FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp likes to find unique ways to wrap up offseason conditioning drills.
One year, he marched his players to the very top of Razorback Stadium where the seniors addressed younger teammates. Last year, Veltkamp and his staff rolled the team’s bell — which has become a staple of the program — to the middle of the field where the seniors, once again, addressed their peers.
Veltkamp went with another approach late last month. He took the Hogs to play outdoor laser tag.
“It was good,” Veltkamp said Saturday, during Arkansas’ on-campus media day. “It was a great team-building experience for them. It was great for the seniors. And it was different. We’re always trying to find something different to do.”
Veltkamp said he got the idea after taking his son to a 10-year-old’s birthday party. He saw the potential of a team-building exercise with players from different classes and backgrounds working together on the course. He also figured it would be a nice reward for their work throughout the summer.
So the Razorbacks spent their final workout of conditioning at Modern Mission, an outdoor laser tag facility in Fayetteville.
Players were divided into four teams by Veltkamp and his staff, then given the green light to battle it out at the facility.
“I think some of them sweated more doing that than they did during runs in the summer,” Veltkamp said.
Tight end Chris Gragg said Arkansas knew something would be planned for their final workout of the summer, but never guessed laser tag. The team was told to meet up at the Broyles Center at 6 a.m.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” Gragg said last week. “When we got there there were some buses there to take us to laser tag. It was all right.”
The final workout wasn’t just about playing laser tag. Veltkamp said the Razorbacks also brought the team’s summer rock, which players were given the honor of hitting with a sledgehammer after strong performances in the weight room, to the facility.
The seniors who hadn’t gotten a chance to break the rock in the summer were given a crack with the sledgehammer. He said the seniors also were encouraged to climb up on the rock and address their teammates with the start of preseason camp nearing.
“It was a great thing we could do with the team,” Arkansas running back Knile Davis said. “We had fun together. It helped build team chemistry.”
Mitchell on Hoops
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Mitchell was among 17 players listed on the basketball team’s roster during a press conference previewing the team’s trip to Italy last week. While he won’t be traveling with the team for its four-game summer tour, Mitchell said there was a reason for being on the roster.
“It’s something me and coach (Mike) Anderson talked about,” Mitchell said. “He asked me what I thought about it. I told him not to take me off the roster just yet. It’s something I would look forward to.”
Mitchell, who averaged 3.5 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10 games last season, is obviously busy on the football field right now. He’s working at both quarterback and receiver, hoping there will be more opportunities with the ball in his hands in 2012.
The junior said once again he’ll evaluate his basketball plans at the end of the football season.
“It’s something I’ll definitely entertain,” Mitchell said. “I like to keep my options wide open. “You can never just close doors because you never know what is going to happen.”
Arkansas coach John L. Smith shed a little more light on the reason guard Alvin Bailey has been working with the second-team offense so far this preseason. He said it had to do with the junior’s work in the classroom.
“We have to be, and he has to be, and I’m going to be honest in this, more demanding of himself academically and what takes place off the field,” Smith said. “That’s the first key for him. Show these guys that you’re going to be there with them. Show these guys that you’re going to do what’s demanded academically and he’ll get that done.”
Bailey has been behind sophomore Luke Charpentier on the depth chart this preseason. Smith classified it as a situation where Arkansas is demanding more out of Bailey because he is a veteran player.
“I’m sure he’s feeling that this is an important deal,” Smith said. “So it starts there, and then it carries over to the football team.”
It’s no surprise Smith was the center of attention during his media day press conference.
It’s also no surprise Smith provided a handful of interesting comments. One of the most notable was in regard to a question about coaching quarterback Tyler Wilson, who is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
“I hate to use the word, but he’s like a little rose,” Smith said after describing Wilson’s confidence as a fifth-year senior. “He’s a pretty little flower that’s starting to blossom.”
Don’t Embrace Fifth
Arkansas has been through plenty this offseason, but it hasn’t changed expectations. Smith said the Razorbacks — who are ranked No. 10 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll — will continue to welcome them as they move through preseason camp.
“You want them to embrace that,” Smith said. “You don’t want them to embrace that ‘Hey, let’s finish fifth in the league.’ You want to embrace the goal that we’re going to be the best. Is it pressure? I don’t see it as that way. We dream about it. We’re striving for it. It gives us an energy daily.”
Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith suffered a leg injury during the final portion of Saturday’s practice, limping off the field before being examined by trainers. … Safety Eric Bennett has been limited in three practices because of a hamstring injury. His absence during team drills left safety Rohan Gaines working with the starters Saturday. … Smith said signee Vin Ascolese will not be with the team this season. Ascolese had been awaiting word from the NCAA Clearinghouse on his eligibility.