved to the point Latham can be the backup at other spots, most notably left tackle. That’s where Luke Jones plays now. Latham won a fierce battle for the starting spot at left guard last year.

“Luke is doing great at left tackle,” Latham said. “I think it’s perfect for him.”

As for the push coming from a host of young backups that are almost always bigger than the starters, Latham said, “I don’t really think about anything but trying to do my job as well as I can. But I know Coach Pittman and (O-line coach Cody) Kennedy are finding freaks.

“You know that they are going to keep finding good, big offensive linemen. You just try to do your job.

“Playing here for Pittman and Kennedy is great. They are just awesome coaches. They know the offensive line. It’s consistent extreme knowledge coming at us every day from both of them.

“I do know that weight is a huge thing for both of them. I was light, but I think I’m all right at 308 now. I have to watch things in fall camp because you can lose weight.”

The Hogs should feature one of the nation’s top offensive lines. The only starter lost was Myron Cunningham at left tackle. Dalton Wagner and Beaux Limmer man the right side at tackle and guard, respectively. Wagner rested a troublesome back in the spring and Ty’Kieast Crawford exploded with a great spring at tackle. Crawford could also play guard or move to the left side if needed. True freshmen Andrew Chamblee and E’Marrion Harris provided intrigue for the future, but coaches noted that they might be ready to help next year.

“Crawford is an incredible athlete,” Latham said. “We really do have a good (offensive line) room. We have good talent and depth and there is a lot of experience returning.”

Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles likes those three inside returning starters: Stromberg, Latham and Limmer.

“All three of those are really good players inside,” Briles said.

Latham loves talking about the entire group in the offensive line. He can provide insight into what makes all of them good. He especially likes talking about Stromberg.

“Ricky is one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around on the field,” Latham said. “He knows what’s going on all across our front. To play beside him is a great comfort. He’s telling me exactly what’s about to happen. He has great instinct and he’s super intense.

“Off the field, he’s a really solid person. He’s really funny. He keeps us all laughing. He is incredibly witty.”

Latham has the same kind of character and wit. It might not match the Burlingame wit, but perhaps he’ll grow into it. He was fine with being called the team’s Swiss Army knife because of his versatility.

“I think being a knife is a compliment in this sense,” Latham said. “I do see the comparison. I will be fine with whatever role is needed.”

No one has ever questioned Brady Latham’s attitude.

This story first appeared in the Hawgs Illustrated Football Preview issue


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