FAYETTEVILLE — Redshirt freshman Eric Gregory is making an impact at Arkansas this season.
Gregory got to live a dream on Saturday night when he intercepted a pass against Tennessee.
“Yeah the last time I had an interception was Peewee ball,” Gregory said. “So it was awhile ago. It was a very big moment because it’s a D-lineman’s dream to recover a fumble for a touchdown or get an interception. It was a very big moment for me in my career.”
Gregory finished with five tackles, two solo, 0.5 for loss and the interception. He told how the play unfolded that allowed him to get the pick.
“Yeah, I was in the middle of a rush and I happened to look back and Greg (Brooks) did a good job of covering his guy and I guess the ball bounced off his back and I could see the ball in the air for a little bit and I just ran and dived for it,” Gregory said.
While it was a great play by Gregory he didn’t get to keep the ball.
“I would like to keep the ball but I don’t know where it is,” Gregory said.
Gregory played in two games as a true freshman in 2019. He recorded four tackles including one solo. He came from Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy which is a school that sends many prospects to colleges each year.
“The grind I had with IMG prepared me a lot for college,” Gregory said. “Last year I felt I had more technique than the newcomers coming in from being at IMG. My playing time last year, I had that ankle injury and I felt like during that time in camp I just wasn’t, that I had a lot of in me after that. And so my playing time kind of went downhill from there. And this year I just like, I felt like the coaches trusted me a lot more with this staff and that I had a big role to fill and a lot to look forward to and stuff like that. It gave me a lot of momentum to come into this season with a coaching staff that trusted and the chemistry that we’ve built in here is amazing.”
Considering last year’s team was 2-10 and this squad is already 3-3 in just SEC games are you glad you redshirted and only played the two games?
“Oh, yes for sure,” Gregory said. “Last year I got to get a little playing time here and there and I felt that helped me out for this year and the SEC. Playing against LSU I got to play and that prepared me a lot for this year.”
Part of the trust from the new staff comes from Barry Odom, the defensive coordinator.
“Oh, yeah for sure,” Gregory said. “He was the Missouri head coach last year so I feel like he knows the job a little more than any of the other coaches on the staff just coming from a head coaching job last year. So I feel like we’re going to be very well prepared. So I feel it’s very good he’s been a head coach before this.”
As head coach at Missouri the past four years, Gregory said Odom has very good knowledge of Florida.
“He tells you they’re physical, they’re very physical team,” Gregory said. “The head coach came from Mississippi State. So, he has little tendencies that he had with Mississippi State or whatever head position he came from. So, he was very, very knowledgeable with the head coach and some stuff that he does and stuff like that. So, he’s bringing that to us and the tendencies they have at his old job before he went to his position at Florida, and the stuff he’s doing at Florida also. He prepared very well for it. He’s preparing us very well for it.”
Arkansas is No. 8 in defense in the SEC. Gregory was asked what has led to the turnaround from last season.
“I’m going to give the coaching staff a big credit for that,” Gregory said. “They prepare us a lot for our opponents. Like, the coaches, DB coach, he’s getting the corners and stuff like that, he’s telling them what type of routes are going to come with different formation stuff like that. Our D-line coach, he’s telling us the tendencies the O-linemen have and how we can beat them on pass rush or get off them on a block and stuff like that, so the coaching staff has done a huge job with that. And even the strength coaches. They give us a lot of confidence coming in before the season started. They give us a lot of confidence, telling us that we’re better than we put out last year, basically. We’re better than what we put out. They’re giving us a lot of confidence. And the coaching staff stresses stuff like that. We trust them. We love them, so I feel like that’s given us a huge motivation. And we have a chip on our shoulder, also. We didn’t play too good last year, so we have a chip on our shoulder, and we’re playing like that.”
Sam Pittman praised Gregory recently, but talked about a small slump he saw him go in earlier this fall.
“I really thought that he played well early,” Pittman said. “And then I thought he had two or three games in there where I just didn’t see that same, quick twitch. That same explosiveness off the football. And then I saw a little of it at A&M, and then this game here, they tried to flip the ball out a couple of times on him. Didn’t block him and tried to mis-direction and flip it to his side, and he ran them down both times. Obviously, picked the pass. He had a really nice game. We need him to.
“I keep forgetting that he’s young, because he’s such a big, good-looking kid, you know? But he’s getting better, handling his gap better. He’s one of the bigger guys we have on the D-line, so we need him to continue to improve. And he has.”
Gregory reacted to what Pittman said about his play.
“Me, I’m very hard on myself, so I feel I can play a lot better, but I strive to get more consistent with my play,” Gregory said. “I feel I can produce a lot, I just have to get more consistent with it and stuff like that. I’m pretty heavy now. I’m getting a little heavy, so I have to stay fluid and mobile and stuff like that so I can chase down running backs and quarterbacks and stuff like that.”
Another defensive end who came in the same recruiting class with Gregory is Zach Williams. He also praised Gregory.
“He is doing a lot better than a lot of people,” Williams said. “He was a redshirt last season, so he didn’t really get to play. I feel like he’s stepped up. He’s gained some weight. He’s almost 300 pounds. But he’s gained some weight and I feel like he’s doing pretty good. I’m proud of him.”
Williams also reacted to Gregory’s interception and his thoughts when he saw his teammate make that play.
“I was very shocked,” Williams said. “The first person I ever met here was Eric, and we’re roommates. So you could say we’re buds. When that ball bounced off the receiver’s back, I was like, ‘Who’s fixing to catch this?’ Because I know I was tired. And then here he goes and he caught it. And everybody was just screaming and jumping and excited. I’m very proud for him.”
Williams and Gregory have their work in front of them this week when they take on Florida on Saturday night at 6 p.m. and televised on ESPN.
“We’re Razorbacks, man,” Gregory said. “We’re tough, physical. We don’t back down from any opponent. We’re going in like it’s any other game. We’re going to go play with a chip on our shoulder. We’re going to go and compete. We’re in the SEC, and that’s what we do. So I mean, that’s what we’re going to go do.”
Arkansas is 3-3 on the season while Florida is 4-1.