BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
As two of the four players tabbed as Arkansas captains for 2022, Razorback junior quarterback and senior safety Jalen Catalon know how important winning a season opener can be.
That’s especially if the No. 19 Razorbacks are playing a No. 23 Cincinnati squad that was in the four-team College Football Playoff last season.
The Bearcats are 44-7 in the last four years and may have had nine NFL draftees (two more than Alabama) and 30 players matriculate on, but still present a formidable challenge.
“It’s an exciting time, first game of the year against a worthy ranked opponent like Cincinnati with a great coaching staff and great players,” Catalon said. “We’ve been riding for this moment since the offseason started and we’ve had great leadership on the team. We’ve had a lot of good practices put together from fall camp to the Cincinnati practices this week. “We’ve just got to keep the string going along, and when September 3rd comes around, we’ll be ready to go.”
Jefferson echoed the same type sentiments.
“We look forward to the game,” Jefferson said. “We know it’s going to be a competitive game. We know it’s going to be fun. The atmosphere is going to be fun and great”
Jefferson envisons a scene similar to last season’s 40-21 win over former Southwest Conference rival Texas.
Arkansas ws 9-4 last season and Cincy, who won all of its regular season games, finished 13-1.
“We’re looking for a sold-out crowd just like the Texas game was,” Jefferson said. “We’re all just hyped and anxious to get out there in the stadium and play against another team.”
Jefferson and Catalon are captains for the second straight season and are joined by senior linebacker Bumper Pool and senior offensive lineman Dalton Wagner.
“It’s a real big deal here at the University of Arkansas,” Jefferson said. “Just to gain the trust from my teammates and the confidence from my teammates to vote me captain and to actually become a second-time captain here at the University of Arkansas is an extremely big deal.
“I take pride in it. I don’t take it lightly. I just thank those guys, my teammates.”
Catlon, who chose to come back for another year at Arkansas instead of enter the NFL draft, also views the selection as an honor.
“It’s a blessing for sure, to know that my teammates think of me that way, as their captain, it’s an honor,” Catalon said. “There’s a lot of guys that could have been named captain but to be chosen as one it’s definitely an honor that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.
“Like I said now that we’ve got the captain situation figured out, now it’s time to play football.”
The fact that the Arkansas-Cincinnati is one of just three games between teams in the top 25 will draw lots of national attention.
“I would say I love it because the attention’s going to be on us and everybody’s going to be watching us,” Catalon said. “There’s going to be a sold-out crowd and there’s going to be millions of people watching from their home. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell team’s lost to Alabama 27-6 last season in the Cotton Bowl and to Georgia in the 2021 Peach Bowl.
He noted that Cincinnati signed the contract with Arkansas before the Razorbacks revitalized the program under Sam Pittman.
“It’s going to be a tough, nasty game, just like the environment’s going to be,” Fickell said. “I think they pride themselves in things like that. We pride ourselves in things like that.
“Week 1, you’re always trying to figure out who you exactly are, and I think it’s going to be like that.
“We’ve prepared ourselves for that. That’s what the expectation is. If something would change, then obviously you’ve got to adapt and adjust. But if there’s anything I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of, I would imagine it’s going to be the type of physical game that it’s going to be.”
Fickell notes that Cincy has tried to emulate the atmosphere it is going to face at Arkansas.
“It’s not easy,” Fickell said. “You could say, ‘well, we’ve pumped music in, and we want it to be loud.’ But the reality is you want to have good practices. So, I think there’s a balance there.
“We started probably last week at really kind of talking about the environment, talking about the atmosphere. Making sure we’re aware of what it’s going to be like. I can’t exactly tell them, because I’ve never been there.
“Obviously, I’ve heard and talked to a lot of other people. But it’s one of those things that’s hard to prepare for.
“It’s kind of two-fold. There are a lot of other things you’ve got to prepare for as well. And sometimes the atmosphere is one of those things that sometimes get in the secondary just because with a younger team you’ve got to have some really good practices.
“I know that after the playoff game last year, I think I didn’t do a good enough job of preparing our guys for the environment and the atmosphere, so we’ve used that and how we kind of started that game as something we’ve got to get better at.”