Because no player in college football is contractually bound to do so, a massive number of players who have their eyes on playing in the NFL simply “opt out” of the bowl games they helped their teams secure.
Add to that the number of players who look for greener pastures with better NIL deals, or just to get more playing time, and you have a situation in college football that, at least in this writer’s opinion, will spell the demise of all but the most important bowl games.
After all, who wants to go see your team play when your best players won’t dress out, or even make the trip? Indeed, eight regular Arkansas football starters will not play in the Liberty Bowl in a few days.
Heading into Christmas Day, tickets were still available. In fact, a lot of them were available, but probably less than if the Razorbacks were playing in any bowl game that didn’t simply require a short drive across the Mississippi River.
Arkansas Football and Loyalty
It’s a rough world out there on many fronts and finding “loyalty” in any chosen activity — be it politics, business or sports — comes at a premium. In college football it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.
Dalton Wagner is that needle.
Wagner, at 6-foot-9 and 331 pounds, has started in 39 games as a Razorback. Injuries to his back and other areas of his gigantic body have kept him out of nine games during his career. That may not classify the Illinois native as injury prone, but clearly someone who missed about nine games on account of injury could make the case that playing another college game could very well reduce his draft stock.
In addition, Wagner has been invited to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, which would provide an opportunity to showcase his talents by competing against other seniors who also aspire to make the NFL.
Instead of taking advantage of these opportunities and getting an early start on working out for the NFL combine like so many others have done, he did the unthinkable in today’s college football. He stayed loyal to the university that has paid for his education for the past six years, and the program that allowed him to even be eligible for showcases like the Shrine Bowl.
In a press conference earlier in the week, Wagner said this about his decision, “I’d really like to go out the right way — finish my season up as a captain the right way, finish my season up as a teammate, as a friend and just as a player to be able to go out there one last time and wear the Hog uniform.”
Dalton Wagner’s example lies in stark contrast to that of Jaquayln Crawford, whose career at Arkansas included a whopping three catches for 27 yards against Rent-a-Win teams like Georgia Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Crawford applauded prized recruit Micah Tease in a tweet saying, “Smart move” when Tease decommitted from Arkansas.
Which one of these guys would you want to share a foxhole with?
Clearly, it’s Wagner and that’s not just because he’s a huge human being. It’s because he’s the kind of guy who sticks no matter the circumstances.
In fact, you would probably want to be in a foxhole with Wagner more than you would almost any other player in the FBS.
Respect for Dalton Wagner
Dalton Wagner was not perfect at Arkansas. He jumped offsides from time to time, even as a seasoned veteran, and was part of a line that played subpar down the stretch of the regular season. He didn’t grade out as even the best lineman at Arkansas in most games, but a lot of that was due to the exceptional play of future pro Ricky Stromberg.
However, if there was a grade for loyalty, Wagner would get an A++.
Arkansans pride themselves on being “exceptions to the rule” of the stereotypical small state. We’ve elected a native son president of the United States. The headquarters of the largest retailer on the entire planet is located just miles from the University of Arkansas. At one point, Tyson Foods controlled 70% of the global poultry market. JB Hunt is one of the largest trucking firms in the United States and Stephens, Inc. is the largest investment bank off Wall Street in America.
This is not an attempt to say that Dalton Wagner should be compared to Sam Walton or any of these other business and political leaders. However, it IS an attempt to say that in the arena in which he plays, there’s no one who has shown more loyalty. He’s a diamond in the rough.
As you think of all you’re grateful for during this holiday season, at least as it relates to Arkansas football, Dalton Wagner and his loyalty should be first on your list.
What Dalton Wagner Said
Here are some excerpts from Wagner’s recent Arkansas football press conference:
On why he chose to play in the Liberty Bowl:
“That was kind of a difficult decision. Because there’s a really good part of me that was like, ‘Playing in a pretty good East-West game, need to get ready for the draft, combine, all that stuff.’ Then there’s that other part of me which spoke a lot louder of, ‘Man, I’d really like to play one more. I’d really like to go out the right way. Finish my season up as a captain the right way, finish my season up as a teammate, as a friend and as just as a player to be able to go out there one last time wear the Hog uniform.’”
“Because I felt like I would have regretted a lot more if I had opted out versus if I did not opt out. And that’s nothing against guys that did opt out. I wish them all the best and everything, but I just felt personally and I wouldn’t sleep better at night if I had opted out.”
On Kansas have the apparent psychological edge after so little success in recent years:
“…It’s a reverse of last year, but although I think that we’re not going to have an issue with the juice. With [Ben] Sowders coming in here, he’s brought a lot of energy. Along with the way we’ve been practicing, it’s been very energetic practices. It’s been very flying around, getting after each other. And it’s a unique opportunity with these opt outs for young and hungry guys to step up, step in, fill role and become an impact player to set their standard for the spring and set their standard for the fall to come.”
“So, it’s going to be a lot of preview, a lot of young guys trying to gain confidence and do what they’re doing out there. But I don’t think energy is going to be an issue. I think it’s just going to be about our execution.”
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…