Malik Hornsby’s Announcement Leaves Arkansas in Precarious Position (Again)

Malik Hornsby, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Nick Wenger

FAYETTEVILLE — Malik Hornsby has announced his intention to leave the Arkansas football program and enter the transfer portal when it opens next Monday.

It’s not a surprising move by the Razorbacks’ backup quarterback, as he also went in the portal last offseason before withdrawing his name and spending another drama-filled season in Fayetteville.

“First and foremost I want to thank Coach Pittman & Coach Briles for giving me the opportunity to play here at the University of Arkansas,” Hornsby said in a message shared via Twitter on Monday. “I want to thank my family, friends and supporters that I have gained along the way. To my teammates, my brothers, I will cherish every moment we had.”

“Thank you Razorback Nation. My journey here as a Razorback has come to an end. I will make the best decision for me and my future. I am entering my name in the transfer portal.”

This is the first of what is expected to be many similar announcements by Arkansas football players now that the regular season is complete. Head coach Sam Pittman told reporters that he would be having exit meetings with players Monday through Thursday this week.

“Without a doubt, there’ll be some portal action and all that kind of stuff — us and everybody else in the country,” Pittman said after the loss to Missouri. “Then you just have to figure it out. It’s there for a reason and you just have to figure out, obviously, who wants to stay with the program and who wants to transfer out. They have their own reasons. We’ll visit with them and try to keep the ones that we need to keep.”

Hornsby is the third notable departure from the Razorbacks this year. Starting nickel back Myles Slusher quit the team before the Missouri game and has since announced his intention to enter the transfer portal. Wide receiver Warren Thompson quit a week before that, but it’s unknown if he plans to enter the portal to pursue his super senior season elsewhere.

Other scholarship players who have left the team since the start of fall camp have mostly been reserves buried on the depth chart and include running backs James Jointer Jr. and Javion Hunt, wide receiver Jaquayln Crawford, defensive tackle Taylor Lewis and defensive back Chase Lowery.

Second Time in the Transfer Portal

Malik Hornsby is no stranger the transfer portal, as he also entered it back in January following the Outback Bowl.

At the time, he had appeared in only eight games in two seasons with the Razorbacks. Most of that playing time came last season because he was the third-string quarterback as a true freshman in 2020, when he played just two offensive snaps.

As a redshirt freshman, Hornsby completed 5 of 12 passes for 46 yards and rushed for 136 yards on 24 carries. His lone touchdown came on a 6-yard run late in a blowout win over Georgia Southern.

He got some significant reps when starter KJ Jefferson went down for about a quarter against Texas A&M and then flashed his elite speed late in the win over Penn State, gaining 67 yards on only four carries.

With Jefferson returning as the surefire starter in 2022, Hornsby entered the portal to explore his options. Sources indicated that he was heading to Marshall, but at the last second, he changed his mind and returned to Arkansas.

It was a reversal of Sam Pittman’s previously stated policy of not allowing players to come back after entering the portal, but he said the reason for that was because Hornsby — and offensive lineman Jalen St. John, who also entered and withdrew his name — didn’t miss any practice time with the team. (St. John was recently arrested for an incident that happened in 2021.)

Another reason the Razorbacks likely welcomed him back with open arms was because of their severe lack of depth at the position. With Lucas Coley transferring out during spring ball, they went through the regular season with only two scholarship quarterbacks.

Tumultuous Final Season with the Razorbacks

Once back with the team, Malik Hornsby resumed his role as the Razorbacks’ backup quarterback. However, about midway through the spring, head coach Sam Pittman debuted a new package that involved him playing wide receiver.

Using his aforementioned speed, Hornsby flashed some potential at the position and even looked like he might crack the rotation when the team wrapped up spring practices.

Sure enough, he actually did get a handful of snaps in the first two games of the season, but his playing time fell off after that. After getting just one snap against Missouri State, Hornsby was force-fed the ball on three straight plays against Texas A&M and none of them were productive — a sequence that seemed to swing the momentum in favor of the Aggies.

That was the end of the wide receiver experiment. Although walk-on transfer Cade Fortin got the backup snaps against Alabama and started the following week against Mississippi State, it was Hornsby who came off the bench and provided a spark against the Bulldogs.

Not only did that help him recapture the backup job, but it also effectively killed his time as a wide receiver, as Pittman told reporters that he’d focus solely on quarterback the rest of the season.

Hornsby got some snaps at the end of a blowout win over Auburn, but it wasn’t until the LSU game when he got significant action in place of an injured KJ Jefferson. Unfortunately for him and the Razorbacks, it went poorly and he was replaced after managing to lead the Razorbacks to only three points on eight possessions.

Hornsby never took another snap at quarterback in an Arkansas uniform. He ended the season having completed 13 of 27 passes (48.1%) for 268 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, while adding 172 yards on 31 carries.

What it Means for Arkansas Football

The Razorbacks are once again dangerously thin at quarterback heading into the bowl game and next season.

KJ Jefferson is the only scholarship quarterback on the roster now and Cade Fortin, who began his career on scholarship at both North Carolina and South Florida before transferring to Arkansas as a walk-on, will serve as his backup.

The only other healthy quarterback on the team is Rykar Acebo, a walk-on true freshman from Jonesboro, as Kade Renfro — a walk-on transfer who began his career on scholarship at Ole Miss — has torn his ACL twice in the past year. Landon Rogers, a converted quarterback now playing wide receiver, is also on the team, but he might be dealing with an injury after not dressing out at the last home game.

That lack of depth is the result of a couple of factors — the transfer portal and a decision by the coaching staff that backfired. Arkansas signed two quarterbacks in the 2021 class, but Rogers was quickly moved to tight end (and now wide receiver) and Lucas Coley transferred to Houston this offseason. In 2022, the Razorbacks opted not to sign one at all.

Arkansas does have a four-star dual-threat quarterback committed for the current recruiting class in Malachi Singleton from Georgia, which would give it a pair of scholarship quarterbacks in 2023. It has to get him to sign on the dotted line during the Dec. 21-23 signing period, though, and that might be tough with UCF making a strong push to flip him.

Hornsby’s departure puts an increased importance on the Razorbacks convincing Fortin, a fifth-year senior, to use his extra year of eligibility and return next season. It is also important for Renfro to get healthy, but tearing the same ACL twice in less a year is not a great sign.

Then of course there’s the possibility of Jefferson declaring for the NFL Draft, at which point Arkansas would almost certainly need to hit the portal for its next starting quarterback, similar to how it brought in Feleipe Franks two years ago.

Even if Jefferson comes back, it would probably be in the Razorbacks’ best interest to still peruse the portal for a backup quarterback, especially given how many injuries Jefferson dealt with this season and how Fortin performed in limited opportunities.

Another thing to consider about Hornsby’s decision is that it drops Arkansas’ projected scholarship count for 2023 to just 78 — pending the decisions of potential super seniors.

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