By Drake Priddy
FAYETTEVILLE — After 14 practices, Arkansas is past its halfway point of fall camp.
Fall camp has given Arkansans a glimpse of the 2023 Razorback football team and an introduction to some new faces on the coaching staff.
With the departure of Barry Odom to UNLV after the 2022 season, a vacancy for the defensive coordinator job became available. Head coach Sam Pittman quickly found two extraordinary men to lead the Arkansas defense.
Travis Williams was named the defensive coordinator in December of 2022, and shortly after Marcus Woodson the co-defensive coordinator in January of this year.
Both coaches bring plenty of SEC experience as both played for SEC schools, Williams a two-time All-SEC linebacker at Auburn (2001-2005), and Woodson playing safety at Ole Miss (1999-2003). Woodson attended four bowl games in his college career.
Williams has coached at plenty of notable power five schools including Auburn, Miami, and UCF, establishing an impressive resume.
Woodson also has gained SEC and power five coaching experience during his tenure at Auburn, Memphis, and Florida State. Together, they account for 30 years of college coaching experience.
The three decades of combined coaching experience and being former SEC athletes make it clear why they are the men for the job. But what has stood out to many is the character and philosophies of these coaches.
When asked about the new guys on the defense, Junior safety Jayden Johnson was quick to share one of the philosophies of the Arkansas secondary.
“…We’ve got a thing in the DB room about brotherhood,” Johnson said. “I feel like everybody gets to know each other. We’re all cool and when it’s time to work it’s time to work.”
Woodson preaches “brotherhood” in the defensive back locker room with an emphasis on being a cohesive unit. When asked about what he has seen in the secondary since spring ball, his response went like this.
“Just the togetherness,” Woodson said. “Guys coming together. You heard Jayden mention the brotherhood. I feel like those guys have really gotten closer throughout the summer. And me as a coach, that’s what I wanted to see from the group.
“…I think we’re headed in the right direction…coming together as a group with a lot of new faces in the room. And then just coming together to improve daily… They seek daily improvement. They have a ‘coach me, coach’ mindset.
“… I tell the guys all the time, if you want to go far, go together. If you want to get there fast, go by yourself. But it’s a long journey and we want to go far, so we’re going to go together. It’s a brotherhood and it’s amazing how much you can accomplish just by bringing guys together and having some oneness, if you will. I’m excited with the chemistry in the room and where we’re going. They know it’s going to be a collective deal for us to be successful. It’s a we and us mindset and not an I and me.”
When it comes to recruiting, Woodson is looking for the right recruits to fit his brotherhood scheme.
“All of the above,” Woodson said. “The character part of it is really important. There’s some really high-level players out there that can come in an ‘I and me’ kind of mindset. But it has to be a ‘Me and us’ kind of mentality. We wanted to make sure we found guys that were selfless, that were about the team, but also that can play SEC football. I think we hit the jackpot with the guys that we got.”
Redshirt junior defensive back Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson and Johnson, both compliment Woodson on his coaching mindset.
“I feel like he’s pushing us to be the best,” Johnson said. “Sometimes I be like he wants more for us than we do. But I feel like that’s great because if the coaches have high standards there’s no way the players can have low standards…”
“I feel like everything he tells us is like real genuine, like he really wants us to be the best in everything that we do throughout our life and not just football or just school,” said Johnson. “Whatever we do, he wants us to be the best and I feel like he really, really means that.”
Williams believes relationships are the key to building a successful defense.
“I think a kid will run through the wall if they know you care,” said Williams. “We don’t cuss our guys…, that’s not how we operate. But we’re going to coach them hard… It’s okay to put your arm around a kid and say, ‘Man, you did a good job.’ It’s okay to tell them, ‘Hey, you gotta tighten up and run to the ball.’ Then when he runs to the ball, ‘Man, that’s exactly what we want you to do.’ They appreciate that”
Williams and the defensive staff are not only creating relationships on the field and locker room but also off the field.
“We have the guys over to the house and our wives are involved,” said Williams. “That’s where the relationship comes in at and we do a lot of things with the defense. We do a lot of things as a team, to be honest with you, to bring the relationship as a team together. I think that’s important. They’ll run through the wall once they know you care.”
Building relationships in any aspect is important in life, so that is why Williams sees himself as not only a coach but a role model to his players.
“First of all, we want to hire good people,” Williams said. “Right…? When the players look at us, what a husband looks like, what a father looks like. We want a great coach and a great teacher, a great recruiter, all of that stuff. I also understand the responsibility. I get it.
“…I’m deep in my faith as well. And I understand the representation that I got to have. I got to represent God as well. So, when I’m out here talking to the players, when I’m coaching I know I got to make sure I uphold the standard…But I’m also not going to shy away from making sure I represent my faith the right way.”
Both Williams and Woodson have already made leaps and bounds in a short amount of time to turn the Arkansas defense around. They have done it all by being outstanding men who see football as not just a sport, but a way to lead and teach young men.
Fall practice will continue after classes on Monday.