FAYETTEVILLE — While 2020 has been a strange year, for lack of better word, it has treated University of Arkansas defensive back Simeon Blair pretty well.
Blair, a former standout at Pine Bluff High School, has earned a scholarship with the Razorbacks and then on Saturday he started at safety against No. 4 Georgia. Blair, 5-10, 204, met with the media via a Zoom conference following Tuesday’s practice.
“Oh man, it’s been a long journey,” Blair said. “It’s a journey I’ve enjoyed. I’ve learned a lot of things about growing as a person. I’ve grown with my teammates and my family. It’s just been a real great experience for me.”
Blair talked about when he first heard he would get the start against Georgia.
“I found out during probably the Tuesday practice of that week,” Blair said. “We had some people that were out. They put me in there and they told me I was probably going to be playing. So I just took my time and studied and made sure I made the best out of my opportunity.”
Blair also detailed how he found out about getting the scholarship.
“I got a text from Coach (Sam) Pittman,” Blair said. “He told me to come meet him in his office. We talked about it and he told me he was going to offer me a scholarship. I’m very appreciative of him for that.”
Is that something you saw coming or did it completely take you by surprise?
“I mean, I worked real hard ever since I’ve been up here,” Blair said. “So I can’t say that I didn’t expect it. But I was very excited. I mean that’s one of the biggest accomplishments that I made. I feel like all my hard work is starting to pay off.”
Blair was a quarterback and defensive back for the Zebras in high school. He threw for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns on 102 completions. He helped Pine Bluff to the second round of the Class 2016 state playoffs. He described his recruiting coming out of high school.
“I had smaller schools, such as schools in the SWAC, coming out of high school,” Blair said. “I picked Arkansas because I felt it was a great opportunity for me. I knew that I was a hard worker and I felt that I would be able to earn myself a scholarship if I kept working hard and that’s what happened.”
Blair not only has impressed Pittman, Barry Odom and the Arkansas coaches, but also talented wide receiver Treylon Burks.
“Simeon comes to practice every day no matter if it’s weights, lifts, meetings and he’s attentive in everything,” Burks said. “He works hard and he deserves to be put on scholarship and to be starting. You can tell from Saturday he’s a baller. I’m just glad that Coach Pittman did that and the team is happy for him.”
What makes him a good defensive back?
“Just his work ethic,” Burks said. “All you have to do is just come to work every day. You get better at everything.”
This week Arkansas will continue to get back some of its defensive backs that either missed the Georgia game or were limited. Blair feels that will obviously help against Mississippi State.
“Yeah, that’s going to help us a lot because they like throwing verticals and they like to throw the ball a lot,” Blair said. “So it’s good that we’re getting that depth back at the right time when we’re playing this team who loves to throw the ball a lot.”
Cornerback Montaric Brown is Arkansas’ leader in the secondary and he is impressed with Blair.
“Simeon did a great job,” Brown said. “He’s versatile. He can play any position. He did a great job. He did his job, and he’s going to help us in the future.”
While the Hogs were battling Georgia, Mississippi State and quarterback K.J. Costello were in Baton Rouge beating the defending national champions. Blair talked about his thoughts when he saw the box score from that game.
“We got real excited when we seen that, because we know that Coach Odom put us in great spots to succeed, and that’s a lot of pass attempts,” Blair said. “So that means it’s going to be a lot of chances for us to make plays out there, and that’s what our DB corps is full of is players that want to make plays. So, that’s going to be a great game for us.”
Costello threw for 623 yards and five touchdowns in the 44-34 victory. Blair was impressed with the grad transfer who came to Starkville from Stanford.
“He has a nice arm, Blair said. “They’re more of a team that loves explosive plays. They’re probably not going to want to take the dink and dunk, the short throws. They’re a team that wants to get big chunk plays. But he has a great arm.
“I feel like we need to get pressure on him because I feel like he’s better inside the pocket. If we get him off his spot, I feel like it’ll be better for us. When he does get out of the pocket, we just have to make sure we lock on to our man and stay in our zones, that way there won’t be any open spots for him to find.”
Blair also offered up his thoughts on the receivers that Costello will be throwing to on Saturday night.
“They’re big,” Blair said. “They’re lanky. They have nice routes, good hands, but I feel like we go against great receivers every day in practice, so we have our own great receivers that’s tall and lanky. So, I feel like we’re going to do our job and go out there and play our hardest and come out with the result we want on Saturday.”
The Bulldogs also have a talented running back in Kylin Hill. He rushed for 34 yards on seven carries against LSU and then caught eight passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. He has impressed Blair.
“We know Kylin Hill,” Blair said. “He’s a special running back in this conference. We feel like we’re going to stop the run and then just make sure that we contain and make sure that we don’t let him — we just make sure that we don’t give up no explosive plays because the explosive plays is what can turn the game around, just make sure that we really to the ball every time we find him out of the backfield, run and hit.”
Arkansas leads the all-time series against Mississippi State 16-13-1, but has fallen on hard times recently. The Hogs last victory over the Bulldogs came in Starkville 58-42 on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016.
“Our coaches tell us all the time, ‘As long as you do your job, we’ll be alright,’” Blair said. “So what we’re expecting to do, we’re going up there and everybody’s going to do their job. We’ve been practicing hard, just like Coach Pittman tells us, ‘We’re going to practice like we play.’ So we’ve been trying to practice real hard, that way those habits will come out in reality Saturday.”
Like Pittman, Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach is in his first season.
“I feel like he’s a great coach,” Blair said. “But we also have great coaches too. I feel like Coach Odom is going to have us in the right spots. As long as we do our assignments and play as hard as we can, I feel like we’re going to have the result we want.”
The kickoff will be at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night and televised on the SEC Alternate.