There was a time when no Arkansas fan would even consider putting on a single piece of burnt orange clothing. If it were possible, they wouldn’t even look in the direction of Austin. And the same thing went for players. As far as most Hog players and fans were concerned, Texas preceded Russia as the Evil Empire.
Those days are long, long gone and we’ve just been presented evidence of that in Jalen Catalon’s commitment to become a Longhorn. Catalon’s decision to transfer could have the biggest negative impact to the program of any Arkansas football transfer, but it remains to be seen how much positive Texas will get out of it.
To be clear, that’s not a sour grapes statement. It’s more of a statement/question as to the true health of Catalon. In fact, any Razorback fan who thinks it’s no big deal that he’s leaving might want to seek professional help.
Not only is he a great player when he’s healthy, but he appears to be a great guy by most people’s standards. He’s a vocal leader, smart and was a great ambassador for the Razorback program. Even though it’s been two days since his Tweet announcing the transfer destination, he’s still repping Arkansas on the feature photo of his Twitter profile.
Many transfers do away with images of their old team as soon as possible, but Catalon not yet swapping that image out says something about how he still feels about the Razorbacks.
Jalen Catalon with Arkansas Football
Catalon was basically the coach on the field for the Hogs’ defense. Had he been healthy, it’s highly likely Arkansas would not have been relegated to the cellar of college football defensive statistics in 2022.
There’s no question he can play when he’s healthy, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, Catalon is a Texan. The 5-foot-10 Mansfield native isn’t a Tall Texan, but that certainly didn’t slow him down when he played. It took a while to get going, though. You may recall Catalan, as a true freshman, in the infinite wisdom of defensive coordinator John Chavis during the Chad Morris major error/mini era, didn’t see the field until the end of the season and was redshirted.
However, when Morris was summarily dismissed and Chavis found a place coaching middle school in Tennessee, something clicked for Catalon. Under the Pittman/Odom regime, he recorded 153 tackles and 5 interceptions in 17 games across 2020-22, which would be a decent 4-year career at any college.
“I think his play in 2020 was up there with Arkansas’ all-time greats at safety – guys like Steve Atwater and Ken Hamlin,” Arkansas football analyst Trey Biddy told Horns247’s Chip Brown. “He has a nose for the ball, and he’ll knock your head off.”
Unfortunately for Catalon and the Hogs, nearly 65% of his 153 tackles (99) and 60% of his 5 interceptions (3) were compiled in just 10 games during that Covid-shortened season. That turned out to be the high-water mark for Catalon at Arkansas.
Injuries Pile Up for Catalon
He recorded 46 tackles and 2 interceptions for 83 return yards before having season-ending shoulder surgery after the sixth game of the 2021 season. In the 2022 season opener, he made 8 tackles against Cincinnati and that was all she wrote.
Michael Jordan used to rib Bill Walton about missing more games than he played during his NBA career. Whether that’s true in Walton’s case, in Catalon’s case, it’s true and then some.
Catalon played in just 17 during the last three seasons, but it should be emphasized he didn’t skip games on a whim. He played through a lot of pain, including a broken hand in 2021, and had season-ending shoulder injuries in back-to-back years.
After much healing this past fall, he effectively had three potential paths from which to choose at season’s end. He could stay on the Hill, declare for the draft or get in the portal. He chose the least obvious one.
Many fans, and even Sam Pittman, thought the better course of action would just be to declare for the NFL. After all, the consensus opinion for most fans was that had he stayed healthy, the 21-year-old would have done so at the end of this season anyway. However, because of his injuries and the Covid year, he’ll be a fifth-year senior in 2023. But, as fate and Covid would have it, he could return as a super senior in 2024 and possibly get a medical redshirt to play in 2025.
Transfer to Texas Football
No doubt, older fans may be apoplectic in their quest to swallow the fact that a Hog would transfer to, of all places, Texas when he presumably would have picked up right where he left off at Arkansas. On top of that, there’s an additional dynamic of the fans who are cool with it getting peeved at the fans who aren’t.
Now, it seems they may have to watch the Hogs compete against him if Texas joins the SEC sooner than later. The earliest that could happen appears to be 2024.
It’s entirely possible that Catalon feels like he was snake bitten at Arkansas and wants a fresh start. What he’s leaving behind is the (cross your fingers the commitments stick) potential of playing with a pair of very good defensive backs who have chosen to leave Waco for Fayetteville in Lorando Johnson and Alfahiym Walcott. After all, Walcott was a second-team All-Big 12 selection this season.
Hog fans can be excused for telling defensive back Myles Slusher, “Don’t let the doorknob hit you where the sun don’t shine.” He appeared to have lost interest in the Hogs after getting arrested on Dickson Street in the early hours of the morning after an inexcusable loss to Liberty. After that, he committed and decommitted to Louisville in the span of about a month to go play for Coach Prime — Deion Sanders — at Colorado.
The same shouldn’t be said about Catalon. He never did anything wrong. In fact, he did everything right in spite of a series of hardships and we will not be as strong without him. Razorback Nation should wish him well and hope he declares for the NFL before Texas joins the SEC.
More on the decision by Jalen Catalon to join the Texas football program:
More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS…