FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Martrell Spaight said earlier this month he couldn’t believe his run as a Razorback was almost over.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas linebacker Martrell Spaight said earlier this month he couldn’t believe his run as a Razorback was almost over.


The reality hit him on a daily basis throughout Arkansas’ preparation for the Texas Bowl. He’s one day closer to a much-awaited showdown against the Longhorns, but inching closer to the last time he’ll line up with Arkansas’ defense at the same time.


"It’s pretty sad," Spaight said. "Every day I go home it starts to hit me a little bit more, thinking to myself that this is my last game in an Arkansas Razorback uniform. So I want on my last shot to leave it all out there on the football field."


No one doubts Spaight will follow through when he leads the Razorbacks (6-6) against Texas (6-6) in Houston’s NRG Stadium on Monday night. Arkansas’ defense took impressive strides under first-year coordinator Robb Smith and no one has symbolized the enormous leap better than the former North Little Rock High star.


Spaight enters the Texas Bowl as an All-Southeastern Conference performer, posting 123 stops a year after struggling to stay on the field at Arkansas. He’s already the first Arkansas linebacker to earn first-team, All-SEC honors since Sam Olajubutu in 2006 and can be the first Razorback to lead the conference in tackles as well.


Arkansas coach Bret Bielema knew Spaight possessed plenty of talent when he recruited him out of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. But even Bielema has been impressed by Spaight’s growth since his arrival before the 2013 season.


"I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player turn around in a season as much as he did," Bielema said earlier this month.


Spaight’s progress came after a season in which he recorded 22 tackles in nine games, struggling to live up to Arkansas’ expectations. He had a reputation, of course, for delivering crushing blows to teammates in practice — the origin of the phrase "Spaighted." But it didn’t exactly carry over to the field on game day.


Bielema said Spaight had some struggles off the field as well. It led to a meeting between the linebacker, his father and the Arkansas coach.


"Then the first year I know he was frustrated and there was some times — not football-wise — but just wasn’t on time academically and some things," Bielema said. "We had a heart-to-heart with significant meaning with his dad and we said you are going to do it our way or not get it done and need to move on.


"He made a conscientious choice to start buying into everything we do."


Spaight has been one of the key members of Arkansas’ defense.


His speed, athleticism and tenacity have been critical to his performance. But preparation has helped set the linebacker apart from others.


"Last year he was kind of down on himself because he didn’t get an opportunity to play that much, but he’s one of the hardest-working people I know," Arkansas cornerback D.J. Dean said. "Any time we do something, he’s out there by himself going through calls without anybody else being there. It’s great watching him."


One of the best examples came during Arkansas’ off week before the 17-0 win against LSU. An Arkansas assistant said he stepped into the facility on Saturday night and found Spaight all alone watching film of the Tigers.


Spaight later was asked about his study session and said it was simple: He was watching Alabama-LSU and grew frustrated about the Razorbacks’ 14-13 loss to the Crimson Tide a few weeks earlier. So he had to leave the house.


"He’s a guy that doesn’t want to disappoint the team or disappoint himself," Arkansas safety Alan Turner said. "Seeing him in the summer and fall, being in here constantly, I feel like he’s the last player to leave each and every day. It just shows the effort he’s putting in and how much it’s helped him."


The extra study time paid off, of course. Spaight was the backbone of a defense that recorded a shutout against LSU the following week. It was evident during the game he recognized what the Tigers were doing on certain plays and alerted teammates.


He led the way for the Razorbacks again in the 30-0 win against Ole Miss, helping Arkansas posted its second consecutive shutout against a ranked opponent.


Spaight combined for 21 tackles in the wins. But he has shrugged off his own performance this season, crediting teammates for sticking to their assignments.


"I just go back and watch film from previous games and I see a D-lineman take on double team blocks," Spaight said. "And I see a running back that has nowhere to go and stuff like that. It just frees me up to go out there and make plays. Like I said, when people click on the film you have no other choice but to just give thanks to all the players around me because they just make it easy for me to do my job."


But Smith said Spaight is deserving of every accolade he’s received this month.


"I don’t know if there’s a guy that prepares better than he does," Smith said. "And it’s great to see someone who has worked as hard as he has and come up a long way as he has to be rewarded. It’s a great thing for our program and a great thing for him."


If there’s one regret Bielema and the Razorbacks have it’s this: Spaight really wasn’t ready to play in 2013, but couldn’t redshirt because of Arkansas’ depth concerns.


Bielema said the fact Spaight will only spend two seasons at Arkansas doesn’t change his importance to the program, though. He had made a verbal commitment to Kansas State, but changed his mind after receiving an offer from the Razorbacks.


"There are a lot of special ties to Martrell and you can probably tell by the way I talk about him," Bielema said. "He’s the first kid that I was ever in the home here to visit with as head coach of Arkansas. It meant so much to me because he could have went to other institutions, but wanted to play for the Razorbacks."


When asked if he ever wonders what 2015 might be like if he redshirted in 2013 season, Spaight said "multiple times." But after a long journey, Spaight said he’s thankful he got the chance to play for Arkansas even if it’s just for two seasons.


His goal now is to go out with a bang against the Longhorns.


The Arkansas native can’t think of a better way to end his Razorbacks career.


"It’s huge for us, just the history behind Arkansas vs. Texas," Spaight said. "We’re going in with that momentum that we need to get this win. It’ll be great."