FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas hasn’t had such “Little” conversation about Razorbacks place-kicking since the late Steve Little’s All-American career spanning 1974-1977.
Monday again there was a lot of “Little” conversation about Arkansas place-kicking.
Touted freshman kicker Cam Little of Moore, Okla., apparently no relation to Kansas native Steve Little, has place-kicked so impressively during Razorbacks’ preseason drills that Cam was Topic A in media questions posed to Arkansas special teams coordinator Scott Fountain and senior 3-year letterman snapper Jordan Silver post Monday’s practice.
Little “got a leg up” on his Razorbacks career Fountain quipped by graduating high school in December and enrolling at the UA in January and participating in spring ball.
Ironically the high school superstar place-kicker-punter-kickoff man looked a leg down trying to do it all in the spring.
“In the spring he really struggled trying to figure out what all he could do for us,” Fountain said. “We really tried to back that up the back part of spring and just have him focus on field goals and kickoffs. He’s had a really good camp so far.”
Fifth-year senior Silver said Little had to “grow up fast” competing for a starting job as a January freshman arrival.
“He came in and tried to earn our acceptance a little bit,” Silver said. “You know how when you first get into a group, it’s kind of nervous. Like when you first at a lunch table you don’t want to be the odd one out. He’s gotten into the flow of things and gotten more comfortable with everybody.”
Fountain and Head Coach Sam Pittman sure sound comfortable with Little.
“He’s making his field goals,” Fountain said. “He’s getting great height on the ball. He’s got good operation. We’re moving it around on him. He’s doing a really good job with that.”
Pittman put Little in a one-second on the clock do-or-die closed practice ending field goal Monday and Little made it , Fountain said.
Pittman after last Saturday’s scrimmage was asked why he likes Little a lot. “He knows how to kick the ball between them two deals pretty consistently,” Pittman understated. “We had a hurry field goal situation the other day and it was 57 (yards) and he kicked it 65 I guarantee you. Kicked it right through the middle. His leg is a lot better than what it was from the spring.”
Little checked into the August preseason with not just a heftier leg but entirely heftier body than last spring.
“Yeah, he came in (last winter) a little on the lighter side,” Fountain said. “ Coach Fountain made a couple of comments on that at our meetings. Our strength staff has done a tremendous job this summer putting on weight and muscle mass of the guys just coming in. He’s put on weight, added strength in his legs and his squat has gone up. So definitely his workouts can’t help but transition into power and his swing of the kick.”
The extra strength has helped Little’s kickoffs, too, though incumbent sophomore Vito Calvaruso still holds forth putting 33 kickoff into or through the end zone last season.
“He made 70 percent (touchbacks) on the year,” Fountain said. “I like where he’s headed.”
Fourth-year junior Reid Bauer wasn’t supposed to be Arkansas’ main punter in 2018 and 2020 but became it.
He finished spring ball No. 2 to ex-Vanderbilt punter Sam Loy but with Loy “dinged up,” Pittman said, seems to have moved ahead not only for punting but snatching Silver’s snaps to hold for Little’s place-kicks.
“I call him “Dark Horse” Bauer,” Fountain said. A year ago, Reid Bauer never really held kicks, ever and now he’s gotten really good at it. Today Pittman kind gives him a big field goal there at the end and puts pressure on everybody a young snapper (not Silver) had a bad snap, but he (Bauer) gets it down and we make the kick.”
All Silver snaps are anticipated golden.
“The thing he brings is just great accuracy,” Fountain said.
Silver is on the Patrick Mannelly Preseason Watch List.
The Mannelly Award in December honors college football’s best snapper for punts and place-kicks.
Among the covid-19 disruptions affecting 2020 college football, it seems nationally that special teams were especially affected.
Fountain, noted for his special teams coordinated at Auburn and Georgia, acknowledged the Saturday special teams often didn’t reflect the groups practicing at the week’s outset.
“Last year this is kind of my world,” Fountain said of awaiting thrice weekly covid tests Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. “I find out on Monday I lose a guy. I might find out on Wednesday I lose a guy, and then Friday come in and six guys are out. Last year, the Auburn game we lost about eight guys. I have a third or fourth-team guy and he’s starting the game. It’s also tough for the defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator. But if they lose a guy on defense or offense, well, that (backup) guy I had on special teams, I might have lost him because now he’s got to play more offense or defense.”
Fountain said what special teams coaches experienced last year should better prepare them if the covid’s delta variant affects rosters in 2021.