Hog receivers make deposits, expect returns at season's start

Tuesday, August 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ Sparky Hamilton has big plans for this football season.

The 6-4, 215-pound senior flanker wants to make waves in his final year of college football by being a deep threat in the offense, a strategy the Arkansas Razorbacks haven't approached since the days of Anthony Lucas.

Hamilton proved he can go deep, with consecutive 61-yard catches against Mississippi State and LSU last season.

``From what I hear, or from what I've seen, we have eight or nine deep threats, so we're going to have to reveal ourselves more,'' Hamilton said at Arkansas' Media Day.

Besides the pair of 61-yard receptions _ nearly twice his longest catches in two seasons _ Hamilton's numbers have dwindled somewhat since his sophomore year, when he had 16 receptions for 205 yards in 11 games, ranking him fourth among the Razorbacks.

In 11 games last season, Hamilton had seven receptions for 176 yards, good enough for fourth again among his teammates.

But practicing and studying game film this summer has helped Hamilton realize his strengths and recognize weaknesses that need to be tweaked, including how he catches the ball.

``Over the summer, we have practiced four days of the week,'' Hamilton said. ``We've stayed after and played with the quarterbacks after all the (defensive backs) are gone. We've concentrated on catching the ball with our hands. We don't catch the ball with our hands, we catch it with our eyes.

``That's the thing we learned over the summer. We're really concentrating on route running and getting the (defensive backs) in the position where we can catch the ball,'' he said.

Heading into the 2002 campaign, Hamilton is listed as the backup flanker behind junior Richard Smith, who missed most of spring practice this year because of track and field competition.

Smith, at 5-10 and 186 pounds, had a tremendous showing in the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a second-place finish in the triple jump. A three-year competitor for head track and field coach John McDonnell, Smith said the cross training has helped him improve his game.

``I've seen improvements in my running,'' Smith said. ``I've gotten a lot faster. My routes are getting a lot better, too.''

As a redshirt freshman in 2000, Smith tallied 33 catches for 320 yards and one touchdown in 11 games, setting a new UA freshman record for receptions that year. He came back his sophomore year and had 38 receptions for 383 yards and five touchdowns, ranking him second among the team players for catches and yards.

``My one goal is to do everything I did last year but do it better,'' Smith said. ``I had a good freshman campaign, but last year I just had an average year. I did a lot of good things some days, and some days I did a lot of bad stuff, and I just took it all in. People forgot I had a good freshman year. I want to bring all that stuff in I did my freshman year.''

Working on pass skills away from the coaching staff helped junior George Wilson better his game this summer. For the first time in his entire football career, Wilson said he was actually looking forward to two-a-day practice.

``I've never looked forward to fall camp ever in my life, but for some reason, I have a gut feeling this is going to be a good one,'' Wilson said. ``I just know what we came off of last season and the work that we put in this season.''

Last year, Wilson tallied 40 receptions for 568 yards and three touchdowns, setting a school record for first-year player for catches and surpassing the former record held by Smith (33) set in 2000.

Wilson's main focus during summer training was healing from surgery to replace torn cartilage in his right knee and being better prepared from the start of the season. The Hogs' 1-3 start of the 2001 season was embarrassing, Wilson said.

``Everyday we hit the weight room, everyday we worked out, we made deposits into the bank. When it comes to Sept. 7, we're going to start making some withdrawals,'' Wilson said.