Even though they have only been conference only since the 1990s, Arkansas and LSU have played each other 65 total times since the early 1900s.
While the Tigers have won the majority of the showdowns, only rarely has an Arkansas-born star led them to victory against the Hogs. Probably the most famous example comes from the late 1930s with Little Rock Central High standout Ken Kavanaugh.
In the late 2000s, though, the Bayou bengals nearly snagged another native Arkansan son who was destined to do big things on the college field.
At the end of a storied career at Greenwood High, under the tutelage of legendary coach Rick Jones, Tyler Wilson was a dual-sport phenom in baseball and football ready to make a splash at the next level.
Gus Malzahn, then the offensive coordinator of the Razorbacks, knew Rick Jones well and was one of the first coaches to visit him.
“I was going, ‘Man, this is how it should be — in-state kid has a successful football season [and] gets recruited by the in-state team,’ Wilson recalled in an episode of the “Hog Pod.” “I knew a lot about Gus, who was obviously portrayed as a quarterback guy. Him And Rick [Jones] had a great relationship.” Two days after Malzahn promised to offer Wilson a scholarship, he was fired in the staff turnover at the end of the Houston Nutt era.
“He goes to Tulsa like the next day and offers me the first day he’s on the job,” Wilson continued his interview with Bo Mattingly. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I know they’re flying planes over the stadium and everything at Arkansas. So there was a lot of friction going on up here.”
Wilson’s not kidding.
“I just trusted Gus because Rick trusted Gus. And I knew what he did at Springdale and with developing quarterbacks.” Wilson said he liked the idea of playing in a system that heavily featured a passing quarerback, and he felt like he could get more playing time early in his career at Tulsa because he wouldn’t need to be as physcially developed to succeed.
“I always felt loyal to Gus because of that first offer, [but] Arkansas never offered me following that after he left.” Plus, Wilson said he was on the fence about playing football instead of baseball. He strongly considered just committing to play football at Tulsa, but then focusing on baseball instead.
Regardless, soon after Malzahn’s offer, bigger schools started getting in the fray.
Offers from the likes of Alabama, LSU, Nebraska and Arizona started rolling in.
He got along especially well with LSU’s then-offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, who was coming off a national championship.
“I went down to camp at LSU and felt really comfortable there, and I tried to commit to LSU. They offered me, and it was a great camp. I said, ‘Well, let me ride home with my parents and discuss it.'”
They actually hired my cousin at the time, who was going to be the assistant offensive line coach. So I’m like, this is fate to be an LSU Tiger. And I called to commit, and they said, ‘Well, Tyler, we can’t accept your commitment. We’ve got [recruits] EJ Manuel and Terrelle Pryor that we told we wouldn’t accept until they made a decision.'”
So I felt like, ‘Okay, you offered me, but I’m third or fourth down on your list here,.’ Those guys are great players. They ended up being NFL players.” Ironically, even though both of them essentially saved Wilson from LSU, neither of them actually ended up playing for the Tigers.
“I end up saying to heck with all the big schools, because I felt like that was the game that they were playing, and I didn’t know who to trust at that point,” Wilson said.
Then Arkansas hired Bobby Petrino, and everything changed. In fact, Petrino got Wilson up to Fayetteville on the second day he was on the job. “Tim Horton’s pointing us around the building. Petrino has now clue what room is what, or what key goes with what,” Wilson recalled.
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