FAYETTEVILLE – Neither Chad Morris nor any of his defensive coaches remain from Morris’ 2019 Arkansas football staff, yet redshirt freshman safety Jalen Catalon still plays for a coach that coveted his services out of Mansfield, Texas.
No doubt that Morris coveted Catalon.“One of the top high school football players I think I’ve ever seen,” longtime former Texas high school coach Morris said upon signing Catalon for the 2019 class. “Top five for sure.” Much as Morris coveted Catalon, another coach now Arkansas prominent sought him avidly.
“Coach Odom, he actually recruited me,” Catalon said. “He was one of the first coaches to offer me too.” Now the Razorbacks defensive coordinator and safeties coach under new Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman, Barry Odom head coached Missouri the last four years. Catalon and Odom got well reacquainted before the coronavirus pandemic closed the University of Arkansas campus, cancelled all spring athletic competition and practices and sent players home, including Catalon back to Mansfield.
“He was saying it (coaching Catalon) was destined to happen,” Catalon said via teleconference. “It’s crazy how things work out. I’m glad to have him as our defensive coordinator and position coach because he’s a great guy. He knows his stuff and I’m just excited to learn his system and just grow as a player with him.”
Odom seems a hit with others on the Razorbacks defense, too. After experiencing the Hogs’ 0-4 against Odom’s Mizzou teams since redshirting as a 2016 freshman then lettering the last three years, Arkansas senior linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood said respect came immediately. “I’m tired of playing him and I’m super happy he’s on our side,” Morgan said. “I’ll give him that. Because he’s a dang good coach and I realized that right away.”
Catalon and Morgan exude excitement about Odom’s multiple schemes which for a base they say is a 3-2-6 designed against the proliferating Spread offenses. “It’s a variation of a 3-3, but you have an extra nickel and you have an extra DB to stop the passing everyone wants to do.” Morgan said. “But you’ve got the variation with the middle safety to be able to come down and fit the run gaps that we need.”
The scheme should put Catalon all over the defensive map. “We’re kind of rotating the spots,” Catalon said. “So one day you might be a free safety and the next day you might be a boundary safety or a strong safety. Or one day you might be a nickel. You might be moved to corner one time to see how you are. I think he wants to see how your mind works.” It’s been about all mind so far with virtual meetings since they aren’t assembled for spring practice. But whenever conditions permit to resume football, expect Catalon working plenty.
Pittman praised Catalon as a leader for the late January to mid March weights and conditioning workouts and meetings. Coming off a high school shoulder injury limiting him to one game in 2018 with additional corrective surgery performed last December, Catalon endured a strange 2019. He mopped up three lopsided but for his fourth game, the last that he could play and stay redshirt eligible, he was a silver lining in the 45-19 debacle vs. Western Kentucky ending Morris’ tenure.
Catalon logged 29 plays, figured on six tackles, three solo, broke up a pass and forced a fumble. “It was good to get that experience where I got a good amount of reps and and stuff like that,” Catalon said. Interim Coach Barry Lunney then saved Catalon’s redshirt the last two games and sent him to surgery.
At least Catalon has the redshirt and that one consequential game experience, but does he lament the rest of 2019? Let bygones be bygones, apparently. “At the end of the day, last year was just last year,” Catalon said. “I am not worried about what happened last year, just worried about the future and down the road.”