The gamble Cade Fortin took by joining Arkansas football as a walk-on has paid off, as he won’t have to pay for his final year with the Razorbacks.
The quarterback was placed on scholarship this semester and will remain on it next fall, a UA spokesperson confirmed to Best of Arkansas Sports, giving Arkansas four scholarship quarterbacks for the 2023 season.
Not your average walk-on, Fortin began his career as an ESPN four-star signee at North Carolina and even started a pair of games before transferring to South Florida, where he was also on scholarship and started a pair of games.
His decision to transfer to Arkansas may not have been met with the same excitement from fans as other additions last offseason, but bringing in someone with his experience was vital for the Razorbacks’ thin quarterback room.
After going through the 2022 season with only two scholarship quarterbacks — KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby — Arkansas will have double that number next year. In addition to Jefferson and Fortin, the Razorbacks also brought in Jacolby Criswell as a transfer and Malachi Singleton as a four-star signee.
Cade Fortin with the Razorbacks
Although he came to Fayetteville with four career starts against Power Five opponents under his belt, Cade Fortin didn’t exactly put up big numbers and was never a full-time starter.
He completed only 50.4% of his passes for the Tar Heels and Bulls, averaging just 5.0 yards per attempt with one touchdown pass and three interceptions, while also rushing for 152 yards and two scores on 27 carries (5.6 yards/carry).
Considering those numbers were far from awe-inspiring and his status as a walk-on, Fortin figured to be a depth piece and veteran presence for the Razorbacks, capable of running the scout team while KJ Jefferson and Malik Hornsby handled the primary quarterback duties.
However, it wasn’t long before that narrative started changing. Fortin appeared to beat out redshirt freshman Lucas Coley, leading to Coley’s transfer midway through spring ball, and then challenged Hornsby for the backup job.
The coaches were so comfortable with the thought of Fortin running the offense that they gave Hornsby a look at wide receiver — a package that lasted a few weeks before being unceremoniously laid to rest.
It was assumed that Hornsby was still the backup quarterback, but when Jefferson got banged up against Alabama, the Razorbacks turned to Fortin. He also started the following week at Mississippi State, but struggled and was ultimately replaced by Hornsby.
That caused Fortin to drop back to the third team, with Hornsby starting the LSU game in place of Jefferson, but it was his fourth-quarter 40-yard strike to Matt Landers that gave Arkansas a chance to knock off the Tigers.
Even with that big play, his numbers looked pretty similar to what he put up at his previous two spots. Fortin completed 48.3% of his passes and averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt while adding 17 yards on seven carries.
Arkansas Quarterback Depth for 2023
To the surprise of no one, Malik Hornsby entered the transfer portal again following the regular season and this time stuck, dropping down to the Group of Five level by landing at Texas State after a brief flirtation with Nebraska.
While they may not have anyone quite as electric from a speed perspective, the Razorbacks appear to have a much deeper and more talented quarterback room in 2023.
In an ideal world, KJ Jefferson will play every meaningful snap of the season. He is proven to be an elite college football quarterback when healthy — but that qualifier is important. A big, mobile quarterback who doesn’t like to shy away from contact, Jefferson dealt with multiple injuries that caused him to miss two games entirely and severely limited him in a third last year.
Such issues increase the importance of quarterback depth and Arkansas seems to have addressed that this offseason.
The biggest addition was likely Jacolby Criswell, a Morrilton native returning home after spending three years at North Carolina. Although he was never the full-time starter for the Tar Heels, he battled for the starting job with Sam Howell — who has started a game in the NFL — and Drake Maye, a frontrunner for the 2023 Heisman Trophy.
In limited action at North Carolina, he completed 18 of 31 passes (58.1%) for an average of 6.6 yards per attempt with one touchdown and one interception, while also averaging 6.7 yards on 20 carries and adding a score on the ground.
He won’t surpass Jefferson, but the hope is that Criswell can come in and immediately lock down the backup job, positioning himself to take over as the starter in 2024.
That would mean Fortin battles it out with the other newcomer, freshman Malachi Singleton, for the No. 3 spot. A four-star recruit, Singleton is likely more talented and has more potential, but it’s still a pretty big jump from high school to the SEC — even from a state as loaded as Georgia.
The Razorbacks will probably give Singleton a look at some point in 2023, utilizing the four-game redshirt rule, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the coaches lean toward Fortin’s experience over Singleton’s potential in the event of injuries to Jefferson and Criswell.
Plus, it’s worth noting that Fortin might be better suited to play right away than Singleton under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who is bringing in a more pro-style system than can be hard for young players to quickly grasp and immediately plug and play.
Fortin’s numbers certainly don’t instill a lot of confidence if he were to be forced into action, but Enos has a track record of improving quarterbacks from a passing perspective. Just look at Brandon Allen, whose completion percentage jumped from 56.0% to 65.9% and yards per attempt jumped from 6.7 to 9.3 under Enos.
Worst-case scenario, Cade Fortin never sees the field while serving as a reserve quarterback capable of running the scout team and providing veteran leadership to Singleton and the rest of the room — making him more than worthy of a scholarship.
2023 Super Seniors for Arkansas Football
Under traditional rules, Cade Fortin would be out of eligibility and unable to play in 2023 because he was a fifth-year senior this past season. However, all players active in 2020 have been granted an extra year because of the pandemic.
The Razorbacks had 12 seniors on last year’s team eligible to return as super seniors and Fortin is the only one known to be doing so at this point.
Defensive end Jordan Domineck was originally the first to announce he was coming back, but he has since reversed course and transferred to Colorado for his final season of college football.
Three other Razorbacks could join Fortin, as tight end Nathan Bax, defensive back LaDarrius Bishop and defensive end Zach Williams have yet to publicly announce their decisions for 2023.
Center Ricky Stromberg declared for the NFL Draft rather than return as a super senior and left tackle Luke Jones chose to move on with his life, while the others joined Domineck in the transfer portal.
Tight end Trey Knox transferred to South Carolina, defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols transferred to Purdue, punter Reid Bauer and safety Simeon Blair transferred to Memphis, and defensive back Trent Gordon has yet to land at another school after being deemed academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl.
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