photo by BRIAN D. SANDERFORD
University of Arkansas Red Team’s John Henson kicks as Matt Emrich holds while coach Bret Bielema looks on during the field goal session on April 26 during the Red-White Spring Game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas kicker John Henson was elated to find out he was going on scholarship for his senior season.
But Henson’s excitement was nothing compared to his mother.
“I told my mom and I couldn’t hear for about 30 minutes,” Henson said.
The Texas native, along with tight end A.J. Derby, became the latest in a large group of walk-ons who have been awarded scholarships under coach Bret Bielema.
Both players were informed of the decision during a team meeting Sunday.
Derby was added to the list of scholarship players after arriving from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College following the 2012 season. Derby, who spent two years on scholarship at Iowa after high school, was Arkansas’ backup quarterback last season and is expected to play a big factor in the tight end rotation this season.
In fact, Bielema said at SEC Media Days he believed Derby would be one of the biggest surprises in the conference. Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the tight end deserved the recognition because of his work at multiple positions.
“Any time you are my age and you are a coach and you have been at it a lot of years, any time a young man has worked hard to achieve something you feel like he needs to be rewarded,” Chaney said after Monday’s practice. “I’m pleased Bret made that decision. He’s a good kid and he’s going to be a valuable part of the team.”
Derby said his parents are glad they don’t have to “write that check every semester” for tuition. But the Iowa native believed he earned the scholarship.
“I never felt like I was a walk-on here,” said Derby, who missed Monday’s practice because of a minor knee injury he suffered last Friday. “Coming out of high school I was on scholarship, but being here as a walk-on guy I played in front of scholarship guys. So I definitely felt I was one of them.”
This is the first time Henson has been placed on scholarship in his college career.
He has spent most of his time on Arkansas’ campus as a backup kicker behind record-setting Razorback Zach Hocker. Henson has appeared in five games — he made two field goals and an extra point against LSU in 2012 — and is finally getting a chance to compete for the starting job with freshman Cole Hedlund.
Henson was asked Monday why he kept waiting for an opportunity at Arkansas despite the lack of playing time. He didn’t consider it waiting.
“I just see it as a great opportunity to come and learn on-field things and off-field things,” Henson said. “Just having all sorts of coaching staffs, I think it was three head coaches and four different specialist coaches. I got a lot of good perspectives on all sorts of lessons on on-the-field and off-the-field stuff.”
Derby and Henson join a lengthy list of former walk-ons who were put on scholarship by Bielema since the coach’s arrival in Dec. 2012.
Long snapper Alan D’Appollonio and tight end Mitchell Loewen were the first to join the list after spring practice in 2013. Fullback Patrick Arinze, tight end Alex Voelzke, and former linebackers Price Holmes and Austin Jones were added to the list last fall. Two freshmen — defensive end Jake Hall and fullback Tyler Colquitt — also were awarded scholarships after being scheduled to walk on in 2014.
Henson said he’s glad to be on the list. But it doesn’t change his plans for the rest of the preseason as he and Hedlund compete for the starting position.
“We’re really pushing each other,” Hedlund said. “We’re both performing well. At the end of the day I’m just worrying about myself. Can’t control anything else.”