FAYETTEVILLE — AJ Reed came to the University of Arkansas as a grad transfer from Duke where he had a very successful junior season that included semifinalist for the Groza Award.
As a junior, Reed was 15 of 18 on field goals with a long of 51 and perfect on 34 point after touchdowns. He talked about why his junior season was his best one at Duke.
“I had a really bad, nagging groin injury for a while when I first started out,” Reed said. “It actually caused me to miss my sophomore season completely. So I’ve just gone through a really strenuous rehab process. And then after that, really hitting the weight room hard helped me to make that improvement. I just feel like I’ve gotten better since.”
At Arkansas, he is working with a new snapper, Jordan Silver, and a new holder, punter George Caratan who is his roommate as well.
“Obviously when you’re working with a new group there’s definitely a little bit of a learning curve in the beginning,” Reed said. “But I think as we’ve gotten through camp we’ve got a lot better, and I feel like right now we’re really ready to step on the field in game one.
“Our long snapper, Jordan Silver, is great. He’s really consistent. The holder right now, George Caratan, is new to holding, but he’s worked with me since March. We were together when all this quarantine stuff happened, so we’ve gotten really comfortable with each other.
“Coach (Sam) Pittman and Coach (Scott) Fountain have worked really hard to get the line ready, and I think they’ve done a great job here recently.”
Pittman hired Fountain away from Georgia to be the special team’s coordinator at Arkansas. Reed is excited Fountain is at Arkansas.
“It’s been great honestly,” Reed said. “That was a big reason why I came here, was to play for someone who’s as great of a coach as Coach Fountain. He is 100 percent dedicated to special teams, which is special. That’s not the norm in college football. So having him around us at all times really keeps us locked in. He’s such a detail-oriented guy that it rubs off on all of us as a group as specialists. I think we’ve gotten a lot better just being with him every day on the field and in the meeting room.”
Reed felt like his leg was fresher at Duke last season and thinks Fountain has him in the same good practice schedule this year.
“Yeah, so Coach Fountain’s philosophy with that whole thing is that he’s going to keep your leg fresh during the year,” Reed said. “In camp, you have to practice more often than in regular season. So it’s a little bit more strenuous then, but we’ve done a really good job of getting rest days and being smart with that, so I feel great right now. I can’t wait to get the season started.
“It’s something special we have here at the University of Arkansas. He will give us pretty much a schedule for the practice with a bunch of different drills on it and stuff. So on what we would call a non-kicking day, there’s still a lot of stuff we can do with the timing with the operation, working onside kicks, different surprise kicks like on kickoff, working fakes of field goals and stuff. There’s so sitting around with Coach Fountain. We’re always finding some way to improve and perfect our craft even if we’re taking a day to rest our legs.”
Reed and Matthew Phillips have both drawn praise from Pittman for their accuracy. Both kicked 52-yard field goals at one of the recent scrimmages.
“Not even just me and Matthew, top to bottom, the room we have here with the specialists is really good,” Reed said. “Competition breeds excellence, so it’s good to have somebody there to keep you on your toes and keep you doing your best so you show up and put in your best effort every day. I think that’s all around – long snapper, punter, kicker. Everyone had to earn their job this year and no one’s earned anything yet. You still have to clock in every day. But it’s been good. It’s been nothing but good for us.”
As far as the kickoff duties, Pittman recently praised true freshman walk-on Vito Calvaruso for the job he is doing. Reed is also in the hunt.
“Yeah, so with everything going on, in special teams we’re making an emphasis to run multiple groups,” Reed said. “I’ve been working on kickoffs. We have a couple of other guys here who have really strong kickoffs as well, so I think any of us could step in and do the job Game 1.”
As a freshman in 2016, Reed kicked a 19-yard field goal to upset Notre Dame. He boomed a 51-yarder last season. He talked about his range on field goals as far as him being comfortable.
“I would say in perfect conditions, probably feel confident going back to 55,” Reed said. “Then there’s always situations that pop up before the end of the half or a game where you kind of go out there and hit one that is a little bit lower percentage, but you still have a shot.”
When he opted to leave Duke, he chose Arkansas over some other schools. He has family in Springdale still and other cities in Arkansas.
“Well, actually my family is from Fort Smith, Arkansas, so I grew up cheering for the Hogs,” Reed said. “It was always a dream of mine and that played a big part in it. I’ve known Coach Fountain since I was recruited in high school and he was at Auburn, and I knew how good of a coach he was. That was another plus. Once I finally — I wasn’t able to take a visit — but once I finally got on the phone with Coach Pittman, I found out how awesome of a guy he was and his plans for this program. I was sold and I haven’t looked back since.
“I had a few other options. I talked to a bunch of different schools, but there at the end I was really looking at just Nebraska, Georgia Tech, here, and FIU.”
Reed pointed out he didn’t live in the state, but his relatives did.
“I never personally lived there,” Reed said. “My mom and dad are both from Fort Smith. My mom went to the University of Arkansas and my dad went to the Air Force Academy. I was a military brat growing up. I’ve lived like 10 different places. Most of my extended family is here, so this is where I call home.”
Reed talked about growing up and following the Hogs though he didn’t live here.
“I remember growing up when I was a kid watching (Darren) McFadden and Felix Jones and those guys, and I loved it,” Reed said. “As I got older a little bit – and I’ve lived so many different places – I was playing football on my own and I haven’t kept up with (Arkansas) as much, but I’m so glad I’ve been able to come back here and kind of reignite that passion.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Tuesday.