Jim’s Notebook: Touchdown Club Closes Book on 2012; Reggie Swinton Welcomes Young Football Hopefuls

Drew Morgan, the Greenwood do-it-all player who is committed to join the Arkansas Razorbacks’ newest football signing class next week, will be among the state’s high school stars and coaches honored Friday at the Little Rock Touchdown Club’s ninth annual awards banquet.

The festivities return to the Embassy Suites ballroom in west Little Rock. Lunch begins at 11 a.m. and the program starts at 11:50 a.m. Tickets are $25 each and will be available at the door, but RSVP’s are required (visit the website at LRTouchdown.com; for more information, email info@lrtouchdown.com or call (501) 590-3529. For $50, fans can attend a private VIP reception at 10 a.m. before the luncheon.

Morgan, who won the Class 5A player of the year honor last year for Greenwood, moved up along with the Bulldogs to Class 6A where they won their third straight state championship. Morgan is one of the rare two-time winners of the Touchdown Club awards.

Senior Fayetteville quarterback Austin Allen watched his classmate Brooks Ellis, a linebacker, win the 7A award last year, but this time it’s Allen’s turn. Allen, like Morgan and Ellis, is headed to the Razorbacks.

LJ Wallace, Pulaski Academy’s record-setting receiver, is the club’s top player in 5A. Stuttgart’s Dontrell Brown, who quarterbacked the Ricebirds to a state title, is the POTY in Class 4A, while Harding Academy quarterback Will Francis in 3A and Junction City quarterback Shaquille Hunter in 2A are those classifications honorees.

High school coaches named the best in their classifications are: Daryl Patton, Fayetteville, 7A;Rick Jones, Greenwood, 6A; Dave King, Batesville, 5A; Jeremie Burns, Ozark, 4A; Roddy Mote, Harding Academy, 3A and David Carpenter, Junction City, 2A.

Arkansas college POTY award winners are: quarterback Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; quarterback Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State; quarterback Ben Anderson,FREE Razorback & Red Wolves Recruiting Guides UAPB; cornerback Don Unamba, Southern Arkansas; receiver Brett Reece, Ouachita Baptist; quarterback Kevin Martin, Harding; quarterback Wynrick Smothers, UCA: linebacker Maxie Graham and quarterback Kevin Rodgers, Henderson State; receiver Jamal Nixon, UAM; athlete Tanner Marsch, Arkansas Tech, and receiver Jimmy Jean, Arkansas Baptist.

The Touchdown Club will honor Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as both the Sec Offensive player of the year and the National Player of the year. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin was selected by the club as the SEC coach of the year. South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney is the club’s SEC Defensive player of the year.

The club’s Paul Eells Award, presented in honor of the late KATV, Channel 7 sportscaster and which goes to a Razorback who displayed the “biggest heart” on the team, is Hog senior running back Dennis Johnson.

AAU FOOTBALL’S START: Reggie Swinton, the Little Rock Central product who played for Dallas and Detroit in the NFL as a return specialist and receiver, is the new director of football for the Amateur Athletic Union in Arkansas. Swinton is planning summer tournaments with Arkansas teams for boys ages 7-12 playing AAU clubs from around the country, as well as a potential fall statewide league and a post-season tournament that would send the state winners on to Orlando, Fla., for the AAU national championships in December.

Swinton will hold the first tryout for AAU football on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the D-I athletic facility on Highway 10 in Little Rock, from noon to 5 p.m. Essentially, it’s not a tryout but rather an evaluation as EVERY SIGNUP will be guaranteed a team on which to play. Teams will be formed for ages 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12 years old boys, including Swinton’s own team, the Arkansas Lions.

One of the major benefits to AAU national membership, Swinton said, is that for $15 ($18 for the adult volunteer coaches) the players are covered by AAU’s comprehensive insurance plan.

For more information on the registration, call Monica Simpson at (501) 396-9513.

Also, make plans to play in a benefit golf scramble for AAU at Rebsamen Park Golf Course on Monday, March 18. Former Razorback and NFL star Steve Atwater highlights a lineup of state football celebrities and other friends of Swinton who have committed to participate. Houston Nutt, Donald Driver, Rocket Ishmail, Kenoy Kennedy, Flozell Adams, Bill Bates, Darren Woodson, Madre Hill and more are expected to play. A “mix-and-mingle” event on Sunday, March 17, kicks off the golf tournament.

To enter individually or as a team, or to find out more information on the Sunday and Monday events, call Shauntae Swinton at (501) 243-8572.

Leotis Harris Jr., Byron Jenkins, Clarence Finley Jr., Shauntea Swinton and former Razorback All-American Shawn Andrews are on the local football board, with Finley serving as president. Reggie’s wife, Patricia Swinton, leads the dance and cheer portion of the program, which presents another avenue for youths to get involved.

More information about the Arkansas Lions, AAU football and dance and cheer is available on the web at at www.arkansasaau.org.

MOVE ON, GUYS: Steve Greenberg, the Sporting News writer whose interview with the interim head coach and former coordinators of last year’s Razorback team has created such a message board and Twitter firestorm the past day, said on Trey Schaap’s and Matt Jones’ “Overtime” (KABZ-FM, 103.7) on Thursday that the quotes came indirectly from stories he was doing individually with the coaches about their new jobs.

Paul Petrino, last year’s offensive coordinator, is now the head coach at Idaho. Paul Haynes, the Hogs defensive coordinator in 2012, landed the head coaching job at his alma mater, Kent State. John L. Smith, who was given a 10-month contract to lead the Hogs after Bobby Petrino’s firing last April, was recently named the head coach at Fort Clark State in Colorado.

Greenberg said on the radio show that he interviewed Petrino and Haynes and realized he had another story with their quotes on the 2012 Hogs, and then called Smith. He tried to reach Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and quarterback Tyler Wilson, to no avail, Greenberg said.

Maybe Greenberg’s questioning about their new jobs allowed the former Hog coaches to let down their guard and being offer more information than they otherwise would have if the interviews were strictly about last season. For instance, they had plenty of opportunity to complain about their situation last year or about Smith’s 10-month contract, but the continuous party line was “all is well,” and the coaches all were willing to sign on to contracts with performance bonuses. Tyler Wilson’s calling out of some teammates for their effort against Alabama in a game he missed because of a concussion was the only time anyone within the Razorback organization indicated players may have quit.

Yet, thousands of miles away and two months removed from Arkansas, Petrino and Haynes were coaxed into blaming everything but themselves for last season’s disaster. And not once did Greenberg’s story point to the ultimate culprit for the wreck of a season: Bobby Petrino, whose firing led to the subsequent fill-in hire of Smith and ostensibly left no one in charge after April. Seriously, these guys believe things would have been significantly different had Smith been hired with a two-year contract? How would that have changed the performance of last year’s seniors and underclassmen expecting to leave early for the NFL?

It’s best that coaches keep their mouths closed when discussing their past employment and what might have gone wrong. Coaching is a tight fraternity, and no doubt other coaches will take note of how these trio of former Hog coaches tossed blame all around except where it should have been directed.

(Read player reaction to the story here.)

UH-OH: Florida led South Carolina 33-10 on the way to a 31-point wipeout of the Gamecocks on Wednesday night at Gainesville. South Carolina outscored Arkansas  40-11 in the last 15 minutes of the first half in the Gamecocks’ 21-point win over the Hogs in Columbia, S.C., last weekend. Arkansas and Florida meet on Tuesday night in the ESPN special telecast of SEC basketball. The game, fortunately for Arkansas, is at Bud Walton Arena. Based on those aforementioned scores and how college basketball goes these days, the Hogs will probably pull the upset.

Email: jim.harris@sportinglifearkansas.com

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