Living Large: The 2013 Sporting Life Arkansans of the Year


By Jim Harris 

From football coaches to golfers to hunters, Arkansans had a big year in 2013 on the national stage. Sporting Life Arkansas recaps the highlights of 10 of those sportsmen and sportswomen as we put a close on the past year and welcome in 2014.

Our Top Ten Sporting Life Arkansans of the Year:

  • Gus Malzahn, college football coach.
  • Alex Collins, college football player.
  • Torii Hunter, MLB player.
  • Ken Duke, PGA golfer.
  • Stacy Lewis, LPGA golfer.
  • Terry Mohajir, college football administrator.
  • Kevin Rodgers, college football player.
  • Joe Johnson, NBA player
  • George Dunklin, hunter and administrator.
  • Warren Stephens, golf course owner and Little Rock businessman.

Barely eight years ago, Gus Malzahn and his Springdale High Bulldogs were hoisting a state championship trophy at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. In just four days, he could have his hands on a college football national championship trophy for the second time in four years and for the first time as a head football coach.

Malzahn was the clear-cut national coach of the year in his first season as a college football head coach in the SEC, turning Auburn around from a 3-9 season last year under Gene Chizik to a 12-1 team playing Florida State on Jan. 6 for the last BCS national championship. He did it with what Arkansans have come to know as the Malzahn Magic, as the Tigers pulled a win out over Georgia in the final moments with a pass deflection that resulted in a 77-yard touchdown play, then two weeks later Auburn stunned No. 1 Alabama with a touchdown in the final seconds to tie the game at 28, followed by a 109-yard run back of a missed Crimson Tide field goal on the final play. Along the way, Malzahn’s team made marked improvement from week to week, starting with a squad that barely put away Washington State in its season opener.

Malzahn, who played high school football in Fort Smith and graduated from Henderson State after a brief walk-on career for Ken Hatfield at Arkansas, is even being mentioned these days as a candidate for the NFL Cleveland Browns’ opening, thanks to former Oregon coach Chip Kelley’s first-year success in Philadelphia. Imagine if Malzahn were to move to the NFL for 2014; would the rest of the league and his assistants derisively refer to him as “college” until he whipped their tails?

Alex Collins Arkansas 24-Southern Miss 3Alex Collins became the highest-profile out-of-state Arkansas Razorback football recruit in modern times when he signed his national letter of intent last February. But even his ballyhooed signing wasn’t without drama, as his mother at first would have none of her son flying off to Arkansas instead of staying at home in nearby Miami. But everyone eventually made nice and Collins went on to star in his first year as a Razorback. He was the first Hog freshman since Darren McFadden in 2005 to rush for more than 1,000 yards, finishing the year with 1,036 yards rushing.

Alas, all of Collins’ heroics couldn’t help Arkansas in the win column in Southeastern Conference play, as the Hogs went 0-8 for the first time in their 22 years in the league. A lot had to do with Collins and three other true freshman thrust into starting roles, as well as numerous redshirt freshman and sophomores filling key spots as well. It does bode for better days ahead, however, for Collins and the Razorbacks under Coach Bret Bielema.

Pine Bluff native Torii Hunter was nearly written off by most major league teams as he hit his late 30s, but he showed he still has plenty left in helping the Detroit Tigers to the American League Championship Series, where the Tigers fell to eventual world champion Boston. Hunter’s most amazing play may have been one he DIDN’T make, as he went head over heels into the Red Sox bullpen trying to flag down a home run during the ALCS. Hunter batted .304 last season (25 points above his career average) with 17 home runs and 84 RBI, and Hunter earned his second Silver Slugger award as the top hitter at his position.

Hunter will turn 39 this summer, when he’ll be in the second year of a two-year, $26 million deal. He has contributed millions to his hometown and has helped with UAPB’s baseball program. What’s not as well known is how much Hunter gives back to youth baseball, sponsoring teams in Pine Bluff and Little Rock with equipment every year.

ken dukeGood things come to those who wait, and few have waited to win on the PGA Tour longer than Ken Duke. The Hope native and Henderson State product finally broke through at age 44 with a win in sudden-death in the Travelers, earning a trip to April’s Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. Duke went on to earn Player of the Month honors for June. Duke had two top 10 finishes, five Top 25 finishes, and ended the year 32nd in FedEx points and $1.722 million in his pocket, enough for a couple of more bass boats.

The most recognizable Arkansan on the golf course has become former Razorback All-American Stacy Lewis, who finished the year ranked No. 3 in the world among Ladies Professionals and followed up her Rolex Player of the Year honor in 2012 with her second major in 2013. Lewis rallied in the elements at St. Andrews’ Old Course to win the Women’s British Open.

Lewis took the No. 1 ranking in women’s golf early in 2013, only to see Inbee Park have a phenomenal spring and take the top spot. Nevertheless, Lewis had another outstanding year with the win in Scotland along with March wins in the HSBC Women’s Championship and the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. Her per-round scoring average of 69.48 led the LPGA in 2013, and she grew her pocketbook by nearly $2 million.

It’s never easy for an athletic director dealing with finding the right coach for his school, but former Arkansas State player and now AD Terry Mohajir has negotiated the rough waters nicely in hiring two coaches in a year’s time, and helping the A-State bottom line in the process.

When Bryan Harsin landed his dream job, returning to his alma mater at Boise State in December, his departure cost Boise $1.75 million that A-State could put toward its next coach and staff, and Mohajir then landed highly regarded North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson to guide the Red Wolves in 2014 and beyond. After seeing their fifth head coach in five years, the Red Wolves may have Anderson for a while, thanks to Mohajir getting Anderson to agree to a massive buyout that doesn’t drop below $3 million until his third season.

You’ll get some debate from many who watched college football all around the state this year that Arkansas’ best college quarterback was playing on the Division IIProfile: Henderson State Quarterback - Kevin Rodgers level. Henderson State’s Kevin Rodgers, a junior, put up massive numbers again and led the Reddies to a Great American Conference championship and a D-II playoff berth.

Rodgers finished third in the voting for the Harlon Hill Award, sort of the Heisman Trophy for Division II football.

Rodgers completed an amazing 70 percent of his passes (303 of 436, with 11 interceptions) for 37 touchdowns. He averaged 404 yards per game, and finished with a passing efficiency mark of 178.17.


Joe Johnson, the former Little Rock Central and Arkansas Razorback star, was scalding hot in mid-December for his Brooklyn Nets, hitting eight three pointers in one quarter to set an NBA record.

In a Dec. 16 game against Philadelphia, the six-time NBA All-Star had a career-high 10 3-pointers for the contest a 130-94 Nets win. But in the third quarter alone, Johnson went wild with 29 points on 10 of 13 shooting, including 8 of 10 on 3-pointers.


Arkansas had its first native son in more than a half-century elevated to the presidency of the National Ducks Unlimited office with Pine Bluff native George Dunklin assumed the leadership role in May. Dunklin will serve two one-year terms as head of the nonprofit conservation organization, which has put millions into habitat for ducks in the prairie region wetlands in North America and helped reestablish the great numbers of mallards and other waterfowl.

Dunklin, a farmer in Arkansas County, has devoted his life to conservation of habitat in Arkansas, has been a life-long member of DU, and in recent years he began serving on the national board at DU. He’s also a former Arkansas Game and Fish commissioner.

As a golfer, Warren Stephens plays now to what he says is around a 10 handicap, though he did record the first ace on his own course, The Alotian Club in western Pulaski County, before the course opened to the rest of the membership a few years back. This summer, Stephens and the membership of Alotian Club put on the Western Amateur, a weeklong event that drew many of the biggest names in international amateur golf, including the eventual winner, Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge. The result was a tournament that had Western Golf Association officials and the golfers raving about the course and the way the tournament was run “like a PGA Tour event,” one WGA official said. The club was also turn over more than $150,000 in proceeds to the Western Golf Association for its Chick Evans Scholarship foundation, the most money the Western Am has ever made at one tournament.

The event drew many local fans to see the ultra-exclusive Alotian course for the first time. The only downer was a summer storm that halted play in the championship match, forcing an early Monday morning finish in front of a limited number of fans. But the event so won over the WGA, the organization was looking for the next available date to ask Stephens to host the tournament again. That likely won’t come until 2019 at the earliest, but it showed the rest of the amateur golf world that Little Rock, and Warren Stephens, knows how to put on a golf tournament.


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