FAYETTEVILLE — The first pair of cleats cornerback Carroll Washington got this winter were too small. That was typically a problem where he came from.
Washington, who recently had transferred to Arkansas, had to buy his own cleats to play football at Hartnell (Calif.) Community College. He didn’t exactly realize the shoe dilemma would be quickly resolved now that he was with the Razorbacks.
“I was talking to a teammate and was like, ‘Man, these cleats are too big,’” Washington said Tuesday. “He was like, ‘Man, take them back and they’ll get you a new pair.’ So I was like, ‘All right.’ I got a new pair of cleats right then and there.”
It’s one of the many lessons Washington has learned since transferring to Arkansas from the junior college level. He’s not alone this spring. Washington, safety T.Q. Coleman and linebacker Myke Tavarres are all getting a head start on next season after enrolling earlier this winter and going through spring practice.
Washington and Coleman are holding down spots with the second-team defense, while Tavarres is working to add depth at linebacker. After 11 practices, the three said being on campus now is vital as they prepare for 2013.
“I feel like I’m getting a big head start,” Coleman said. “We’ve got a whole new coaching staff and everything we’re doing is installing new information and new plays. I feel like coming in the summer, I feel like that would be overwhelming. Getting here in January, getting that head start … I think that’s a big deal.”
Coleman, a 5-foot-10, 198-pound strong safety from Georgia Military College, has proven to be a physical player after a handful of big hits in scrimmages.
He originally made a verbal commitment to coach Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, but rerouted to the Razorbacks after the coaching change last December.
Coleman said he his scholarship offer from Wisconsin would’ve been honored by the new staff, but felt more comfortable with Bielema, defensive coordinator Chris Ash, defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and strength coach Ben Herbert at Arkansas.
“I flew up here on a visit and I loved it,” Coleman said. “They told me the plan, what they had in store. These players, they’re the same players from the Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl season. It wasn’t really the players. It was a coaching thing.
“So I feel like these coaches getting here, the sky is the limit for this team.”
Coleman, Washington and Tavarres each plan to a play a role as well. Depth was a concern in both the secondary and at linebacker after the 2012 season, leaving the Arkansas staff seeking some immediate help from the junior college ranks.
Tavarres came to Arkansas after a two-year stint at the College of the Siskiyous in California. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound Tavarres – an Oregon native – has shown plenty of athleticism to play the position. But he still is learning the details.
That’s one reason Tavarres wasn’t on the field for much of Arkansas’ 101-play scrimmage last Saturday. The coaches wanted him to get a different view of things.
“I made a lot of progress, but I was still making a few mistakes on a few plays,” Tavarres said. “So they’re like, ‘We’re going to scale you back and let you watch and take it all in. That way when you play, you just go out there and react.’
“I’m too busy thinking. So this will give me enough time to go out there and react.”
One play Tavarres did see Saturday: One of his fellow junior college transfers made a big play during the scrimmage. Washington intercepted a pass from quarterback Brandon Mitchell, collecting one of the defense’s four turnovers.
It didn’t come on a Saturday in the fall. But Washington said it felt good making his first big play in a game-like setting for the Razorbacks.
“First time making a play in the stadium and you want to make more and more,” Washington said. “That’s a good sign. Even though it wasn’t a real game it felt good.”
Washington said the first few practices were difficult. He and the rest of the Razorbacks struggled to digest and execute the new defense. But things have slowed down now as Arkansas moves into its final week of spring practices.
Ash said the junior college players, along with the rest of the team, have shown progress as they adjust to the new system.
“Obviously, when you get to this level from a junior college things are different,” Ash said. “The way you practice. The expectations. The competition. Things are different. And they’re learning that part of it. I’ve been happy with the progress with the guys.”
Washington said the three leaned on each other while making the transition to SEC football as well. They’ve all learned plenty since arriving at Arkansas this winter.
“You’ve got guys that can relate to you,” Washington said. “Coming from different areas and also coming from JUCO. It’s good to have those type of guys because any time you’re going through a problem, you can just go to those guys and talk it out.”
“I’m just so thankful to be here. It’s just a blessing.”