FAYETTEVILLE — The crowd surrounding Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson was estimated at 100 media members last Wednesday.
The unofficial count also was pegged as the largest for a single player during three days at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
The senior fielded questions about the aftermath of the Bobby Petrino scandal and new coach John L. Smith. He spoke about his decision to remain in school last January, admitting at one point he was 85 percent certain he was going to the NFL. There was even one query about the mass of interviews completed as he and the Razorbacks prepare for 2012.
“It comes along with the territory,” Wilson said, seeming to shrug it off as no big deal. “We’ve got to give you guys the sound bytes and then go play. It’s just part of the deal.”
Wilson and teammate Knile Davis were among the Arkansas representatives at SEC Media Days last week, taking part in a three-hour run through the media gauntlet. The veterans are nothing new to standing in front of cameras, microphones and tape recorders. But there is something very unique about it this preseason.
Last week’s SEC Media Days festivities was just the beginning of their traveling publicity campaign thanks to a plan concocted by the Arkansas athletic department and tagged TD2012.
It cranks up even more this week when the duo heads out of the region for more exposure.
They’ll be in New York City today, sitting down for interviews, posing for pictures and touring the offices of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports. Then it continues in Bristol, Conn., on Wednesday, when they’re run through what is known as the “car wash” at ESPN.
“It will be a whirlwind,” Wilson said.
Arkansas, which also created a Twitter page (@ArkTD2012) to keep track of the players as they vie for awards, believes the push is worth it before preseason practice begins Aug. 2. The goal is attracting attention for all of its players who are up for national awards.
It’s especially true for Wilson and Davis, who lead the way after being named to player of the year and position-specific award watch lists.
This wasn’t announced as the launching point of an official Heisman Trophy campaign for Arkansas’ two stars, per se. But, then again, what else could it be? Consider the tag TD2012 after all (T for Tyler? D for Davis?).
So here they go.
“I’ve never been to New York,” said Davis, a Texas native. “It’ll be cool to go there and see how they do things there. I’m ready.”
It’s not often a team has two players it regards as viable Heisman Trophy candidates. The last legitimate dilemma came in 2004, when Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush were playing in the same backfield (both eventually won the Heisman, although Bush’s has been vacated).
Wilson instantly carries more potential simply because of the position he plays. It’s a quarterback-driven award for the most part, with the position winning the Heisman 10 of the past 11 years. He is in prime position to be a legitimate threat to win, too, regarded as one of the NCAA’s top quarterbacks this summer.
But Davis is a viable candidate, too, if his return from last season’s broken ankle goes as planned. He was, after all, Arkansas’ offensive most valuable player the second half of the 2010 season, piling up 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in taking plenty of the pressure off of quarterback Ryan Mallett’s shoulders.
Davis said he’s honored to be involved in any discussion this preseason after sitting out 2011, but added he’s not as concerned about individual recognition. When asked about the media blitz last week, Davis said the goal is to simply deliver Arkansas’ story that it’s “back, bigger than ever and ready to play.”
“I just hope it doesn’t become a distraction. That’s my main thing,” Davis added Wednesday as he looked ahead to the trip. “We just need to stay focused, stay hungry on winning.”
But as Wilson said at SEC Media Days, this is all part of being in the national spotlight.
Arkansas is doing everything possible to make sure its players are recognizable when they step on the field next month. How well they are remembered at season’s end will depend on the way they perform under pressure on Saturdays.
Robbie Neiswanger is a Fayetteville-based sports writer who leads Razorback coverage in all sports for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org