Ethan Westerman is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has bachelor's degrees in journalism and marketing from the University of Arkansas.
'I’ve got a lot to make up for': Paul excited to be full-go for BYU
Arkansas linebacker Chris Paul Jr. (27) and defensive lineman Keivie Rose (93) celebrate after a play, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, during the third quarter of the Razorbacks’ 28-6 win over Kent State at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Chris “Pooh” Paul paced up and down the home sideline antsy for a chance to strap on his helmet and enter the game during Arkansas’ 28-6 victory over Kent State.
The Razorbacks’ sophomore linebacker, who given the position group’s transformation from a year ago feels more like a veteran, was serving his penalty for a targeting call late in the season opener against Western Carolina. All through last week’s practices, Paul was mentally readying himself to watch the first half.
When the third quarter began and he became part of the equation, there was one philosophy running through his head.
“The mindset that I had going in was really just to dominate,” Paul said Tuesday. “Going in, I just wanted to make an impact. Coach [Sam] Pittman put a real emphasis on that. There was numerous times he came up to me in practice and he was telling me, ‘You're not going to be out there the first half, but when you get out there, you need to basically introduce yourself again,’ and things like that.
“When I got out there, I just thought to myself, ‘I need to make plays. I need to put my name back out there.’”
The mission was accomplished. Paul finished third on the team with five tackles and he provided one of the game’s biggest plays.
More from WholeHogSports: Notes and observations from the Razorbacks' football practice on Tuesday
With 10 minutes remaining and Kent State trailing by three possessions, the Golden Flashes appeared to be well on their way to trimming the Arkansas lead. But facing a second-and-goal from the 1, Paul shot like a cannon around the edge and stuffed running back Jaylen Thomas for no gain.
It was one of four consecutive stifling plays from the defense to turn Kent State over on downs, and a moment that fired up a weary home crowd. He said it was a play that was fueled by a responsibility he felt, along with an adage from his father.
“I sat back the whole first half, and when I came back, I told myself, ‘I’ve got to make it up to these guys. I got to make me some plays,’” Paul said. “‘And my pops always told me big-time players make big-time plays when it comes down to it. And so I came down and I made a big-time play.”
The play resulted in a joint celebration by Antonio Grier, Cam Ball and Paul. Grier and Ball were in the vicinity of his tackle and are Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers with Paul.
“It was a great play,” Grier said, “and just having the guys out there…I can't even explain [how it feels], to be honest with you.
“It's a great experience and one of a lifetime, to be honest with you, to have three dogs on the field like that. I mean, the picture was amazing that we had and for all of us just to be out there, and the brotherhood that we share together is also amazing.”
This weekend against BYU will be the first time this season Paul has been full-go. In the season opener he was not at 100% strength because he was hampered by a slight MCL injury in the preseason. And last week Paul had to miss the first half.
He is ready for the opportunity to showcase his potential.
“Man, I'm highly excited,” Paul said. “You know, this is my first real game playing a full game and things like that. Just to get in front of the Razorback crowd [with] just the atmosphere and the energy that they bring, man, it's going to be a great Saturday.
“You know, I sat back, and I just prided myself on once I come back, I’ve got a lot to make up for. I just want to thank God for everything and go out there and play my best brand of football.
“I'm excited. I'm anxious. I'm ready.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.