Healthy dose of camp

Juco WR im­presses when he’s avail­able

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MUR­PHY

The 22nd in a se­ries pro­fil­ing new­com­ers to the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs foot­ball team.

FAYET­TEVILLE — Arkansas Ra­zor­backs re­ceivers coach Michael Smith was bub­bling with pos­i­tive en­ergy when asked about ju­nior col­lege trans­fer Jonathan Nance’s work this sum­mer and his im­prove­ment in learn­ing the offensive schemes.

Smith was about a minute into his com­ments when he got to a key in­gre­di­ent re­gard­ing Nance: in­juries.

“My big­gest thing with all those guys is keep­ing them healthy all through camp,” Smith said. “It’s go­ing to be a long sea­son for us, but we’re look­ing for­ward to it.”

Nance, a 6-0, 187-pound ju­nior from Gulf­port, Miss., and Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast Com­mu­nity Col­lege, has stayed healthy through two weeks of camp. Smith lists him among the Ra­zor­backs’ top three avail­able re­ceivers at this point along with La’Michael Pettway and Deon Ste­wart.

But Nance has a his­tory of in­juries.

A shoul­der prob­lem cost him a few games last year. Be­fore that, a bro­ken foot on April 1, 2016 — the first day of spring prac­tice — knocked him out of drills and slowed his sum­mer progress.

Af­ter en­rolling early at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville, a de­fen­sive back landed on his knee dur­ing spring camp, sprain­ing his pos­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment

and slow­ing him for sev­eral prac­tices. Nance re­turned in time for the spring fi­nale, and now he’s got his sights set on the vast amount of play­ing time avail­able af­ter the Ra­zor­backs lost a big group of se­nior wide­outs.

“I look at it like I’ve got to come in and try to play right away,” Nance said midway through sum­mer. “I’m just go­ing to come in and do what I need to do. Any­thing to help the team at re­ceiver or wher­ever I can. Spe­cial teams, re­turn­ing kicks, any­thing.”

Smith said Nance’s sum­mer was im­pres­sive.

“Jonathan had a great sum­mer,” Smith said. “I’m re­ally, re­ally proud, first of all, at what he did in the class­room. He had over a 3.0 [GPA]. From a foot­ball as­pect, he’s just been dili­gent in the play­book.”

Nance and the other in­ex­pe­ri­enced re­ceivers spent lots of time with se­nior wide­out Jared Cor­nelius go­ing over the play­book, and they’ve done Jonathan Nance glance CLASS Ju­nior

PO­SI­TION Re­ceiver

HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-0, 182 HOME­TOWN Gulf­port, Miss.

HIGH SCHOOL Gulf­port High LAST STOP Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast Com­mu­nity Col­lege

AGE 19 (born Aug. 19, 1997)

NOTE­WOR­THY Early en­rollee with two years of el­i­gi­bil­ity. … Had 31 re­cep­tions for 400 yards and 3 touch­downs as a col­lege fresh­man. … Missed time with a shoul­der in­jury in 2016 and had 13 catches for 153 yards. … Ranked as the No. 13 juco wide re­ceiver and the No. 117 over­all juco prospect by 247 sports. … Col­lege team­mate of fel­low Arkansas re­ceiver Bran­don Martin. … Had 63 re­cep­tions for 743 yards and 6 touch­downs while earn­ing sec­ond-team all-state hon­ors as a high school se­nior. Also had 60 tack­les and 2 in­ter­cep­tions. … Chose the Ra­zor­backs over Colorado State, Troy and Louisiana-Mon­roe. … Par­ents are Melissa and James Nance Jr.

hours of vol­un­tary work catch­ing passes from Austin Allen and the other quar­ter­backs.

Allen, asked about Nance at SEC me­dia days, sounded op­ti­mistic.

“Yeah, he’s a re­ally good foot­ball player,” Allen said. “Quick, smart, and we’ll see if he’s tough. That’s two of the three that you need.

“He has good hands and has a re­ally good feel for route run­ning and be­ing able to get open and know­ing what to do with the ball in his hands. I’m ex­cited to see how he does.”

Nance be­gan camp at the Z wide­out po­si­tion be­hind Cor­nelius but is tak­ing first-team reps while Cor­nelius rests his tight back.

“He’s shown us through some ‘Ho­ganese’ classes that he has learned the of­fense,” Smith said. “He can play in the slot, he can play X. We’re look­ing for some big things from him in camp.”

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Nance’s in­juries in ju­nior col­lege prob­a­bly made him a lit­tle un­der-re­cruited.

“He’s a very tal­ented player,” Bielema said while show­ing a video high­light of Nance catch­ing a go route with an over-the-shoul­der grab at the Sign­ing Day on the Hill event. “He catches the ball nat­u­rally with his hands.”

Bielema noted Nance prac­ticed through pain for part of spring drills.

Nance and Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast Com­mu­nity Col­lege team­mate Bran­don Martin learned the of­fense to­gether on the fly dur­ing spring.

“Now I’ve seen the film and what I was do­ing wrong — me be­ing out there get­ting yelled at about not be­ing in the right spots — I know I have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the plays and the con­cepts and what’s go­ing on with the of­fense,” Nance said.

Nance signed with South­ern Mis­sis­sippi out of high

school be­fore trans­fer­ring to Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast.

The tempo in spring drills at Arkansas was an eye opener for Nance.

“At our juco, we prac­ticed hard ev­ery prac­tice,” he said. “We had an up-tempo prac­tice, but this is more fast­paced, like ev­ery­thing fly­ing around. They ex­pect the best out of you ev­ery play no mat­ter what. All the time at prac­tice … I could tell this was big-boy foot­ball.”

The Ra­zor­backs were Nance’s only Power 5 schol­ar­ship of­fer.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity for me to play big-time foot­ball in a big-time con­fer­ence, and I just took that as a plus for me,” he said.

Nance com­mit­ted to the Ra­zor­backs ear­lier in the process than Martin, who told his team­mate pri­vately about a week be­fore sign­ing day he was go­ing with Arkansas.

“At first it wasn’t like we were go­ing to the same place, but he was think­ing and see­ing all the re­ceivers leav­ing and that he could come in and help, too,” Nance said. “So I was al­ready com­mit­ted here and then he made his de­ci­sion right dur­ing the sign­ing day pe­riod.

“But it was a big step though, know­ing he’s go­ing to come and we’re both at the same place now.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Arkansas coaches ex­pect a lot from ju­nior wide re­ceiver Jonathan Nance this sea­son if he can avoid the in­jury bug that ham­pered him at Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

Nance

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