Fernando Carmona Jr. was the second transfer offensive lineman added to the Arkansas football roster this offseason.
Aside from an already impressive list of accomplishments – such as a third-team All-Mountain West selection from Phil Steele this past season – the redshirt sophomore is bringing a large personality and humorous storytelling ability with him as well.
That certainly shone through in a recent episode of “Gridiron Junkeez,” a podcast hosted by Carmona’s older brother, George.
The pair covered a wide range of topics, including Carmona’s time in the Mountain West Conference, the whole transfer portal process, visiting other schools, adjusting to Fayetteville and a hilarious story about Sam Pittman.
Fernando Carmona Jr. on Entering the Transfer Portal
In 2023, Fernando Carmona Jr. had an incredible year at San Jose State and received an overall grade of 81.5 from Pro Football Focus. That number was made even more impressive considering the Spartans began the season 1-5 and at that point were considered a favorite to finish at the bottom of the MWC, according to betway.
Because he was performing well and the rest of his team was struggling, Carmona says that was around the time he began thinking about entering the portal. After a difficult conversation with his offensive line coach, Carmona made his plunge shortly before the Spartans were to play in the Hawai’i Bowl.
“This is my decision and I have to do what’s best for myself,” Carmona said, recalling his thought process. “As sick as Hawai’i sounds, this is not what I need right now. I need to go. I needed to enter my name into the portal, give myself some time and make the right decision.”
Carmona explained that his desire to play against better competition and his “next level” aspirations were the deciding factor to make the move.
“In my situation, I want to get more exposure, I want to be playing against better competition,” Carmona said. “When I get to that next level, I don’t want them to be like, ‘Well you played in the Mountain West, so we don’t know how he’s going to be playing at this type of level.”
The 6-foot-5, 325-pound lineman had no shortage of suitors who could provide him with the step up in competition that he sought. They coveted his rare combination of size, speed and physicality that sometimes jumped off the screen.
Carmona and his brother began watching some film from this past season, and the Las Vegas native talked about his mindset and how he loves getting out and blocking in space.
“I love pulling, I love getting out and I think it’s honestly one of my strong suits,” Carmona said with a grin. “I’m kind of fast, I’d like to say. As a big guy and for my size, I’m pretty fast.”
As the two watched a clip of Carmona blocking a San Diego State cornerback 10 yards downfield on a screen, the Razorback lineman quipped that it’s satisfying getting to the second level and giving both defensive backs and linebackers a “pop in the mouth.”
All joking aside, though, Carmona is able to get serious about where he struggled and where he sees the need to improve. After all, he’s only been playing on the offensive line for three years after playing tight end in high school.
“The biggest thing for me this year was just kind of my hands – being able to get my hands on people and timing my punch,” Carmona said. “There’s a lot of things that you just need years under your belt, like I’ve only been playing for three years. So, I started getting into a groove of figuring out, ‘Okay this is my area or this is my range.’”
Arkansas Football Stood Out Among UCLA, Auburn and Others
With his talent and raw potential, Fernando Carmona Jr. was a prime candidate for a lot of Power Four teams looking to beef up their offensive line this offseason. The day he officially entered the portal, Carmona shared that he received 25 phone calls from interested coaches.
“Nobody really prepared me for it,” Carmona said. “They were just like, ‘Just be ready for some phone calls.’ So, I was like all right, maybe I’ll get like five calls. (Coaches) would text me on Twitter (X), ‘Hey, what’s your number?’ I’d type in my number and not even like two seconds later I’d be getting a call.”
With all of those calls, one might think that there would be some variety or nuance to a coach’s initial pitch – first impressions and all. However, Carmona said they were all practically the same and that it began to feel very monotonous. He and his brother, George, likened it to all of the coaches reading off the exact same sales pitch script.
In those first few first days that were such a blur, Arkansas’ Eric Mateos stood out from the others.
“I guess Arkansas kind of stood out the most because the coach that called me, Eric Mateos, it wasn’t about (football) right away, so I was like, ‘All right well this is kind of refreshing,” Carmona said. “He told me he was a Cuban himself and talked about his family and how much he loved his family, and I was like this is somebody I can kind of get behind.”
One of the more interesting aspects of this conversation came when they began discussing Carmona’s visit to the UCLA football program.
According to Carmona, visits in general can be draining. He heard a lot of high school recruiting spiels.
A UCLA Football Visit That Was Less Personable
“The whole week they’re just fluffing your nuts,” Carmona said. “It’s pretty cool, but to a certain extent you’re just like, ‘Come on, man.’ There’s only certain things I’m really here for. I’m here for the offensive line coach and how you guys are going to develop me. Some of that stuff gets lost because they’re trying to sell you on the school.”
Again, though, his experience with the Razorbacks stood out as different. He liked that Mateos and Sam Pittman, the head Arkansas football coach, treated him “like I’m their No. 1 guy.”
Then,, Carmona added: “They did it at UCLA, but I didn’t really have a conversation with the head coach (Chip Kelly) until the last day. It was this set up meeting where we talked from like 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.”
The vibe was so much more hands-on with Pittman, who drove Carmona around Fayetteville on his first day of the visit. They talked about the program and life as the head Hog showed Carmona where he could live if he chose the Razorbacks.
“One of the coolest stories was we pulled up to this model home and (Pittman) is like, ‘I’m going to get into this house. I’m the ball coach at Arkansas, I can get into this house,’” Carmona said as he tried not to laugh. “It was locked, so he made a call and was like, ‘Can you open up this model home?’ Not even like a minute later we’re in the model home checking it out.”
Pittman kept the good times rolling once they were inside. “He’s like, ‘I can do whatever I want, I’m the ball coach of Arkansas.’ I’m like, ‘This guy’s freaking badass,’” Carmona added before sharing a laugh with his brother.
That hilarious anecdote wasn’t what sold Carmona, though it did help. On top of Pittman treating Fernando much differently than Chip Kelly and UCLA did, his experience as an offensive line coach helped solidify Carmona’s feeling that this was the right decision.
Carmona’s dad also felt that Arkansas could be a great place because, as George put it, he kept saying how he “wouldn’t be mad” if Fernando committed to the Hogs mid-visit. The young Carmona said that he tried to keep his parents level-headed throughout the visit, but on the second day of his visit it felt right to commit.
“[My parents] were as shocked as I was, but I was just trying to keep a level-head,” Carmona said. “They were just like, ‘Junior, you have to commit. You have to commit.’ I was like, ‘Let’s wait it out.’ Then, that second day I was like, ‘You know what, this does feel right. Let’s commit.’”
Fernando’s brother was a third-party observer for the entire process. Aside from the relationship with Pittman and Mateos, George noticed that the Arkansas fan base is unique when compared to the rest of the SEC, citing that the state has no professional teams or other major colleges. He said Fayetteville is a college town that every player dreams of playing in, which Fernando also agreed with.
The joy of Fernando’s commitment to Arkansas was short-lived, as he had to make a tough call to another finalist, Auburn, and let their coaches know that he was no longer visiting. He said it was one of the hardest conversations he had to have throughout his entire portal recruitment, but that his mind was already made up that he wanted to be a Hog.
Even after he committed to the Razorbacks, though, schools didn’t stop reaching out. Carmona said he received about 15 calls from other schools trying to sway him to leave Fayetteville. He found that persistence annoying, just as Razorback freshman CJ Brown had when other coaches tried to poach him away, but Carmona understands that college football is a business at the end of the day.
Luckily for Arkansas fans, Sam Pittman was the “head ball coach” for Carmona’s recruitment and not Chip Kelly or Hugh Freeze. Had it been the other way around, the Razorbacks would have missed out.
Chip Kelly and Sam Pittman Hot Seat Rankings
The head coaches of Arkansas and UCLA football have recently shared more than Carmona as a recruiting target.
Both are widely considered to be on the proverbial hot seat heading into the 2024 season, after 4-8 (Pittman) and 8-5 (Kelly) seasons respectively. In the coming months, you’ll see a lot of lines that track the likelihood of the first college coach to be fired this season. Expect both coaches to be near the top of such lists.
That much is clear from the fact both Sam Pittman and Chip Kelley were considered in the second-hottest hot-seat tier in a late November ranking from CBS.
From a PR perspective, hiring Bobby Petrino makes the seat less hot among Arkansas football fans in the off-season. But all those good vibes will wash down the drain if Arkansas, for instance, gets pummeled in Stillwater come Week 2.
For what it’s worth, Pittman and Kelly are also included in this recent Top 6 list of “Way-Too-Early 2024 College Football Head Coach Hot Seat Predictions” from Bleacher Report.
Watch the entirety of Fernando Carmona Jr. interview on “Gridiron Junkeez” below:
More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS…