By Otis Kirk
Former SMU quarterback Ben Hicks has been a good fit for Arkansas since enrolling at midterm.
Hicks played for Arkansas coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock for three years at SMU. He will have one year to play for the Hogs as a grad transfer. How has he been in his short time at Arkansas?
“He’s been really good,” Craddock said. “He knows what we’re looking for in terms of the offseason program. So he’s been grabbing the young receivers that are here, grabbing the older receivers that have been here and kind of getting them all on the same page with the offense. I think it’s been a really good transition for him. I think he enjoys it here. He’s really excited about being at the University of Arkansas.
“It was a no-brainer to me and Coach whenever his name got put in the portal as the guy we’ve trained for three years in our system. We’ve coached him. He knows what to expect from me. He knows what to expect from Coach Morris. He went and visited a couple of places but he really wanted to be back with me and Coach Morris and I think he’s excited about that opportunity.”
Hicks’ best season at SMU came in 2017 under Morris and Craddock. In 13 games that season, Hicks completed 276 of 472 passes for 3,569 yards, 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown. Will the things at Arkansas be pretty much what you asked him to do at SMU?
“There’s a lot of similarities,” Craddock said. “There are a few things that are different. But he’s picked up on them pretty easily. Changing the name of a thing or there but for the most part we’ve done everything that he’s used to doing.”
Are the other players pretty accepting of Hicks or has their been some new-guy resentment?
“I think the players flock to him,” Craddock said. “I think some at first were kind of standoffish just because he’s a hard working guy, he’s competitive. He wants to do really, really good. So at first he’s trying to drag guys out and get them going. So at first there it was a little tougher for him than it is now being around for a couple of months around the guys really getting to know them on and off the field. He’s really challenged himself to learn their names and learn something about each player and know where they are from and those types of things. So I think the players are taking him in very well.”
Arkansas starts spring drills on Thursday. Does he take the first snap on March 1?
“We haven’t really talked about that yet,” Craddock said. “He’s obviously the oldest guy in our room with Connor (Noland) being down at baseball and coming back and forth. Having John Stephen (Jones) and Daulton (Hyatt) in the room as well we’re kind of sitting back and watching how offseason drills are going. See who’s leading and who is really pushing the other guys and that will make that determination.”
Hyatt and Jones are expected to be in the mix in the spring getting additional reps with Noland at baseball. Craddock talked about what he has seen from Hyatt and Jones.
“They obviously are working extremely hard,” Craddock said. “To see those guys in the mat drills and running and those things they are leading. They are up front and doing the things they are supposed to do in the offseason. With them we are looking for development. Doing the things we’ve taught them before and being better at those things and not having to be re-coached over and over on certain things and really understanding what we’re trying to do in our offense. That’s one of the things we’re going to challenge our whole offense to do. It’s one of our goals is to be more elite in our learning process of the system and try to take more ownership in it. Know the details and the finer details of the offense and what we’re doing. That’s one of the things we’re going to challenge everybody. But obviously that starts with the quarterbacks.”
Noland is in the weekend starting rotation for Dave Van Horn’s baseball Hogs. How will that work this spring with him so involved with baseball?
“Just try and get him when we can,” Craddock said. “We have to do a really good job since he is a pitcher and doing those type of things being very cognizant with his arm of that. Make sure we don’t overuse him. I went to his first start and it looks like he’s going to be a dude over there on the weekends for those guys in conference play. So as they go throughout their conference season we have to be really smart in how we approach things when we do have him and make sure we don’t overuse him.”
Ty Storey was Arkansas’ leading passer in 2018. He opted to enter the NCAA’s Transfer Portal. What is his status right now?
“I think he’s finishing school,” Craddock said. “I talked to him about a week ago. He’s still kind of weighing his options. We’ve allowed him to still use our facility and throw. I’ve seen him out throwing here and there but I know he hasn’t picked a place to go. We obviously want to help him in any way we can and Ty knows that. So we’re just kind of waiting to see where he falls.”
Cole Kelley also opted to transfer following the 2018 season. Arkansas is still recruiting Texas A&M grad transfer Nick Starkel. He will be in Fayetteville next weekend for an official visit. Sardis (Miss.) North Panola quarterback KJ Jefferson is an incoming freshman quarterback as well. He signed on Dec. 19.