HOGS: Transfers fit right in; Notes
FAYETTEVILLE - Six Razorbacks returnees were named to the various preseason All-SEC teams Tuesday by the league’s head coaches.
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman spoke Tuesday morning to the Little Rock Touchdown Club, while transfer defensive linemen Markell Utsey and John Ridgeway met with media Tuesday evening.
Junior center Ricky Stromberg, practicing again after a two-week absence from a knee injury, junior receiver Treylon Burks, the lone Hog voted first team on the Associated Press Preseason All-SEC teams, and senior middle linebacker Grant Morgan, a 2020 All-American, were voted preseason All-SEC first team by the coaches.
Arkansas third-year sophomore safety Jalen Catalon, named an AP preseason second-team All-American on Monday, was named to the preseason SEC Coaches second team.
Catalon last month was voted on the AP’s Preseason All-SEC second team.
Arkansas senior offensive left tackle Myron Cunningham, and senior right guard Ty Clary, also the first-team center when Stromberg ailed, were voted to the Coaches preseason All-SEC third team.
DOWN TO 11
In Little Rock, Pittman said the UA roster is “91 percent vaccinated” against the covid virus with only 11 still unvaccinated.
"I think that (achieving 91 percent) will help us with the remaining 11, and then 100 percent of our employees are vaccinated," Pittman said. "I'm proud of that.”
"Once I talked to our team, we went over 100 (players) fully vaccinated. Our kids want to play and they want to represent the state of Arkansas."
Last football season with no vaccine available, the SEC pared its 12-game season by eliminating non-conference games and playing a 10-game entirely SEC season with one open weekend.
This fall, all are scheduled to play SEC teams in a 12-game schedule, and any covid roster affected games will be cancelled rather than postponed, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey declared.
Arkansas opens Sept. 4 in a non-conference game vs. Rice of Conference USA at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Razorbacks had to postpone one game last year they eventually played at a later date, and they did not get to play their Texas Bowl game against TCU because a covid outbreak hit TCU’s program.
UTSEY AND RIDGEWAY
Utsey, a 6-4, 290, Little Rock Parkview grad figuring both at defensive end and tackle at Arkansas, and defensive end Tre Williams were Missouri Tigers under Barry Odom. Odom was Mizzou’s head coach from 2016 to 2019 and joined Pittman’s first Arkansas staff in 2020 as defensive coordinator.
Utsey seemed an Arkansas natural after putting his name in the portal as a one-last-year grad transfer after playing in 2020 for Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz.
“I obviously have the opportunity to play for Coach Odom again,” Utsey said. “Just being back home closer to family. I feel like it was a great opportunity for success."
Utsey took no portal recruiting visits, including Arkansas.
“I knew what was here,” Utsey said. “I really didn't have to see it. I had faith in it."
MAKES THE GRADES
Ridgeway, 6-6, 320, nose tackle from Bloomington, Ill., so starred at Illinois State that Pittman’s staff had to out-recruit some of the nation’s top programs to land him.
That wasn’t the case when lower division (FCS) Illinois State signed him in 2017, though Ridgeway starred in high school in football, wrestling, shot-put and discus.
His plight was all academics, though he would become all about academics upon redshirting at Illinois State as a 2017 freshman.
“I just slacked,” Ridgeway candidly recalled. “I didn’t really pay attention in class, so that kind of took away my chances to get recruited. ISU took a leap of faith with me and I ended up getting my eligibility to go play college football. Went there, played there pretty well.”
Really well, major recruiters thought.
“When I did get in the portal, it kind of felt like I was a five-star recruit,” Ridgeway said. “I just had my phone blowing up every second of the day. Coaches calling me at 10:30, 11 o’clock at night, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ I just wish I’d experienced it at a younger age. It was fun for sure.”
Arkansas’ SEC presence, knowing NFL scouts could best evaluate playing against the best in college football’s best league, attracted him to Arkansas but he got hooked by Arkansas itself.
That took some hooking since he visited on his own when school sponsored visits were covid banned.
“I kind of just had my top three teams I was looking at, and I figured Arkansas was only an eight-hour drive so why not take it?” Ridgeway said.
Who were the other two teams?
“The Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers,” Ridgeway quipped.
OK, back to Fayetteville.
“So, I took the drive, and I loved the atmosphere,” Ridgeway said. “I looked around campus. I took my girlfriend and the dog. Let him see everything. The parents loved it. I loved it. So, I was like why not? I want to go to Arkansas."
All three transfers have impacted instantly. They worked their way up from the third team, the starting point for newcomers, and are in a large D-linemen rotation of large D-linemen likely needing plenty of subbing these first two potentially hot games in Fayetteville.
Who starts in that rotation isn’t paramount, they claim.
“I see myself doing whatever I need to do to help this team,” Utsey said. “I put the team first. So, whatever the coaches need me to do, I sacrifice to do that.”
Ridgeway concurs and says he’s learning the defense from the returnees and Utsey and Williams, who played for Odom.
“I trust the coaches,” Ridgeway said. “I know they're going to put me in the best position to succeed. So, if that means running with the twos, threes, whatever, I know I'm going to get better wherever they put me.”