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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hog Calls

Thursday, August 21, 2003

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Razorbacks' senior leadership stands out in black and white.

That's an unspoken goal every vastly integrated college team desires.

Obviously, in some sports like college baseball, which few blacks seem to play anymore with scholarships fractionalized to a ridiculous nub in pursuit for gender equity, a melting pot chemistry isn't going to matter significantly, though of course it is desired.

Nor, in Arkansas' case, and most SEC schools, is it so paramount, though again certainly desired, with men's basketball teams which are predominantly black.

But in college football, racial harmony and leadership not only are desired, but a necessity for success.

An atmosphere of blacks and whites grousing because a player was promoted or demoted because of race, or players thinking along racial lines rather than team lines, can destroy the most talented squad.

Nothing nips that in the bud like strong leadership among players.

Looking at this 24-man senior class, some of the acknowledged team leaders are fifth-year seniors George Wilson and Jimmy Beasley and Tony Bua and Bo Lacy. That underscores the right mix is there in black and white.

It's also there on offense; Wilson is a wide receiver and Newport's Lacy an offensive tackle -- and defense; Bua is a free safety and North Little Rock's Beasley a strong safety. And there are plenty of other established leaders throughout.

Having entirely separate units, like football must with offense, defense and kicking game, can be the first route to dissension during spells when one unit flounders as others excel.

The across-the-board senior cohesiveness impresses new quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke.

"It's been a long time since I've been around a senior group that's so focused," Wittke said. "It's a large group, but they really do speak with one voice on both sides of the ball."

Until the all but inevitable, with this rugged schedule, first loss, the seniors' leadership likely will be most tested this week of two-a-days and next week's practices with no game until Sept. 6.

Two-a-days, with oppressive August heat now snapping a recent cool spell, are really going to grind. And even with UA classes cutting the workouts to once daily next week, it will get restive with no game to play while most teams commence play on Aug. 30.

Players aren't apt to look good this week and aren't apt to feel good even when looking good.

Take tailback Cedric Cobbs' comment after he broke a 50-yard touchdown in last Saturday afternoon's scrimmage just a few hours after the first of the two-a-day practices.

"I think the heat kind of got to me today," Cobbs said, "because we had done a lot in individual drills. I was lucky to break free and not get run down."

That he's nearly 20 pounds lighter than when he played in the Music City Bowl helped Cobbs' speed and endurance on a day when all were hot and sapped.

Overall, the team conditioning has been impressive, especially with all the running that Nutt and strength coach Don Decker have prescribed.

A great teacher lost

Our deep condolences to Ruth and Kevin Trainor and the entire UA over last Friday night's untimely passing of UA Creative Writing school icon Jim Whitehead.

Ruth is one of seven children of Jim and Guendaline Whitehead, and Kevin, the Razorbacks' sports information director, is their son-in-law.

Jim Whitehead, Bill Harrison and Miller Williams founded the UA's Creative Writing department which became world acclaimed.

A bear of a man who lettered as a football lineman at Vanderbilt, Jim Whitehead was truly old school. He wrote his New York Times acclaimed novel Joiner in longhand.

His favorite Razorback head football coach was Danny Ford, whose no nonsense, old school methods laid the foundation for what Houston Nutt coached to a 1998 SEC West co-championship. More than anything at the UA, he was an old school schoolteacher.

"A great teacher," said Mike Gaspeny, a former Arkansas sportswriter and Whitehead creative writing protégé, now teaching in North Carolina. "What a great, great teacher."

In current academia, when prowess more than ever seems measured on fund raising and "publish or perish," it's a lesson learned that the true gist of it all still rests on those who truly can teach.

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