The once-promising career of Dax Courtney is over before he ever played a snap in an Arkansas football uniform — in practice or in a game.
An in-state tight end out of Clarendon, Courtney announced he was medically retiring from football because of “countless” injuries via a message shared Monday on Twitter.
“The sport I’ve put my heart into for 19 years is now over for me as a player,” Courtney wrote. “Football has been my life for as long as I can remember and will always be my number one story piece, but due to countless (injuries) I have sustained, I have to start thinking about life after football.”
Courtney missed almost all of his senior year at Clarendon High School because of a torn ACL suffered in the first quarter of the season-opener. Although he remained confident that he’d have a speedy recovery, the injury also prevented him from participating in Arkansas’ spring drills despite being an early enrollee.
Playing the previous two seasons at DeWitt, where his father was the head coach, Courtney also missed some time with a dislocated knee as a junior.
It is a disappointing end to a career for a player who once had offers from Baylor, Michigan State, Missouri, Penn State, TCU and others. Even with all of the national attention early in his recruitment, Courtney shut things down early by announcing he’d stay home to play for the Razorbacks.
In fact, the announcement of his retirement comes almost exactly two years after his commitment, which was Aug. 8 before his junior year. The news also comes just three days before players were set to report to campus for the start of fall camp.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Not to make light of what is terrible news for Courtney, who included a heart-felt thank you note in his Twitter announcement, but losing a player at tight end is not quite as devastating to Arkansas football as it would have been just two years ago.
During Sam Pittman’s first two fall camps as head coach, the Razorbacks did everything but hold open tryouts for tight ends.
In 2020, offensive lineman Marcus Henderson and defensive end Eric Thomas Jr. spent time at the position, while Blayne Toll flip-flopped between tight end and the defensive line multiple times before ultimately transferring.
The following season, linebacker Levi Draper got some work at tight end before having to medically retire like Courtney. That led to running back Dominique Johnson moving over, but he quickly showed he belonged at his original position. Eventually, quarterback Landon Rogers moved to tight end full-time.
During that time, there were also a pair of more traditional conversions, with Koilan Jackson and Trey Knox going from wide receiver to tight end. The former ended up retiring for medical reasons, as well, while the latter has stuck.
In fact, Knox appears to be on the brink of a breakout season. Now 30 pounds heavier than last year, the former four-star recruit looks the part and Pittman has talked openly about him being an NFL-caliber prospect.
It’s also worth noting that Knox is just one of six scholarship tight ends remaining on the roster with the loss of Courtney. Former blue-chip recruit Hudson Henry and former FCS walk-on transfer Nathan Bax, who’s now on scholarship, have playing experience and seem to be the frontrunners to be Knox’s backup.
In addition to them, the Razorbacks added high three-star tight end Tyrus Washington in the same class as Courtney and the coaches are really high on his potential. Collin Sutherland and Erin Outley are the other two, but neither has appeared in a college game yet.
Outlook at Tight End for Razorbacks
Technically, all six of the scholarship tight ends currently on the Arkansas football roster could return in 2023. That would require both Knox and Bax using their “super senior” seasons granted by the NCAA in response to the pandemic, while Henry would be a traditional fifth-year senior next year.
Of course, there’s the chance that Knox has a big year and decides to give the NFL a shot. One of the other guys could also choose to enter the portal or move on with life, as they’d likely have their degrees at this point. Sutherland or Outley could make similar decisions if they can’t get on the field again this year.
It’s impossible to speculate who might do what before even the start of fall camp, but it’s almost certain that there will be turnover at the position because of what Arkansas has coming in.
Tight ends coach Dowell Loggains has more than proven his worth on the recruiting trail since leaving the NFL ranks to return to his alma mater.
On top of helping land Washington, who was ranked as the No. 32 tight end in the 2022 class by the 247Sports Composite, shortly upon his arrival, the former Arkansas walk-on quarterback and holder has secured commitments from a trio of four-star prospects all ranked within the top 20 at the position.
The class started with a bang, as the Razorbacks landed the first two on back-to-back days last August. Ashdown’s Shamar Easter is the top-ranked player in Arkansas regardless of position and the eighth-best tight end nationally, while Jaden Hamm comes to Fayetteville from Eudora, Kan., as the 19th-best tight end. They were Arkansas’ first two commitments at any position for 2023.
Arkansas also shot for Luke Hasz, one of the top players in Oklahoma, and initially missed. However, after Lincoln Riley bolted for USC, Hasz reopened his recruitment and the Razorbacks swooped in to nap the No. 6 tight end in the country.
We will never know what may have come from Dax Courtney’s career at Arkansas and that is certainly unfortunate, especially for an in-state kid who grew up cheering for the Razorbacks, but the blow from news of his retirement is lessened by a resurgence in recruiting under Loggains.
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