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Arkansas Seniors Embrace New Beginnings

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Froholdt, Greenlaw and Ramirez are asked to help lay the foundation for new head coach Chad Morris.

This wasn’t what they signed up for.

For Arkansas seniors Hjalte Froholdt, Dre Greenlaw and Santos Ramirez, their decisions to sign with the Razorbacks was due in part to the program seemingly have turned the corner early in the Bret Bielema era. Ramirez was a redshirt and Greenlaw and Froholdt were high school seniors in 2014 when Arkansas closed the season with wins over LSU, Ole Miss, and Texas to finish 7-6.

By their junior and senior seasons, the trio expected to be competing for division championships, just as Bielema did annually during his six highly successful seasons at Wisconsin before bolting cheese country for the foothills of the Ozarks prior to the 2013 season.

That vision and reality could not have ended up differently.

As juniors, Greenlaw and Ramirez were part of an Arkansas defensive collapse and crash landing at 4-8, as the Razorbacks gave up an SEC-high 36.2 points per game and 42.1 points per conference game. Froholdt’s offensive line allowed 35 sacks for a second straight season after giving up just 14 his freshman year. Bielema had barely walked off the Razorback Stadium field in the season finale before being told the program would me making a coaching change.

Spinning it forward, rather than playing for a team expected to contend for an SEC West title in their senior seasons, Froholdt, Greenlaw and Ramirez are asked to help lay the foundation for new head coach Chad Morris. The former SMU head coach begins his overhaul the Razorbacks with a move to his up-tempo offense and a 4-3 defense under longtime SEC coordinator John Chavis, now at his fourth different school in the conference.

Competing for championships is still the goal, even on the heels of going 4-8, but the program is far from reaching the steady state that Morris hopes to get to at Arkansas and was approaching at SMU when the Hogs called.

At SMU, Morris’ first group of seniors at SMU went through in a 2-10 2015 season, but they helped launch a revitalized program that would go 7-5 and make a bowl game in Morris’ third and final season in Dallas in 2017. He quickly developed a high level of respect for how his new group of seniors has handled the transition and their willingness to ensure this program returns to the upward trajectory that it was on when they arrived once their Razorbacks careers come to a close less than six months from now.

“They did not want to go back down the road they were on,” Morris said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “They told me that they know change is coming and they’re excited about the change.”

Morris referenced a specific promise Ramirez made to him shortly after he accepted the Arkansas job last December.

“I’m here to tell you that I’m going to do everything in my heart to help keep this football team together,” Ramirez told Morris.

What most caught Morris’ eye most about Ramirez once the pads went on?

“His leadership throughout the course of spring and his ability to understand if he does make a mistake, he’s able to correct it,” Morris said.

Ramirez embraced the dual challenge of ensuring the 2018 team returns to the postseason while also ensuring the Arkansas teams after his departure have a stable environment.

“It starts with the upperclassmen. I try to instill to them that we have to be the ones to start a tradition, start a culture,” Ramirez said. “We want Arkansas to be good for many years after us. We have to make sure we instill to the younger guys the importance of the little things, the small details, what it takes to win games.”

Froholdt hopes to accomplish both immediate success and long-term planning.

“There’s nothing we can do about what happened,” Froholdt said. “It’s in the past. If everyone on the team is focusing on the culture that Coach Morris has brought in here, we’re going to have success.”

Culture change is an intangible, indefinable, and largely immeasurable concept, which makes it all the more difficult to create. Morris has simplified the first step in that process into one word.

“I think trust is the one word that has to happen,” Morris said. “Trust. I have to work extremely hard to gain their trust, and likewise. It’s a two-way street.

The way I’ve done it from day one is just be who I am. Coaching football is just what I do. It’s not who I am. I truly care about their life.”

Success doesn’t often happen overnight, but the Arkansas seniors are excited to find out if it can. Even without those unlikely immediate returns, they will be out this fall to ensure that their effect in the win-loss columns will be felt in years to come. Most importantly, they will do their part to safeguard the freshmen they are guiding from suffering a similar fate heading into their own senior seasons.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.