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Hog Calls

Come early or come later, consistency key

By Nate Allen

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 3:36 a.m.

arkansas-coach-bret-bielema-back-watches-on-as-jared-cornelius-catches-a-pass-during-spring-football-practice-tuesday-april-22-2014-at-university-of-arkansas-in-fayetteville

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, back, watches on as Jared Cornelius catches a pass during spring football practice Tuesday, April 22, 2014, at University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- For some it's a leg up, and for others it's an early boot out.

Results seemed mixed for mid-term high school graduate football players who join their college football teams in January while their old classmates prepare for prom and other last time pleasures they experience during their senior year.

Having observed decades of Arkansas Razorbacks football, it seems that of the few precocious prep graduates who annually enroll early at the UA in January, many get homesick or feel athletically or emotionally overwhelmed and depart prematurely.

Some get talked into giving it another shot by family but often leave again. Just too many bad memories and bad impressions to overcome, or the need to play closer to home is just too strong, or perhaps there is a realization that the college game just isn't for him or beyond his ken.

For others, everything clicks. They are physically and mentally ready to fit in and are often helped by playing a position that is begging for candidates to fit.

Those are the ones whose early college football spring experience gives them a leg up.

Count Jared Cornelius, the Arkansas freshman receiver out of Shreveport Evangel who enrolled in January, as one of those who got a leg up for this preseason. Fifteen spring practices honed by the winter weight room gave him a boost as did ample opportunities for receivers, Arkansas' weakest offensive group last fall.

"A big leg up," Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith said recently of Cornelius' spring and summer experience. "You've got a young guy that's coming into this atmosphere to be able to go through 15 days of practice on the field, go through the weight room program that he's been through with Herbs [strength coach Ben Herbert] and his guys and just be around college athletes."

Cornelius already has gone through the freshman shock of practicing against college players and taking his lumps from teammates more experienced than himself, but he also experienced enough success against them to be in the mix in preseason practice.

"You can compare yourself and see how far away you really were," Smith said. "I think that was an eye-opening experience for him. He saw, 'Hey, I dominated at the high school level, but there are a lot of guys just like me here at the University of Arkansas that I have got to step up my game even more.' He's accepted that challenge and done well."

Any receiver will get a leg up if he performs consistently in August, regardless of whether he is a junior returnee like Keon Hatcher (the leading returning wideout with 27 catches for 346 yards last year), an early enrollee like Cornelius, or even a freshman like Jojo Robinson or Kendrick Edwards, who arrived this summer.

"With all my guys, it's consistency," Smith said. "That killed us last year as a receiving corps. That falls on my shoulders, but it's something that I think we stressed in the springtime and stressed throughout the summer and the kids have bought into it."

Sports on 08/06/2014

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