Myron Cunningham could have turned pro as the 2020 senior starting left tackle on an offensive line helping Arkansas improve from successive 0-8, 0-8 SEC seasons to the Razorbacks’ 3-7 entirely SEC 2020 slate.
He’s glad he didn’t. Because now as the left offensive tackle proven he can protect both 2020 dropback passing quarterback Feleipe Franks and 2021 dual-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson, Cunningham and the 8-4 Razorbacks are bound for the New Year’s ‘Day Outback Bowl game in Tampa, Fla. against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
He’s sure that returning as a bonus senior, an option the NCAA made available to 2020 seniors because of that season’s covid pandemic interruptions and cancellations, improved his NFL draft stock from what it would have been in December, 2020.
Arkansas’ now third year junior college transfer from Warren, Ohio via Iowa Central Community College needed only to show his potential matched his 6-6, 325 size.
And for his peace of mind, he wanted one more shot to make 2020’s 3-7 improvement under Coach Sam Pittman following the disastrous 2-10, 2-10, overall/0-8, 0-8 SEC campaigns of the 2018 and 2019 Chad Morris era into the significant improvement of these 8-4 Razorbacks representing Arkansas in a bowl game for the first time since 2016.
“It means a lot,” Cunningham said. “For me to come back, I just wanted to leave the program better than I found it. For us to go 8-4 and have the potential of finishing 9-4, it not only helps me, but it helps this team out greatly for the future.”
Cunningham was asked about who stands out to him on Penn State’s renowned defense.
“I was going to say the linebackers, but I think two of them, 13 and 12 (Brandon Smith and Brooks Ellis), have both opted out for the bowl game. But 17 (senior defensive end Arnold Ebikete) is still supposed to be playing, so I’d say him. He is very twitchy, is a great pass rusher, very physical. I think both of their ends have great potential.”
Both Pittman and Cunningham cast favorable bowl practice reviews on Ty’Kieast Crawford, the backup left offensive tackle transferred from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte likely to start spring drills as Cunningham’s left tackle heir apparent.
“I’m seeing Ty’Kieast Crawford out there,” Pittman said Monday when asked if he saw any unexpected Christmas presents gifting from these on campus bowl practices. “I think he’s going to be a really good player for us. And he’s a kind of guy behind the scenes, but I think he’s going to be a really good player for us. That could be kind of a present.”
Cunningham was asked after Tuesday’s practice about Crawford who ought to pack a wallop at 6-5, 350.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth from Ty’Kieast,” Cunningham said. “Not only from the bowl practice, but throughout the year. I feel like throughout the year, he’s gotten better with each game that we’ve played and with every practice that he’s had, but especially I think that he’s really taking the time throughout bowl practices to sit down and try to perfect his craft, whether that’s his pass sets or just being physical in the run game.”
Hayden Henry, one of three superb Razorbacks senior linebacker with Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool, and along with Morgan a super senior returning as a 2020 senior, expressed what likely many super seniors express heading into their college career ending bowl games.
“It will be a bittersweet moment,” Henry said. “To be completely honest with you, I’ve accepted the fact that this is over and I think my body has accepted that fact that college football is over after this game. It will be a bittersweet moment. I mean these are some of the best memories of my life. Playing this season especially with Grant and Bumper has been extra special as a lifetime.”
Henry said Penn State poses a literally big offensive challenge.
“They’re a little bit different in the sense they do a little bit more big personnel than a lot of teams we’ve played this year,” Henry said. “They have good running backs and really good tight ends that they trust a lot. They do like to line up at times and run the ball with big personnel. That’s something that we didn’t see a ton this year. We did see it a little bit. So that is a little different there.
In the passing game, they have two or three outstanding receivers who can make a lot of really good plays for them.”
After barely a day in the transfer portal, Arkansas redshirt offensive lineman Jalen St. John tweeted that Arkansas is home and he belongs at home and withdrawn his name from the portal.
However Ray Curry, a Razorbacks reserve offensive lineman from Memphis, has entered the transfer portal.
With media excluded practices Wednesday and Thursday mornings, the Razorbacks conclude their on campus bowl practices.
They break for Christmas immediately after Thursday’s practice then reassemble to fly Sunday night to Tampa and Monday commence their bowl week practices.