Arkansas football coach Chad Morris was the featured speaker Tuesday as the ONE Razorback Roadshow stopped in El Dorado. Morris, Arkansas Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek and UA swimming and diving coach Neil Harper addressed an enthusiastic crowd in the First Financial Music Hall at the Murphy Arts District.
The stop in El Dorado was the third, following Mountain Home and Texarkana.
The Razorbacks went 2-10 overall in Morris’ first year in Fayetteville, including an 0-8 mark in Southeastern Conference play.
“Believe me, I feel your pain. I feel your hurt,” Morris said. “But let me just say, we moved in 22 brand new Hogs last Sunday. We’ve been in the weight room and on the field. We were on the field this morning at 6 a.m. These guys are hungry. They’re excited and I’ll tell you what, they’re ready for fall ball as this thing gets kicked off pretty soon.”
Morris was excited to talk about the newcomers, first mentioning incoming freshman receiver Trey Knox, who enrolled in January.
“Trey Knox, at wide receiver, jersey number seven, it’ll probably be sold at bookstores. He’s the number one receiver out of Tennessee. We’re excited about that,” said Morris. “We brought in a couple new quarterbacks. We’re excited about these two guys.”
The new quarterbacks include Ben Hicks, a transfer from SMU and Nick Starkel, a transfer from Texas A&M. Hicks played for Morris with the Mustangs.
“He fully understands what this program is about. He understands what it takes. He’s sat in those team meetings. He’s been in that locker room of a program that’s being built. He’s brought a lot of energy into that quarterback room,” said Morris, who said John Stephen Jones will also compete at quarterback.
“John Stephen Jones has got a lot of reps this spring. He’s tremendously improved. We’re excited about him. And Nick Starkel just got here Sunday a week ago. Watching these guys in the weight room and getting out there and doing their running these last few days, we feel really good.”
Before addressing the crowd, the coach was asked specifically about the progress of Smackover’s Jordan Jones and Junction City’s Jamario Bell.
“These guys have looked good so far,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. But we’re expecting big things out of both of those guys this year.”
Jones will be battling for playing time at receiver.
“He’s in our slot position,” said Morris. “He needs to have a great summer as all of them do, building on what we’ve done coming out of spring ball.”
Bell will be expected to compete for rotation time at defensive end.
“We’ve got to really develop that true rush end. He got a lot of reps this spring. I’m excited about Jamario,” Morris said. “He came back in shape, looks good. We’ll continue to build off that.”
The coach said any hopes of a big turnaround in the upcoming season should’ve already started in the spring. The work in the summer could tell the tale once the season kicks off.
“The summer is going to be highly impactful for what the fall will look like,” he said. “We felt like spring ball got us prepared for summer. Now, we’re in it. It’s the third quarter phase which will take us all the way to July 4th. And we’ll start our fourth quarter final push. The direction of this football team in the fall will be determined over the next six weeks over the summer.”
The Razorbacks enjoyed one of their better recruiting classes in recent years, including 12 freshmen that enrolled in January. Morris exuded excitement when talking about the influx of youth to the program. He preached about a bright future while also asking for patience.
“We are recruiting for guys that love and understand what it means to have a love for the Hogs. We did not have enough of that last year,” he said.
“This is going to be a better year. We’re building this program. We’re going to continue to recruit. We’re going to continue to develop the young men on our roster. You deserve a great football program and we’re going to give that to you. It’s going to take some time. We want to build this program into something that’s going to last.”