What the Return of Arkansas’ Best Kickoff Return Eliminator Says

Vito Calvaruso, Arkansas football, transfer portal
photo credit: Nick Wenger

Remember Vito Calvaruso? No, he’s not a character from any of the Godfather movies. You may not know his name, but no doubt you noticed him when he was in an Arkansas football uniform. He was the guy all eyes were on every time the Razorbacks kicked off in 2020 and 2021 because he was the kicker.

Calvaruso was the guy who, after what seemed like about a century, had everybody in the stands saying, “About time we got a guy who can kick it out of the end zone again.”  

In fact, after the initial shock of seeing the ball sail deep into the end zone, or many times into the stands, Saracen Casino started taking bets, complete with odds, on whether he would split the uprights like Steve Little used to do on a fairly regular basis. Just kidding….

But who could’ve bet he’d have our attention again after entering the NCAA transfer portal?

Vito Calvaruso’s Journey

When he entered the portal after the 2021 season, Arkansas fans had become so used to their kicker kicking it out of the end zone, most people would be excused for thinking these guys come and go. And now the Hogs have Cam Little (104 for 104 on PATs and 33 of 40 field goals) and he can kick it a mile. Surely he can kick off too, right?

Yes, he can. Not only was Little a freshman All-American, but he’s now a team captain and in the season opener he boomed his kickoffs 7 to 9 yards deep into the end zone, which is deep enough that any player trying to return it better take it to the house unless they want to sit next to their coach for the foreseeable future. Last week against Kent State, he even booted one a couple rows deep into the stands.

However, as great as Cam Little is, Vito Calvaruso is just as good as a kickoff guy and while these guys may come and go, rarely do they come, go and come back. But that’s just what Calvaruso is doing.

He spent the 2022 season with Wisconsin, because he wanted to score points in addition to booming it into the stands on kickoffs.

Hey, as a former kicker, I get it. A kicker can lead his team in scoring without getting his uniform dirty. It’s a great gig. Every time your team scores, you’re probably going to get a point for it, and when your team can’t, there’s usually a chance that you can get three out of it.

Calvaruso’s short career at Wisconsin saw him score 10 total points. He went 7 of 7 on extra points and he made one field goal from 28 yards. His two misses were longer than 40 yards. While it’s understandable that he didn’t continue in a point production role, it doesn’t explain why former Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst benched him at kickoff time.

As a Hog in 2021, 63 of his 74 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. At 85%, that ranked fourth nationally. Meanwhile, two Badgers could only muster a touchback rate of 47%.

Last we checked, the distance from the 35 to the opposite goal line is the same in the SEC as it is in the Big 10, so it’s not difficult to figure out one reason Calvaruso probably didn’t want to stick around up there in the frozen tundra of Madison. I know. It’s not the same as Green Bay, but it’s a lot closer to the North Pole than Fayetteville is.

Returning to Arkansas Football

With all due respect to literary giant Thomas Wolfe, who would have you believe you can’t come home again, we beg to differ. As long as he can keep kicking it through the uprights on kickoffs, Vito Calvaruso can call Fayetteville home anytime he wants.

This is the first time I can remember that a guy left and came back besides Malik Hornsby, who left and came back before he actually left because Sam Pittman seems to just be that kind of guy. It should be noted that he’s also probably the kind of guy who would wish some of last year’s defensive backs who transferred, but didn’t find a home, good luck in finding somewhere besides Fayetteville to play and actually mean it. Pittman wants the best for everyone, but if a guy’s spot is filled, it’s filled.

As far as I’m concerned, Calvaruso’s spot is not filled. He’s not eligible this year because it’s his second transfer, so he’ll be subjected to the old NCAA rules, which no doubt made his decision to come back even more difficult, knowing that he would have to sit out in 2023. However, when he does get his eligibility back next year, he may be able to take some pressure off Little so he can focus on being as close to perfect as possible as a college kicker.

It’s not easy to find another situation like this in football. In Arkansas basketball during the 1990s, Sunday Adebayo transferred to Memphis after eligibility questions popped up, but he came back to the Hogs after the allegations were proven to be an error regarding his grades.  Jimmy Whitt left for SMU during the Mike Anderson era, but came back as a grad transfer to play for Eric Musselman.

In the bigger picture, Calvaruso’s return indicates the Sam Pittman culture of care was at play in Fayetteville and shows that this staff practices what it preaches when it comes to transfers.  Calvaruso simply left for what he thought would be greener pastures and to have a fighting chance to score points, which in all likelihood he probably didn’t have at Arkansas due to the rock-solid kicking of Little whom any kicker in America would have a difficult time beating out.  

No one can blame a guy who just wants to contribute more to a team, as the Arkansas football staff truly wished him well and clearly no bridges were burned. That a player would choose to cross them again, and be allowed to, is a testament to the culture Pittman’s established.  Calvaruso has proven he can get the job done and Hog fans can rest easy knowing that next year, kickoffs will be sailing into the stands again.


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