Razorback sports calendar winds down

We have come a long way in a year, haven’t we?

A year ago, we were all just wondering if there would be a college sports calendar for the 2020-21 school year as we faced the threats and uncertainty that the coronavirus ushered into our lives.

The pandemic truly upended our society like nothing else since World War II, and this time last year, we had no idea what the coming months would bring.

Really, until the SEC football began competing in mid-September last year, all involved were very concerned whether any of our favorite sports could be staged in the middle of a pandemic.

While we are not totally out of the woods yet with vaccination levels still lower than most experts would like, the sports world is moving closer and closer to normal or whatever our new normal will be.

It was fantastic to see Baum-Walker Stadium at full attendance for the final home baseball series, a sweep of Florida, and then again in the Fayetteville Regional and Super Regional.

Those crowds have me anticipating the upcoming football season when Razorback fans can once again join in unison to Call the Hogs with 75,000 of their like-minded brethren.

Not much is expected from Sam Pittman’s second Razorback squad by regional or national football pundits, but who knows?
Maybe the Hogs will be ready to upend some expectations this season.

Covid-19 and the all-SEC schedule wore the Hogs down in the back half of the season. Yes, the Hogs do face what most are acknowledging as the toughest schedule in college football once again this season, but with some cushiony non-conference games in the mix, maybe Pittman’s crew will find a way to push through and pull off a few upsets this season that escaped their grasp last year.

This week the Razorbacks have been holding the first football camps of Pittman’s tenure as head coach. For a coach as outgoing and people-oriented as Pittman is, it has to be a thrill for him and his coaching staff to finally get to chance to host their first camps after more than a year on the job. No doubt, the personal touch that makes Pittman such a well-liked and respected individual will only help in the Hogs’ recruiting efforts.

When hiring coaches, it’s always best to get the most qualified and best fit for the job, but as longtime follower of the Razorback program, it’s an extra benefit when a former Razorback fits that bill.

Pittman added former Razorback holder and back-up quarterback (2001-04) Dowell Loggains to his staff recently as the Hogs’ tight ends coach. He brings a wealth of NFL experience to the staff, where he served as quarterback coach and/or offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins. and New York Jets.

The NFL experience should help him as he recruits, but his experience as a walk-on Razorback, who earned his way onto the field gives him a perspective on the program that is unique and special on a the staff that Pittman has built. His presence should be an asset.

After the Razorbacks’ Elite Eight appearance in March during Eric Musselman’s second season as basketball head coach, I’m anticipating the crowds are Bud Walton Arena to be at an epic level this year as the Hogs try to match or possibly exceed last season’s success.

Unfortunately, the Hogs’ hitting dried up last weekend against a surging North Carolina State squad, and the incomparable Kevin Kopps and the rest of the Hogs’ pitching staff didn’t get the type of run support the Razorbacks needed to advance to the College World Series for the third consecutive season.

Like most of you, I was expecting another week if not two of Hog baseball before turning the page on the 2020-21 Razorback sports season, but success in the postseason is all about being hot at the right time.

While missing out on the CWS is a bummer for a team that accomplished so much, I have to say it was a fantastic spring with the Razorbacks sitting on top of the college baseball world for the bulk of the regular season as the No. 1 team in the land. Winning the SEC by two games is quite an accomplishment that all Razorbacks on the 2021 team can take pride in for a lifetime.

It was also great to see Dave Van Horn cross off another achievement on his bucket list by guiding the Razorbacks to their first SEC Baseball Tournament title. The only major accomplishment he has yet to achieve as the head Hog is a CWS championship. That’s a goal he’ll continue to shoot for.

The passing of the great John McDonnell was a sad and poignant event for so many who knew and loved him as a coach, mentor, and friend. As several Razorbacks begin their quest to qualify for the Olympic this weekend at Eugene, Ore., it’s hard not to think of the dynasty McDonell built with the talented array of athletes who competed for him over the years.

When I think of the Olympics my mind always drifts back to that hot summer day in 1994 when a celebration honoring Olympic Gold medalist and former Razorback Mike Conley was held on the square in Fayetteville. I’ve never seen the area more packed, and I don’t know if I’ve seen a more gracious and trusting act by anyone than when he allowed his gold medal to be passed around among the crowd so than everyone could at least touch it.

Current Razorbacks competing in the Olympic Trials are Markus Ballengee (decathlon), Carl Elliott, III (110m hurdles), Tre’Bien Gilbert (110m hurdles), and Nicholas Hilson (400m hurdles).

Former Hogs entered in the U.S. Olympic Trials include Andrew Irwin (pole vault), Jarrion Lawson (long jump), and Erich Sullins (hammer).

Give or take a day or two, we are about seven weeks away from the start of preseason football practices and 11 weeks away from the kickoff to the season against Rice on Sept. 4.

At the moment, that seems a long way off, but it will be here before we know it. This time — fingers crossed — without the threat of a worldwide pandemic to deal with.