UA me­dia day back and forth like ping­pong

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

It is usu­ally the same dur­ing the time lead­ing up to Arkansas foot­ball me­dia day.

While the play­ers are down­stairs in the locker room, the me­dia mills around and vis­its, but they all know in just min­utes they will be ri­vals, rac­ing around the huge area try­ing to get an in­ter­view with this guy or that one.

Guys such as Austin Allen and Frank Rag­now are in de­mand. They are this sea­son’s head­lin­ers.

Oth­ers, of course, are in­ter­viewed.

When Bret Bielema, head foot­ball coach at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayetteville, fin­ishes his 30-minute de­brief­ing, me­dia mem­bers can take the stairs (most do) or the el­e­va­tor.

To get to the locker room, you pass through the re­cre­ation area that has over­sized leather so­fas and chairs, some video games, a cou­ple of older game ma­chines, a film room, com­put­ers and more.

A game of ping­pong is go­ing on, which seems to be a pop­u­lar thing be­cause sev­eral of the play­ers are sur­round­ing the sec­ond ping­pong game — it is in the locker room — where a very lively and highly con­tested game of dou­bles is be­ing played. It may be a game, but both sides are play­ing to win.

This was how Drew Mor­gan first drew at­ten­tion. It wasn’t his turn, but he was try­ing to talk a team­mate into let­ting him go ahead and take on some­one who was un­de­feated. It was about com­pe­ti­tion, and Mor­gan be­lieved with all his heart he was sup­posed to al­ways win.

Mor­gan went un­drafted in April but signed with the Mi­ami Dol­phins as a free agent. Ear­lier this week — just hours af­ter bring­ing the house down by singing “Lean On Me,” in which most of his Dol­phins team­mates joined in — Mor­gan moved up the depth chart to No. 2 slot­back be­hind Jarvis Landry.

Satur­day’s ping­pong game in the Fred W. Smith foot­ball fa­cil­ity quickly was over as the play­ers were told to re­port to their lock­ers.

Most were not go­ing to be in­ter­viewed, and they knew that, but it was re­quired and they did so without grum­bling.

Pa­trick Pier­son, the head sports in­for­ma­tion di­rec­tor, and his staff handed out sheets with locker as­sign­ments and were read­ily avail­able to help. Most of the me­dia, armed with as­sign­ments, took off in a con­trolled frenzy.

Satur­day was the only time some of the play­ers will be avail­able un­til per­haps the bowl sea­son, and this time of year the Ra­zor­backs Na­tion wants in­for­ma­tion. Ev­ery news­pa­per, ra­dio sta­tion, TV sta­tion and web­site was vy­ing to get the most in­for­ma­tion.

The se­niors’ lock­ers are sep­a­rate and easy to find, and that’s where most of the me­dia went first. This twohour win­dow seemed to close sooner than later.

When yours truly was fin­ished with in­ter­views, the last thing to do was to find and speak to fresh­men Hay­den Henry and Koilan Jackson. Their dads are long­time friends.

Hay­den’s dad, Mark, was an All-South­west Con­fer­ence of­fen­sive line­man for the Ra­zor­backs and is pas­tor at Fel­low­ship Bi­ble Church in Lit­tle Rock. His older brother, Hunter, was an All-Amer­i­can tight end for the Hogs and now plays for the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers.

Hay­den was as­signed Hunter’s old locker. He was easy to find.

Koilan’s dad, Keith, was a two-time All-Amer­i­can tight end at Ok­la­homa, played nine years in the NFL and is the founder of Pos­i­tive At­mos­phere Reaches Kids min­istry in Lit­tle Rock.

Both were re­ceiv­ing some me­dia at­ten­tion, and they han­dled it like veter­ans. Both were old-fash­ioned po­lite.

When it was time to leave, a few play­ers were back on the ping­pong ta­bles, go­ing at it again.

WALLY HALL

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