FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has nine seniors who, at least on paper, are eligible to return for a COVID year in 2022.
However, unlike this year, the ones who do return will count against the overall total of 85. Sam Pittman explained the difference on Wednesday when asked if the uncertainly could complicate roster management.
“It can,” Pittman said. “I mean, your COVID 2021, anybody who was in school during the beginning of COVID can get a COVID year back. Like this class we’re getting ready to sign, they’re not eligible for that. But before it was just free, and we could bring back Grant (Morgan) and those guys last year and it didn’t cost us anything, didn’t cost us a roster spot.
“Moving forward, it does. So you might be a little more selective of who you ask to come back, because basically you’re saying, ‘Is he worth a freshman coming in or a portal spot coming in, to ask him to come back.’ So it’s changed a little bit because it counts toward your 85.”
One senior who Pittman would love to have back is linebacker Bumper Pool, who has never redshirted. Pool leads the team with 100 tackles. He had 11 against Rice and 10 in the Mississippi State game. Pool has been outstanding for Arkansas for four seasons.
“He plays so hard, you know?,” Pittman said. “He’s very, very well prepared. He plays so hard. I think he’s the one that said it at The Catfish Hole that because of Hayden (Henry) and Grant that you’ve got to beat them to the football. That’s kind of what it looked like Saturday with the linebackers. He was beat up a little bit last week on a Tuesday practice, or maybe it was Wednesday, came back Thursday and we didn’t know quite his status. But he went in there and played outstanding. I’m trying to get him to come back next year.”
Have any seniors indicated they want to return in 2022?
“Not that I want to share right now,” Pittman said. “I think there will be a place and time for that but certainly there’s a possibility that we could get some of our guys back. It sure has helped our team this year.”
Pittman feels the success of Morgan, Henry, Tyson Morris, Myron Cunningham, Ty Clary and some of the other super seniors could lead to some current seniors wanting to return.
“Well we’ll certainly use it and it’s not only about draft status and improving their stock,” Pittman said. “It’s about what they’ve done thus far for the University of Arkansas and the feelings they’ll have life-long for hopefully we’ll finish strong and for the season that we’ve had and hopefully have. Yeah, I think we’ll certainly use that and we may have some of those super seniors talk to our seniors on our team now and explain why they chose to come back and what the benefits are and possibly if there wasn’t a benefit to talk to them about that. We just want to be truthful with our kids.”
The NIL could also play a factor in Arkansas getting some player to return who might be a difference maker.
“I think that’s a big, big part of it,” Pittman said. “I think NIL has changed the possibilities of guys staying or leaving. I think it’s certainly helped. You’re 100 percent correct.”
In addition to Pool, the seniors eligible to return in 2022 are wide receiver Kendall Catalon, safety Joe Foucha, cornerback Montaric Brown, long snapper Jordan Silver, defensive end Tre Williams, offensive lineman Shane Clenin, offensive tackle Dalton Wagner and defensive lineman John Ridgeway.
Ridgeway is another one that Pittman acknowledged he would like to return. Ridgeway has accepted an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and ESPN’s Todd McShay rates him the No. 5 defensive tackle eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft.
“I don’t know whom else we have,” Pittman said of all-star game invites. “I think the Senior Bowl continues to send out invites over the next week or two or maybe longer. I’m not familiar with that process as much. But I’m happy for Ridge. Certainly we’re talking to him. We’d like for him to come back. We think he can increase his draft status, but that’s between Ridge and I and we’ll figure it out. But that’s certainly a great honor, especially for a guy who came from a I-AA school to reach his dreams and certainly proud of him.”
Arkansas will be at Alabama on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS.