FAYETTEVILLE — When Mansfield (Texas) Legacy four-star safety Jalen Catalon signed with Arkansas over Texas and many others it was easy to expect immediate stardom from him.
However, Catalon battled injuries and only saw action in four games. That did allow him to maintain his redshirt season. He finished 2019 with six tackles, three solo, a pass breakup and one forced fumble.
In preseason, Catalon showed promise and appeared to be someone who might play a lot even with two older safeties on the team. He was intercepting passes in preseason and making several plays. But even prior to his injuries he wasn’t getting on the field much.
“I don’t know, that was kind of a coaching and player thing,” Catalon said. “At the en of the day, last year was just last year. I am not worried about what happened last year, just worried about the future and down the road.
“I’ll just go out there, get a game under my belt and play, get some reps in and stuff like that. At the end of the day, I am just worried about what is down at the end of the road for me, helping this team out and being the best that I can be and I plan on doing the same thing for fall camp, working hard, keeping my head down and just making sure I put my defense and my team in the best situation it can be for it to be successful.
“And just keep learning and keep growing as a man and a player and just let everything else take care of itself. That is my plan going down the road, going from there and going from there and hopefully I will take care of all that and make an impact on the field. At the end of the day, I just want to grow and be the best player that I can be.”
Not only is Catalon potentially set to play a lot of games in 2020, Sam Pittman is also touting him as a leader despite he is still a redshirt freshman.
“I have always carried myself to work hard no matter what the situation is,” Catalon said. “So when the new staff came in, it wasn’t going to change how I worked as a man. So I always attacked every single thing that I did as if he was going to be the last drill I was going to have to do. That’s just how my mind process is. I think what made it even better was just seeing the commitment of the team itself and the leadership we have with the older guys.
“The older guys set that foundation and now we have to carry it out and make something out of it. I just want to be that guy that everybody looks at and says ‘that guy works hard, that is the guy who is going to put everything on the line. At the end of the day, that is what matters so that is the kind of impression that I want to have on my teammates, respect. I just want to make sure they respect me as a worker and know that when I step on that field or step in that meeting room or wherever I step at, I am going to give everything that I have for the team. That’s the impression I want to leave.”
Catalon eventually had shoulder surgery during the 2019 season. He talked about the injury and provided a timeline on it.
“It actually happened back in high school, but it didn’t kind of affect me until into the season,” Catalon said. “I started feeling it a little bit when I made contact or using my shoulder whatsoever. That is when they try to figure out the situation and I had a slight tear in my labrum. I already had three games under my belt so I just played that Western Kentucky game and I just kind of got surgery after that game.
“The shoulder feels really good. The trainer did a really good job with me, making sure that I was consistent with my therapy, gave me some great workouts and my shoulder is 100 percent now. I am good to go and I am fully active and whenever everything keeps back off, I will be good to go.
“I am making sure I keep therapy consistent and making sure I do some shoulder work to make sure it stays straight and as strong as it can be. I am feeling great and like I said, when we get back I’ll be good to go.”
Was the shoulder injury maybe one of the reasons they didn’t play you more?
“Everybody wants to be on the field whenever they get the chance to so I don’t think that was a factor,” Catalon said. “Joe (Foucha) had a shoulder problem, too, but he played through it so I know I could play through it, too. Hayden Henry at linebacker, he had a little shoulder problem, but he played through it as well. I don’t think the was a factor, but like I said, it was just one of those things I couldn’t control. I just kept my head down and kept going.
“I am just glad I am 100 percent now. I think realizing my full potential is down the road. I am excited for the things that are going to happen down the road.”
For Catalon, the 2-10 season in 2019 is something that he will remember, but use it to become better.
“How the games went last year, that’s last year,” Catalon said. “I played against WKU and it was good to get that experience and get that game under my belt where I got a good amount of reps and a good amount of plays and stuff like that. At the same time, it was a humbling year for me to kind of look back and learn from the older guys and kind of see how things ran. Like Kam Curl, who declared and is in the draft, he’s someone I looked up to and watched who did things the right way and played the right way. I think that was something I was glad I was able to see and learn from. Joe Foucha, who played last year, too, I kind of learned from him a little bit.
“All the other DBs and just the defense itself. It was really good to get that game under my belt and be able to kind of finally get back out there and get back in the groove of things. I’m kind of excited to see how things are going to work out down the road, but right now I’m keeping my head down, working hard, doing everything right and making sure that I do my best to put the team in the best position. From there, everything will take care of itself.”
Catalon has been very impressed with Pittman and the new coaching staff.
“It’s definitely a transition, but I think that’s what builds us so strong is you have the older guys who have been through it before to give us some guiding points and lead us through it all,” Catalon said. “I think the staff came in and coach Pittman did a really good job of just emphasizing what he’s about and making sure we understand that he loves every single person on the team. He wants every single person to be a part of this. There wasn’t no weeding out or nothing like that. He wanted to make sure he established the point on making sure we bond as a team and come together as one and make sure that everyone is in this together, so it’s been a great transition.
“I’ve loved the new strength staff and how they operate the workouts we’ve been doing and along with the coaches and the meetings we have, and just kind of give us life lessons, too, making are we’re good academics-wise. Altogether it’s been really great so far and I’m excited to see how things go down the road.”
But before he can get on the field and play for the Razorbacks, Catalon like everyone else has to get through this shutdown due to COVID-19. Does he have any hobbies?
“I mean right now, all we can do really is Netflix wise, I just watch a lot of Netflix,” Catalon said. “YouTube. Stuff like that. I just got done with All-American. Stuff like that. So just trying to find new shows, things to watch to entertain myself.
“I know my parents have a couple of board games they want us to play, like Connect 4, things like that. So it kind of brings me back to my childhood and stuff like that. Besides all that, really just working out and doing that right now. I would say those would probably be my hobbies right now, to be honest.”
In addition to Texas, Catalon chose the Hogs over such schools as Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio State, TCU, Texas Tech, Wisconsin and others. He was recruited to Arkansas by Mark Smith.