Two years after the fact, Darius Winston is having a 5-star time at Arkansas.

 

Two years after the fact, Darius Winston is having a 5-star time at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks’ only 5-star rated recruit of coach Bobby Petrino’s 2009 freshman class, Winston had some freshman year growing pains leaping from Helena-West Helena Central to the University of Arkansas.
“I felt I had a bunch of expectations that weighed down on my shoulders,” junior cornerback Winston said recalling his 2009 season,  “but now I just focus and take one practice at a time and lead it into our first game and just focus harder.” Without the 5-star pressure for Winston to play early, maybe the Bobby Petrino regime redshirts him in 2009 instead of in the opener against Missouri State and then just three other games with him not yet ready.
Then again, maybe without tasting experience in 2009 Winston wouldn’t have been so ready to play 12 games for last year’s 10-3 Hogs, especially as a starter down the stretch with 2010 senior boundary cornerback Ramon Broadway’s season ended by injury during the Nov. 6 victory at South Carolina.
“I can’t say I wish I redshirted,” Winston said, “because not redshirting helped out, too. I feel like in the end I am where I need to be.”
Certainly he was right where he needed to be to pick the Hogs up after Broadway went down.
“When Ramon went down I felt like I needed to step up,” Winston said. “When Broadway went down it was like the team needs me. It’s time for me to grow up.”
And he’s grown up more between the end of the Sugar Bowl into this ongoing August preseason before the Sept. 3 opener in Fayetteville against Missouri State.  He will start against Missouri State at boundary corner and mop up like the 2009 season opener.
“ I feel a lot better from Day One since the first day I came,” Winston said.  “Mentally tougher, a lot stronger and faster than when I first came in as a freshman.”
Fifth-year senior Isaac Madison, the starter at field corner opposite Winston, notes a major difference in Winston the junior than Winston the freshman.  “Most definitely,” Madison said. “He has great speed and really good, quick feet. I like Darius a lot.”
Winston, 6-0, 190, has gained weight and strength since freshman year, weight and strength serving him well since boundary corner is the more physical of the two corners.
“Boundary is a little more complete,” Winston said.  “You have got to read your keys as opposed to being just out there on an island.”
Arkansas’ defense mirrors Winston’s annual progress, or more accurately Winston mirrors the defense’s progress since 2009 was a defensive improvement over the 2008 start of the Petrino era.
And this defense to a man says it’s the best yet.
“I felt like the defense made huge strides,” Winston said,  “but we are going to keep on climbing we are not done yet. We can’t get into the hype. We just have to go out and do what we have got to do to dominate.”
That all the keys in the secondary, Madison, Winston, senior safeties Tramain Thomas and Elton Ford and sophomore safety Eric Bennett have grown together from being dominated to potentially dominant makes for a cohesive crew united to advance.
“That’s a big factor,” Winston said. “We have got great chemistry.” Another player from Helena, walk-on DeSoto Academy graduate Will Coleman, also stepped up big for the Hogs in late-season 2010.
After injuries to snappers Rhett Richardson and Nick Brewer, Coleman deep-snapped for punter Dylan Breeding the final seven games without a miscue with Breeding averaging 41.3 yards with four traveling 50 plus and 11 landing inside the 20.  “The only reason I got in is Rhett got hurt and then when Nick got hurt I had my chance and made the best of it,” Coleman said.
That’s why understudies to the understudy keep rehearsing.  “Will stepped in and did a great job,” special teams coach John L. Smith said. “ And he worked his tail off this summer.”
He needed to since the Razorbacks lured quality freshman deep snapper Alan D’Appollino from Phoenix.
Coleman, D’Appollino and Brewer contest snapping for Breeding’s punts and Zach Hocker’s place kicks.
Coleman, 6-3, 253, likely will be on the travel squad regardless who snaps. Because not only could he be the snapper or backup snapper on punts and kicks but practices as a spare defensive end, a positive versatility factor on travel squad reduced rosters.
The defensive end work detracts from his practice time snapping but makes him a better special-teamer.
“One of his attributes is not only his snapping ability but ability to go down and cover punts,” John L. Smith said.  “That is a huge plus for us as far as our punt team goes.  We want to keep working him at defensive end because he could always step in there and back up.”
Coleman made two tackles covering punts against LSU and against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.