By Robbie Neiswanger
ARKANSAS NEWS BUREAU
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema believes his first recruiting class is the foundation for what he wants to accomplish with the Razorbacks.
That class, at the very least, has produced the Southeastern Conference’s top freshman and another second-team all-conference performer this season.
Arkansas running back Alex Collins was named the Associated Press SEC Freshman of the Year on Monday, while tight end Hunter Henry collected second-team All-SEC honors. Senior Travis Swanson was named the first-team All-SEC center, while place kicker Zach Hocker joined Henry on the All-SEC second team.
Collins became the first Arkansas player named SEC Freshman of the Year since 2005, when running back Darren McFadden earned the honor.
“It felt go to know you’ve earned that,” Collins said Monday night. “I worked so hard. So to be recognized for it, it let’s you know that hard work always pays off.”
Collins was recognized after becoming just the second Arkansas true freshman and 10th in SEC history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, joining McFadden.
The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native — who also became the first freshman in SEC history to top the 100-yard mark in his first three games — led the Razorbacks in rushing with 190 carries and 1,026 rushing yards. He also scored four touchdowns.
Collins was the 11th Arkansas player to top the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a season and the first since Knile Davis rushed for 1,322 yards in 2010.
“When I first started, I didn’t expect to get as much playing time as I got,” Collins said about his season. “But as a running back, everyone sets their own goals and what they want to achieve. The 1,000-yard mark was one of my goals.”
Bielema said last month he was impressed with the freshman’s performance, but said Collins had plenty of room for growth after his first season.
“He, physically, is very gifted,” Bielema said. “But he hasn’t been trained the right way, ate the right way, slept the right way. He’s got sleeping habits that are like a nocturnal animal. I mean, it’s just the way he’s kind of wired. The more we can get him in rhythm, I think the better off we’re going to be.”
Collins acknowledged he has plenty to learn, but is eager to build on his freshman season next fall. He and Jonathan Williams will return to give Arkansas a strong one-two punch in the backfield once again. Korliss Marshall is expected to see some carries, too, even though Arkansas plans to move him back to safety for 2013.
Collins said he’s already working toward next season. In fact, he found out about his SEC Freshman of the Year selection after turning on his phone following a workout.
“I feel like I learned a lot. I’ve got a lot more experience,” Collins said Monday. “I feel like next year I’ll be more prepared in what to expect and how to approach the game and be more prepared than I was this year. I think I’ll do a lot better.”
Henry will be back, too, to build on a solid freshman season. He finished second on the team in receiving with 28 catches for 409 yards with 4 touchdowns. Henry closed his freshman season by catching two touchdown passes in the loss at LSU.
He became the first Arkansas tight end to earn all-conference honors since former Hog D.J. Williams. Henry and Collins were among the 14 freshmen that played in Arkansas’ season finale against the Tigers.
“There are a lot of freshmen,” Henry said. “We’re really young, and we’ll continue to get better this off-season and make sure we’re going to make a turnaround.”
Swanson was Arkansas’ only All-SEC first-team pick after anchoring the offensive line for the fourth straight season. The Kingwood, Texas, native also was named a finalist for the Rimington Trophy on Monday. Swanson was a second-team, All-SEC performer in 2012 and started his 50th straight game in the season finale on Nov. 29.
Hocker earned second-team honors after going 28-for-28 on extra points and 13-for-15 on field goals, including a career-long 54-yarder against Mississippi State. The Russellville native also wrapped up his career with Arkansas career records in points (354), field goal percentage (77.2), extra points (171) and field goals (61).
Auburn running back Tre Mason was named the AP’s SEC Offensive Player of the Year, while Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was named Defensive Player of the Year. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn was named the SEC’s Coach of the Year after leading the Tigers to the SEC championship and a spot in the BCS national title game.