Fresh­man ahead of curve al­ready

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MURPHY

The 21st in a se­ries pro­fil­ing new­com­ers to the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs foot­ball team.

FAYET­TEVILLE — In the fall of 2005, Cur­tis Her­nan­dez asked his 6-year-old son Korey what sport he wanted to play in south­east At­lanta.

Korey Her­nan­dez, who had just re­turned from vis­it­ing his grand­mother in Trinidad and Tobago, the na­tive coun­try of both of his par­ents, said foot­ball, as in the in­ter­na­tional style he ex­pe­ri­enced in the Caribbean.

“At a young age, I was think­ing foot­ball as in soc­cer,” Her­nan­dez said. “So he took me to the lit­tle recre­ation park right up the street from where we stayed. He had signed me up, so I was like, ‘Let’s go play foot­ball.’

“I was good at it when I was young and I just kept go­ing and kept go­ing and now I’m here.”

Here is the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, where the 5-10, 180-pound Her­nan­dez en­rolled in Jan­uary and went through spring drills with his eye on mak­ing an early im­pact in the Ra­zor­backs’ se­condary.

“I’ll put it like this, it’ll be hard to find a kid who will out-work him,” said Al­fred Kitchen, Her­nan­dez’s long­time men­tor and his youth league coach in At­lanta.

“If you talked to the coaches, they’ll prob­a­bly tell you he’s try­ing to get up front right now with the up­per­class­men.”

Her­nan­dez fell in love with the sport while play­ing de­fense in pee-wee ball.

“I was a head­hunter back then,” Her­nan­dez said. “… All I used to do is hit.”

Her­nan­dez broad­ened his abil­i­ties from there. He was a quar­ter­back be­gin­ning in mid­dle school, then de­vel­oped into an all-around skill ath­lete at Cedar Grove High School, which won Ge­or­gia’s Class 3A state cham­pi­onship last year.

In a 40-0 vic­tory over Columbia De­catur, Her­nan­dez dis­played his ver­sa­til­ity by scor­ing on a kick­off re­turn to open the game, block­ing a punt and re­cov­er­ing it in the end zone and catch­ing a 29yard touch­down pass. He also brought an in­ter­cep­tion back 46 yards to the 15-yard line in the same game.

Her­nan­dez grad­u­ated

from high school early so he could go through spring drills with the Ra­zor­backs.

“I’m al­ready ahead on the play­book, al­ready ahead on what they ex­pect in the fall,” Her­nan­dez said mid­way through summer. “I got a jump on every­thing. I’m more com­fort­able than the fresh­men who are com­ing in now.”

The Ra­zor­backs liked what they saw out of Her­nan­dez in the spring.

“He’s smart,” se­nior de­fen­sive back Kevin Richard­son said. “Com­ing in early, he did every­thing he could do to learn.

“He’s tak­ing ad­van­tage of ev­ery op­por­tu­nity he gets on the field. It’s show­ing. He’s re­ally tal­ented and it’s go­ing to show in the play­ing time he gets.”

Coach Bret Bielema said in the spring that the fresh­man was open­ing eyes.

“I think Korey Her­nan­dez is in a po­si­tion to help us,” Bielema said. “He’s been very, very good at cor­ner.”

Her­nan­dez said he would much rather play as a fresh­man than red­shirt.

“I’ve never stayed on the bench since maybe ninth grade or be­fore that,” he said. “It would feel kind of funny to red­shirt. So I don’t care, wher­ever I can help, I want to play.”

Kitchen said Her­nan­dez’s as­sets start in the class­room.

“He’s a good stu­dent and he got very good grades,” Kitchen said. “He’s go­ing to push. Out of all the kids I’ve coached, he’s one of the ones I think can con­trib­ute right off the bat, year one.

“He’s in­tel­li­gent. Most kids have a prob­lem pick­ing up the play­book. He’s go­ing to pick up the play­book. He played quar­ter­back and he’s a very bright kid.”

Her­nan­dez just missed out on a chance to play against his best friend and cousin last year against Texas State. Kitchen’s son, Jor­dan Eastling, was a fresh­man de­fen­sive back for the Bob­cats, who lost 42-3 to the Ra­zor­backs on Sept. 17.

Her­nan­dez said the key sell­ing point on Arkansas came when his mother Yolande Caine gave her ap­proval.

“When I brought my mom up here, she fell in love with it,” he said. “At first she didn’t want me to go this far and she

wanted me to be around fam­ily and stuff like that.

“Once she fi­nally came up here she re­al­ized this can be a fam­ily and that she can trust me in the hands of the staff up here. That was re­ally the mo­ment. When she bought into it, that was when I was 100 per­cent in.”

Her­nan­dez said con­tin­u­ous study­ing of the de­fen­sive schemes and try­ing to keep his weight up are two key ar­eas of his summer plan.

“I want to stay over 180 and def­i­nitely know the front and back of the whole play­book and just con­tinue to work and get bet­ter,” Her­nan­dez said.

“I want to work more on my tech­nique. I didn’t play a lot of cor­ner in high school. I’m work­ing on more of be­com­ing a true cor­ner and re­act­ing more and play­ing off my tal­ent and tech­nique.”

Her­nan­dez said he’s al­ready had his welcome to the SEC mo­ments with the Hogs.

“I had a cou­ple of re­ceivers run by me and that nor­mally didn’t hap­pen in high school,” he said, point­ing out the re­ceivers as Jor­dan Jones and La’Michael Pettway.”

Her­nan­dez said his ver­sa­til­ity as a de­fen­sive back should help him in the ro­ta­tion.

“I’m kind of like a hybrid,” he said. “I can do every­thing all over the field. I can blitz. I can cover the slot, cover the out­side man. Any­thing that any po­si­tion needs to do in the de­fen­sive back­field, I feel like I can do it.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Arkansas fresh­man cor­ner­back Korey Her­nan­dez (right) of At­lanta was an early en­rollee and par­tic­i­pated in spring prac­tice with the Ra­zor­backs.

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