By Otis Kirk
Arkansas coach Chad Morris was asked about Ben Hicks on Wednesday and he didn’t hesitate to give the quarterback some praise.
Hicks transferred to Arkansas from SMU and will have one year to play for Morris’ Razorbacks. Morris signed Hicks out of Waco (Texas) Midway and then coached him three years at SMU. Hicks stayed at SMU this past season while Morris was at Arkansas and it proved to be an up-and-down season for Hicks. That hasn’t shaken Morris’ confidence in Hicks.
“I think when you look at Ben, and I’ve known Ben for a long time, and watching him and how he responded through adversity, coming in with a coaching change is always tough,” Morris said. “It’s tough on everybody. But to watch the way he responded and be able to come off the bench and win ball games for them was huge. That tells you his resilience, and his fight and his drive and he knows our offense and he knows us and he knows what to expect. He’s been a great addition to our program.”
Hicks redshirted in 2015. In 2016 he completed 234 of 422 passes for 2,930 yards, 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He followed that up in 2017 with his best season in college to date. He completed 276 of 472 passes for 3,569 yards an 33 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions.
However, in 2018 without Morris, Joe Craddock and his favorite wide receivers, Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn, and with a new coach, Hicks completed 208 of 372 passes for 2,582 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Hicks will now compete with Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones, both redshirt freshmen, sophomore Daulton Hyatt and incoming freshman KJ Jefferson for the job. Jefferson won’t be at Arkansas until the summer. Noland doubles in baseball and may not be available during some of the spring drills. Morris addressed Noland on Wednesday.
“You know, we always talk about One Razorback,” Morris said. “I think Connor is going to exemplify what that means and there’s got to be great communication between coach (Dave) Van Horn and myself and we are. We’re constantly talking. We’ll talk a couple of times a week. As a matter of fact, I think I may go down and watch him pitch on Saturday, so I think at the end of this when we look at it that the No. 1 focus is Connor Noland. He can’t get lost in the shuffle making sure he’s taken care of as far as the wear and tear on himself.
“He’s been in workouts with us this week, he goes down and pitches and goes down and gets his workout in baseball and there’s a great relationship we have with our strength staff with (the baseball team’s) strength staff and we’re talking every other day and making sure we’re monitoring his workload. I’m excited for Connor and I know that coach Van Horn is as well. I think he has a chance to be a very special player here.”
Hicks is easily the most experienced of the group though he hasn’t taken a snap at Arkansas. In 2018, Noland played in four games and Jones in three so thus the were able to retain their redshirt. Hyatt played briefly in the season opener and never saw the field again. Gone are Ty Storey and Cole Kelley who handled the majority of the quarterbacking duties in 2018.
Noland was 21 of 42 passing for 255 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Jones completed 2 of 8 passes for 18 yards with one interception.
When asked on Wednesday, Morris said he may still add another grad transfer at quarterback.
“Well, we’re always in the quarterback market,” Morris said. “I’ve said that. I’ll continue to say that. You can never have enough of those guys. Got to have competition there.”
A trio reportedly being considered by Arkansas is Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel, Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson and Texas’ Shane Buechele.
Jackson had a big season in 2017 when he completed 236 of 396 passes for 2,991 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions while also rushing 124 times for 324 yards and six touchdowns. He was injured and limited to only three games in 2018. In 16 games with the Hokies, Jackson completed 272 of 454 passes for 3,566 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed 144 times for 385 yards and seven touchdowns.
Starkel is considering Arkansas, Arizona, SMU and Ohio State. Starkel’s best season was also 2017 when he completed 123 of 205 passes for 1,793 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. At A&M in 11 games, Starkel completed 138 of 227 passes for 1,962 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions while also rushing 12 times for one touchdown.
Buechele had his best season in 2016 as a freshman when, in 12 games, he completed 236 of 391 passes for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He rushed 96 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns. In three years, Buechele played in 23 games and completed 403 of 648 passes for 4,636 yards, 30 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He rushed 168 times for 268 yards and four touchdowns.