FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas signed Sam Mbake out of Kennesaw (Ga.) North Cobb to catch passes from KJ Jefferson and the Hogs quarterbacks.
Mbake has seen action in four of Arkansas’ five games and has one tackle. His action has been on special teams. On Tuesday, the Razorbacks moved Mbake from wide receiver to cornerback to help with a secondary that has been hit hard by injuries this season. On Wednesday, Sam Pittman explained how the move came about and if he played on that side of the ball in high school.
“No, I think the last time he played, well, yes, I think in the 10th grade he played a little bit in the secondary,” Pittman said. “He said a lot of middle school stuff. It just came up. Barry (Odom) was in here and I’m looking at the board and saying ‘You’re not getting this guy back. You’re not getting this guy back. Who’s our next option up there?’
“And I mentioned Sam because he had been physical on special teams and he’s got the range and the size and all that. And I said, ‘Well, let’s ask him?’ And we did. Sam said ‘Can I go back to receiver in the spring?’ And I said you certainly can. I don’t know if you’ll want to or not but you certainly can. But that’s how it happened. We told him he’d be in the two-deep when he ran over and he was. So he’s that kind of kid. I think he’s going to be a good player for us, whether it’s over there or wideout eventually. But he’s very talented.”
Pittman made sure Mbake knew he could move back to wide receiver in the spring if he wants.
“It was,” Pittman said. “Um, I didn’t really put a length on it. Right when I asked him he said I’d be more than happy to do it coach. Do you think I could go back to receiver in the spring. That was before he ever had a practice. You know how it is. He may have changed his mind now and really likes it over there. I don’t know. I haven’t spoken with him about that.
“Barry thinks he’s going to help him and from what I’ve seen, the drills and things of that nature he’s not used to them, and so but just playing football, what I’ve seen he’s going to be a fine one over there if he elects to stay over there,”
Pittman went into more detail on the move.
” As you know and everyone knows we’re beat up a little bit in the secondary,” Pittman said. “So we looked on our board and tried to find anybody on the team that could possibly help us. With Sam doing so well on special teams, he kind of stood out there. And so we decided and he’s got the body and the physical features that you’d like to have in the secondary. So we moved him over there. He’s had a good two days of practice. He picked up things well. So we’re hoping that he’ll be able to help us sooner rather than later.”
Speaking of injuries such as losing Jalen Catalon and LaDarrius Bishop for the season and Myles Slusher been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Pittman was asked has he ever had a position as depleted as the secondary is with injuries?
“You know, one time — no — besides when I was the O-line coach at North Carolina,” Pittman said. “I know we got to center number at least 4. I can’t remember if we got to center No. 5. We were playing Duke at home and I know we got to No. 4. Sometimes if just happens.
“But no, I mean let me say this, season ending injuries? No. Ones you can get back? Certainly we thought we had Slusher back earlier and we thought we had (Latavious) Brini back earlier and those things. They’re just not getting back as fast as we thought they would. Of course with the two, with DayDay and Cat being season-ending injuries so early in the season has been tough. To answer you question, no. I haven’t been around a position like that that is out for the year and taking that kind of length to get back.”
Mbake was rated a four-star recruit by 247Sports and a three-star by Rivals and ESPN. As a senior catching passes from future Arkansas quarterback Malachi Singleton, Mbake caught 22 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns. His junior season he hauled in 54 passes for 473 yards and five touchdowns.
He chose the Hogs over a very long list of schools including Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, USC and many others.
Mbake and the Hogs will face Mississippi State on Saturday in Starkville. The kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on the SEC Network.