Big Expectations


Two years ago, D.J. Williams became the first-ever Arkansas football player to win the Mackey Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding collegiate tight end.

Williams’ successor, Chris Gragg, is hoping to double the amount of Mackey Awards that sit in the Razorbacks’ trophy case.

The Warren product already has drawn the attention of the Nassau County Sports Commission, which gives out the award, since he is on the Mackey Award watch list. But the Mackey Award is just one trophy Gragg hopes to have his hands around at the end of the 2012 football season. Gragg wants to be one of the many Razorbacks to hoist up the Waterford Crystal football after the national championship game.

“I have real big expectations and I think we are a mature team and ready to take on the SEC and West Division,” said Gragg in a phone interview with the Pine Bluff Commercial. “Team goals are way more important to me. If the team goals are accomplished, which are to win the SEC and that national championship, then the individual goals will come.”

Gragg also earned a spot on the Preseason All-SEC second team, which was announced earlier this week.

Gragg, who will be a senior this year and redshirted his freshman year, had just nine catches coming into the season last year. By the end of the season, Gragg finished with the third-most receptions (41) and the fourth-most receiving yards (518). He also caught two touchdowns.

Gragg is the top receiver back from last year, and he is ready to fill that role.

“I want to be a reliable blocker and make the play when my number is called,” he said. “I think I will be a bigger target this season and (quarterback) Tyler (Wilson) will be looking to me more. I think we have a lot of chemistry.”

Gragg had the 13th-most receptions by a tight end last year and the sixth-most out of returning tight ends for the upcoming season. That has helped land him on NFL Draft radars.

Gragg said he has heard some of the projections of where he could go in the 2013 Draft.

“You realize it’s around the corner. I have heard anywhere from the last first round to the fourth round … but it’s too early though,” he said. “The NFL is in the back of your mind and you get people bugging you about it, but the focus is on this season and that’s the most important thing.”

Gragg has also developed into more of a leader, he said.

“The coaches told me to be more of a leader and I try and be more vocal,” he said. “I want to motivate everyone on the team and help get us the goals that we set.”

Gragg is one of a few key seniors going into the season along with Wilson, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, linebacker Alonzo Highsmith and defensive end/linebacker Tenarius Wright.

“Most of the guys have played in big games and I think we are ready,” he said. “I think the schedule is in our favor, we just have to do out and do what we are expected to do.”

After beating Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl last year, Arkansas was ranked No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll. In ESPN analyst Mark Schlabach’s “Way-Too-Early” preseason top-25 poll, which was published on May 18, he ranked Arkansas No. 13.

While finishing as the national champion and the top tight end in the country are the ultimate goals, no matter how his collegiate career ends, it will be a fun five years for Gragg.

“Those five years go by very fast. I’ve already received my degree,” he said. “Going from 5-8 my first year and going to the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl, I have been through a lot and experiences things a lot of people don’t get to experience.”

Gragg received his degree in sports management and going to graduate school for the same thing.