FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It had been a way of life for Connor Noland to juggle football and baseball, but that ended June 20.
Noland opted to give up football at Arkansas to concentrate on baseball where he had earned a spot in the weekend rotation as a true freshman. At Greenwood, Noland was outstanding in both football and baseball leading both to state titles as a senior. Noland was asked on Thursday how long has he played both sports?
“It’s been awhile,” Noland said. “Probably since sixth grade.”
What’s it like watching football this fall for first time not playing in several years?
“It’s hard to watch,” Noland said. “Obviously I miss it but you’ve got baseball and I’ve been focused on that and having a good time over here so it’s been an easy transition.”
Have you been to any of the Razorback games?
“Yeah, I go to games as a fan,” Noland said. “It’s a good time. Seeing my guys out there and they are doing well. It’s good to see.”
Noland finished the 2019 season with a record of 3-5 and an ERA of 4.02 in 20 games, including 19 starts. He pitched 78.1 innings with 55 strikeouts and 14 walks. Not playing football has allowed him to participate in fall ball with the baseball team.
“It’s been an experience that’s for sure,” Noland said. “Going out there obviously with no football and just playing baseball I’m a lot stronger and working on being a better pitcher.”
Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn was asked what it has been like to have Noland in fall ball?
“Obviously we didn’t have him last fall,” Van Horn said. “But he’s better now this fall than he was last spring. I think that’s just normal for a really good athlete that’s playing one sport at age 20 and he can just focus on that.
“If he was a hitter and an outfielder, and he was playing football maybe it’s a little different. But when you’re throwing a baseball, and then you’re throwing a football, it’s kind of some different arm action there. And it’s difficult. But I’ve seen his arm strength improve. His velocity is up. His breaking stuff is really good. It’s good to have him around in the fall for leadership. The players respect him, and he’s a great teammate.
“I guess to answer your question, I’ve seen him get better in three or four months at a really good pace.”
Is there a big difference in preparation for you now?
“Of course,” Noland said. “Spending all the time down here I can put everything into the game and watch the game and all its aspects. You can change bio-mechanics and all that stuff. It’s been a good experience.”
Noland also talked about the various aspects of pitching he’s working on this fall.
“I’m just working on every pitch,” Noland said. “The fastball, obviously I want to gain velocity. My changeup, trying to get that fourth pitch in there and doing stuff to separate myself.”
Have you added any velocity?
“I’m already a lot better than I did last year,” Noland said. “I’ve had time to work on so in the scrimmages I’ve been 90 to 93. So that’s definitely a step up from what I did last year and it’s just the beginning of fall ball.”
What did you clock consistently last spring?
“Not very hard,” Noland said. “I think 89 was my top so it’s definitely a step up.”
Noland said he plans to be consistently above that this spring.
“I think 90 to 94 is realistic,” Noland said. “I don’t really know what the ceiling is because I’ve never done baseball full-time before for a whole year.”
Noland and the Razorbacks will play an exhibition game tonight beginning at 7:30 p.m. against Oklahoma at Baum-Walker Stadium. Noland said he won’t start, but will throw an inning or two in the game. The scrimmage will last 14 innings. Van Horn explained why the later start considering they are playing 14 innings.
“The way it works is you’re not supposed to miss class,” Van Horn said. “They’re having to wait for most of their guys or all their guys to get out of class so they can get over here. Last year, Wichita State, the way their schedule worked out, most of their guys were out on Friday early. The ones that weren’t, they actually came a little later. Oklahoma will get here in plenty of time to get all their pregame work in. But that’s why we pushed it back to 7:30. We would have like to play at 6:30 or 7, but it didn’t work out. It’s just the way it goes.”