Traditionally, one of the strongest positions for the Arkansas Razorbacks has been at fullback. That changed with the advent of Bobby Petrino’s spread passing offense, which de-emphasized the fullback’s role, but we see its reemergence in the Bret Bielema era.
Today’s torchbearer is senior Kiero Small, a 5’10”, 238-pound bowling ball of a bruiser whose health this season will play a crucial role in whether Arkansas can effectively move the ball against the likes of Alabama and LSU.
Who, though, is the best fullback in program history?
I deal with one such candidate in a recent Sporting Life Arkansas article about Mark Pierce. Pierce had all the tangibles you’d want in a fullback and at 6 feet tall and 248 pounds (with a 4.5 40 yard dash), he certainly knew how to use them. Heading into his junior season, he was considered the nation’s best fullback by the Sporting News. Unfortunately, Pierce didn’t develop the intangibles, though, and the results were absolutely tragic.
Here are other top candidates:
1. Leon “Muscles” Campbell (6’0″, 199 pounds)
Campbell was a four-year letterman at Arkansas, rushing for 1,335 yards on 295 carries from 1946-49. The fullback-linebacker held the one-game rushing record of 236 yards until 1973.
He may have the coolest nickname origin story in Arkansas history. It’s found in his obituary: Campbell’s teammate Clyde Scott said when Campbell arrived at Arkansas, he walked into Scott’s room with a railroad spike and a towel. He wrapped the towel around the spike and pulled, bending the iron rod. (Man did kids sure figure out ways to entertain themselves before Playstation 3!)
Soon thereafter, Campbell became known as “Muscles.”
Campbell played for Baltimore, Chicago and Pittsburgh in a six-year NFL career. He scored his only professional touchdown on a 1952 kickoff return. His best year as a pro was in 1953, when he had 659 yards rushing, receiving and on kick returns. He worked for Reynolds Metals Co. in Bauxite for 30 years.
Campbell died at age 75 of malignant mesothelioma on September 2, 2002.
2. Henry Moore
Moore was consensus all-SWC in 1954 and 1955 and led the Hogs in rushing during their 1954 SWC championship season. He was selected as the 19th overall pick in the 1956 NFL Draft and played two seasons as a pro. He won an NFL title his rookie season with the New York Giants.
3. Preston Carpenter (6-2, 190 pounds)
A highly versatile player, who wore “blocking back” as only one of his varied hats. Also a devastating linebacker for Hogs in 1953 and 1954 who was all-SWC as halfback in 1955. Led Cleveland Browns in rushing in 1956 and receiving in 1958, and was a Pro Bowl selection as tight end for Pittsburgh in 1962.
Funny story, as told to me by amateur Razorbacks historian Jim Rasco: Carpenter and his brother, Lew, both played for the Browns in the mid 1950s. Cleveland acquired some rookie running back named Jim Brown before the 1957 season, and at the start of that season, Brown sat down with the Carpenter brothers and made sure to let them know that he deserved the ball and that he expected them to block well for him.
They obliged; the rest is history.
4. Bruce Maxwell
Maxwell played for the Razorbacks from 1966-69 and was named to the UA’s All-Decade team during its most successful decade – the 1960s. Maxwell finished with 1,558 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns. He ran for 1,260 yards and six touchdowns and caught 31 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns.
The following comes from the Pine Bluff Commercial in Maxwell’s hometown of Pine Bluff:
“Maxwell’s biggest moment came in his last game as a Razorback. In the 1970 Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss, he racked up 245 all-purpose yards in a 27-22 loss. At the time, that ranked as the second-most in Razorback history. It still ranks eighth on the all-time list.
Maxwell was a 10th-round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in the 1970 NFL Draft. He appeared in 11 games for the Lions as a rookie, which was his only year in the NFL. He had one rushing attempt for nine yards and returned one kick for 20 yards.”
4. Jessie Clark (6-0, 233 pounds)
Clark only played two seasons after transferring from Louisiana Tech, but he sure made his presence known that first year when he set a scoring record with five touchdowns in a thrilling 41-39 win against Baylor in Little Rock. Clark went on to play eight seasons in the NFL. His best year was 1985 with Green Bay, when he ran for 633 yards and five touchdowns.
5. Barry Foster (5-10, 218 pounds)
“Barry Foster lettered for the Razorbacks from 1987-89 and was selected to the UA All-Century Team in 1994. He rushed 375 times for 1,977 yards and 19 touchdowns during his time in Fayetteville and ranked sixth on the school’s all-time career rushing yardage list at the end of his career. He also returned 23 kickoffs in 1988, a single-season school record that stood until 2002, and ended his career with 1,008 kickoff return yards, which still ranks sixth all-time at UA.” – from the UA sports information department
“During his time at Arkansas, Foster helped lead the Razorbacks to back-to-back Southwest Conference championships in 1988 and 1989. Arkansas posted a combined record of 26-8 and earned trips to the 1987 Liberty Bowl and the 1989 and 1990 Cotton Bowls. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and went on to gain 3,943 yards, including a team-record 1,690 in 1992, on 915 carries with 26 touchdowns and was named to two Pro Bowls during his four-year career.”
Foster had the best NFL career of any Razorback fullback before retiring due to persistent injuries at the age of 26. Preserving his health for his family, no doubt, played a role in not trying any more comebacks.
Fun fact: his son, Barry Foster, Jr., resides in “Dreamville” and is the self-proclaimed leader of the “Black Black Club.”
6. Peyton Hillis (6-1, 240 pounds)
The standard for Razorback fullbacks among folks in my generation (under age 35). Along with D-Mac and Felix Jones, he was part of not only the best backfield in school history – but arguably the best backfield in the history of college football.
Here’s what I write about him on my piece on the best running backs in Arkansas history:
“In college, Hillis took a backseat to McFadden and Felix Jones in terms of rush attempts. Although his contributions didn’t headline the box scores, they were no less important. His 52 knockdown blocks in 2007, for instance, paved the way for a school record 3,725 rushing yards. Hillis’ versatility was showcased with 151 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns in a 2007 upset of eventual national champion LSU.”
He and Pierce are likely the best athletes – in terms of combination of speed, power and balance – of the bunch.
Who’s your pick for best FB in Arkansas history?