FAYETTEVILLE — This isn’t what Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson drew up.
His senior season with the Razorbacks was supposed to include so much more in 2012. Arkansas vocalized its national title aspirations in the preseason, after all, so four wins entering Friday’s season finale against LSU is shocking.
But Wilson is taking solace in one thing as the Razorbacks prepared for their final trip to the field. At least he gets to play in front of a home crowd one more time.
“Not being able to go to a bowl game at this point, to wrap up my career here in Fayetteville is the perfect ending,” said Wilson, a Greenwood native.
“This is where you’d want to play your last game.”
Wilson and the rest of the 22-member senior class will be recognized in front of plenty of familiar faces before Arkansas (4-7, 2-5 in Southeastern Conference) plays No. 7 LSU (9-2, 5-2 in SEC) in Razorback Stadium at 1:30 p.m. Friday. The group was an integral part of the successes the Razorbacks enjoyed during the Bobby Petrino era, contributing to a program that climbed from 5-7 in 2008 to the program’s first Bowl Championship Series game, and a school-record tying 11 wins in 2011.
The end to their careers has been disappointing for obvious reasons.
Arkansas has failed to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2008.
But Arkansas coach John L. Smith said it shouldn’t negate what the seniors have accomplished and meant to the program throughout their college careers.
“This senior class has done a lot,” Smith said. “It’s had great, great days. It’s had some days that are not so great. But they have contributed to this program like maybe none other. … This senior class is a good, good group of young men.
“You love them and you hate to see them go.”
Wilson, running back Dennis Johnson, tight end Chris Gragg, defensive end Tenarius Wright, defensive tackle Alfred Davis and linebacker Matt Marshall were part of Petrino’s first signing class at Arkansas and have been on campus for five years. Others like receiver Cobi Hamilton, safety Ross Rasner, Ronnie Wingo and Terrell Williams have been here for four. But it doesn’t matter whether they arrived in 2008 and 2009, Hamilton said they’ve meant so much to each other since.
“You grew up with these guys,” said Hamilton, who is a shoe-in for All-SEC honors this winter. “We went through so much coming in as young 17-, 18-year-old kids. So you kind of grow up within each other. You see what each other can do on and off the field. It’s a good feeling. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to be a Razorback.”
Hamilton will leave as one of the best receivers in school history.
He set the SEC record for receiving yards in a game earlier this season (303) and has topped Arkansas’ single-season marks for yards (1,237) and receptions (80). He has one other significant mark within reach Friday, needing four catches to pass former teammate Jarius Wright for the school’s career receptions record (168).
Wilson has rewritten the record books as well, setting 27 school marks. It includes records for career completion percentage (62.7), passing yards in a game (510) and consecutive passes without an interception (184). Wilson needs 88 yards today to pass former Hog Ryan Mallett for Arkansas’ career passing yards mark (7,493)
The individual accolades are nice, but Wilson said the program’s growth in his time has been the most rewarding part of his experience at Arkansas.
“As a program, you’re flying really high,” said Wilson, a Greenwood native. “The expectations. Everything that went into this year. The term national championship was a relative term. Not only to the local media, but the national media.
“Our senior class and my time here, it’s been a fun evolution of things that have kind of happened. To say you have a mark on that is fun and something I’ll remember forever although the past few months haven’t been quite what we expected.”
The 2012 season has been filled with turmoil ever since Petrino’s motorcycle accident on April 1. It merely set the stage for hurdles that couldn’t be overcome.
But Wilson, who considered entering the NFL Draft as a junior last winter before returning to the Razorbacks, doesn’t have any regrets. Neither does Alfred Davis, who said everyone in the program has grown because of the struggles.
“The ups and downs, and that’s part of football,” Davis said. “You’re going to have problems, injuries, friends transferring. Guys from your freshman year to your senior year, the team completely changes. We’ve been through a lot, and we’ve handled it all as best we could. I wouldn’t change anything that happened.”
So Smith is hoping they’ll be rewarded for their steadfast devotion with a memorable performance against LSU in their final game. He’s also hoping they’ll be recognized for their work before kickoff, too, when they take turns walking to midfield with family members during the program’s Senior Day ceremony.
It’s the end of a rocky road for a group that helped Arkansas reach new heights and work through some unmistakable lows. Smith said they’ve earned the support.
“These seniors that are leaving, it’s a special day for them,” Smith said when asked about his message to fans this week. “Please come and show them some respect and just them how much you maybe appreciate the things that they have done. …
“Please come and say thanks to those players.”