By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – After his freshman year at the University of Arkansas following the dual sport football quarterback/baseball pitching days off his state championship seasons at Greenwood High School, Connor Noland said he’ll start his UA sophomore campaign strictly pitching for Coach Dave Van Horn’s baseball Razorbacks.
Noland announced Thursday on Twitter his intentions to forsake playing football for Coach Chad Morris’ Razorbacks and concentrate solely on baseball after being the No. 2 starting pitcher for Van Horn’s 46-20 SEC co-champion Razorbacks that won their Fayetteville Regional and Super Regional to advance to the College World Series before eliminated 1-0 and 5-4 by Florida State and Texas Tech.
Though Noland would have been considered a freshman football redshirt for 2019, Morris seized advantage of the new rule allowing a maximum four games participating to retain the same eligibility for the next season and started Noland in one of those four games, a victory over Tulsa.
However, because of baseball, Noland’ spring football time was extremely limited behind Ben Hicks, the graduate transfer from SMU, also joined this summer by Texas A&M graduate transfer quarterback Nick Starkel and incoming scholarship freshman KJ Jefferson.
“I still love playing both sports,” Noland tweeted. “But now I will be devoting my full efforts and attention to being the best baseball player I can possibly be. I remain 100 percent supportive of Coach Morris, Coach (Joe) Craddock (the quarterback’s coach/offensive coordinator) and entire football staff as well as my football brothers and definitely will miss being there with everyone.”
Noland said his decision and how he made it fulfilled his father’s prophesy.
“My dad always told me I wouldn’t be the one picking which sport I would finally focus on,” Noland said. “He said the sport would pick me. I can now say I fully understand what he meant.”
Noland thanked former Arkansas football Coach Bret Bielema for initially recruiting him with Van Horn, and thanked Morris and Van Horn for their cooperation during his 2018-2019 dual sport campaign.
Both Morris and Van Horn issued statements supporting Noland’s decision and his dual seasons leading up to it.
‘We’re excited for Connor and his future in baseball,” Morris said. “He’s a tremendous competitor, an outstanding athlete and a Razorback who will succeed in anything he does. I can’t wait to be in the seats at Baum-Walker next spring to watch him pitch.”
Van Horn also issued a statement through the UA.
“We’re happy for Connor,” Van Horn said. “We know this decision wasn’t easy, as his love for both sports has been apparent since we first met him. We’re happy that he was able to come to this decision on his own with his family. Thank you to coach Chad Morris for allowing Connor to achieve his dream of playing both football and baseball at the University of Arkansas. I look forward to working with Connor this summer and into the fall as we get ready for our 2020 season.”
For Van Horn’s Razorbacks this spring, Noland who had to catch up in baseball from not participating in fall baseball practices, was a deceptive 3-5 with an earned run average of 4.02.
Because of playing catchup, Noland often pitched well but would be relieved with no decisions in the fourth or fifth inning including the 5-4 College World Series loss to Texas Tech. Noland was relieved after starting four innings leading, 3-2.
In 20 appearances, including 19 starts, Noland pitched 78.1 innings, allowing 73 hits, 35 earned runs, 14 walks and 55 strikeouts.
For Morris’ Razorbacks last fall, Noland for in four games completed 21 of 42 for 255 yards with one touchdown against two interceptions.
Noland threw his touchdown, and one of his interceptions, in his 10 of 16 for 124 yards performance in the 23-0 victorious start over Tulsa.