One month ago, Sam Mbake was dismissed from the Arkansas football team and subsequently entered his name into the transfer portal. The news came after Mbake tore his ACL during the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage of fall camp, causing him to miss the entire 2023 season.
The injury was a major setback for the sophomore receiver, who had just come off a very impressive spring. Mbake was one wideout Sam Pittman mentioned by name on numerous occasions during the offseason, and it seemed he was on the verge of cracking the rotation entering fall.
“Mbake is a wonderful person and he plays 90 miles per hour all the time and it’s important to him,” Pittman said entering fall camp. “He has improved in every aspect of his game – speed, strength, awareness of what he’s doing. Mbake will be on the field as much as anybody this year. I really like the kid.”
Of course, that injury derailed any hopes of a breakout and shortly after season’s end, Mbake’s time as a Razorback appears to be over.
Now, Mbake has spoken out about his dismissal and the injury that kept him sidelined this past fall. In a recent appearance on the “Wu Pig Podcast,” the former Arkansas receiver told his side of things and expressed a desire to return to Fayetteville and be a Razorback once more.
Mbake Gives Reasoning Behind Dismissal
Mbake and the hosts wasted no time getting into what caused the dismissal.
“I would say that I take full accountability for all my actions, as I should,” Mbake said. “But sometimes in the mornings I might be a little late to weight training because I’d be on crutches and things like that.
“Really, the whole thing that sealed the deal that really got me kicked off was the morning of the Auburn (game) … I got pulled over and that’s when they told me, ‘Okay, just don’t come to the game today and we’ll talk to you on Monday.’”
The Kennesaw, Ga., native goes on to say that he was pulled over for speeding and states that while he wasn’t quite going 100 mph, he was going about 30 mph over the speed limit. That led to him getting a ticket and was the final straw that led to him getting kicked off of the Arkansas football team.
But for someone without documented off-the-field issues before, it seems a little unlikely that Mbake would be kicked off the team for a speeding ticket. We’ve seen other Arkansas players remain on the team through much bigger off-field issues before.
Most recently, senior defensive end Jashaud Stewart was arrested on charges of first-degree criminal mischief and residential burglary. However, instead of getting dismissed from the Razorback football program, Sam Pittman chose to suspend Stewart indefinitely.
While a dismissal is very much still on the table for Stewart’s future at Arkansas, it does cause one to ponder why Mbake didn’t receive similar leniency. Given Pittman’s glowing endorsement of Mbake shortly before his injury, what could’ve caused things to change that quickly?
Rumors of Locker Room Issues with Arkansas Football
A popular rumor that began circulating after Mbake’s dismissal was centered around his relationship with freshman defensive back Jaylon Braxton.
Both Mbake and Braxton wore No. 11 and faced off against one another quite a bit during spring and fall practice. During the first scrimmage of fall camp, Braxton matched up with Mbake on the play that ultimately resulted in Mbake’s season-ending ACL injury.
Because of the circumstances surrounding the injury, there was talk of Mbake being upset with Braxton and that caused the team issues behind the scenes. Mbake was asked directly about those rumors and, to a certain extent, addressed them.
“The guy who hurt me, Jaylon Braxton, the All-American freshman this year, I mean I’ve really been keeping up with him since I got injured,” Mbake said. “I think that really brought us together. Me just being able to voice to him like, ‘Hey, although I’m hurt, you’re wearing that 11. You got to put on. You know what I was going to do, so you got to finish the job.’”
The Wu Pig Podcast’s Oliver McGhee asked Mbake to clarify if he supported Braxton following the injury, to which Mbake replied, “Oh, yeah. Yes, sir. Most definitely. 110%.”
This may not exactly address the rumors head on and denying that there were ill-feelings in the immediate aftermath of the injury, but there was at least an acknowledgement that Mbake and Braxton are on good terms now if that was the case.
Later in the interview, Mbake talks about his passion for the game of football and how that can sometimes be taken the wrong way by others around him.
“I’m a passionate, driven person, but sometimes I can also turn that into (an) emotionally-driven person,” Mbake said. “Being very uptempo, very upbeat about everything that I do. I take everything very seriously.
“Even when we’re in walkthroughs, you can ask really anybody who is part of the program, I don’t do walkthroughs. I run during everything. Everything I do is 100%.”
Given these comments, it’s easy to imagine what might have happened in this situation. Anyone who is as passionate and serious as Mbake describes would, no doubt, go through a wide range of emotions following a major injury and subsequent setback.
As a young sophomore, it could be that Mbake just didn’t handle the injury well in the early phases, leading to some tension with his teammates. It could also be that how he handled the situation was perceived much differently than intended by those around him.
Uncertain Futures of Sam Mbake, Arkansas WR Room
Ultimately, there’s three sides to every story. In this case, it’s Pittman’s side, Sam Mbake’s side, and what really happened. We’ll likely never know which version of events is the most accurate. For what it’s worth, Mbake is pretty sure his side of the events would warrant a book one day.
What we do know, though, is that Mbake is in a weird, gray area that not many players find themselves in today. He entered the transfer portal, but it was not of his own accord as he was forced to. So, it comes as no surprise that he is very much open to the possibility of returning to the team.
“I love Arkansas. I love everybody who’s been here all the way from the people from the academic people over there, with Mr. Evans and those people, all the way even to Coach Pitt and stuff like that,” Mbake said. “Sometimes you have to hold people in your program accountable for what they’ve done. I fully respect that, and I understand why he did that.
“If there ever was time or the chance came around for me to come back, I’d definitely love to come back. It’s a great atmosphere here.”
While it’s not unheard of for players to enter the portal and come back to Arkansas, a la Malik Hornsby, it’s a rare occurrence. However, things have changed that could work to Mbake’s benefit in this regard.
Arkansas wide receivers coach Kenny Guiton is reportedly headed to Wisconsin to take the same position under Luke Fickell. That means the Razorbacks will have a new face in charge of the wide receivers room. The loss of Guiton could potentially be a major blow to the Razorbacks as the transfer portal remains open for players to enter until Jan. 4.
Depending on who Arkansas hires as Guiton’s replacement and if any of the current wideouts decide to leave the program, Mbake could potentially be welcomed back into the fold. It’s Sam Pittman’s decision to make, though. Considering how quickly things soured between Mbake and the head coach, a redemption story with the Razorbacks seems unlikely.
Make sure to watch the full interview with Sam Mbake here:
Below is a particularly juicy nugget from a new Hogs receiver on the state of the Arkansas football program under Bobby Petrino;
“The difference with [Petrino] and Dan Enos is when Enos got hired, he had to do a lot of convincing,” CJ Brown told Tye Richardson on The Morning Rush at ESPN Arkansas on Wednesday. “He was telling everybody how good he was. When Bobby Petrino was hired everybody knew how good he was. There’s nothing but positive things talked about with Bobby Petrino.”
Listen to the whole thing here:
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