FAYETTEVILLE — Offensive lineman Reeve Koehler isn’t exactly prepared for the winter in Northwest Arkansas. And for good reason.
The 2013 Arkansas signee is from Hawaii, where winter temperatures aren’t any different from summer, spring or fall. So it was no surprise when Koehler first arrived in Arkansas this spring he posed a question on his Twitter page: where could he find winter clothes that fit a 6-foot-3, 325-pound offensive lineman?
“Everywhere I go, there’s either not my size or it’s too big,” said Koehler, whose only winter clothes were a couple of sweatshirts he received from playing in high school all-star games. “I’m in that in between stage where I really can’t find any clothes.”
Koehler, of course, won’t need to worry about it for several months with the summer heat now in full force. But the search is a sign of the Honolulu native’s adjustment to new surroundings, which the rest of Arkansas’ 2013 signees have been going through as well the past few weeks.
Nearly every member of the group has spent a portion — if not all — of the summer taking classes on campus, getting to know new teammates and participating in Arkansas’ offseason strength and conditioning programs.
Koehler happens to the be the player who traveled the furthest, leaving his native Hawaii for Arkansas one day after participating in his high school’s graduation ceremonies. He and most of the class are now in the middle of their second full month on campus. Koehler said every experience has been valuable as he prepares to compete for playing time as a true freshman in August.
“It’s helping me adjust,” Koehler said. “Right now, I’m just taking baby steps.”
Arriving early is no longer a new practice in college football, which has become a 24-7 job for athletes. Arkansas welcomed four junior college transfers to campus last spring (TQ Coleman, Johnathan McClure, Myke Tavarres and Carroll Washington) and newcomers are on college campuses around the country this summer.
There’s no doubt Arkansas’ class can use the head start, too, with several players expected to get early opportunities to play a role in the program’s success this season. The 2013 signing carries the distinction of being the first at Arkansas under Bret Bielema and former Pulaski Academy tight end Hunter Henry said the group doesn’t carry the tag lightly as it works through the summer.
“It’s a big honor,” said Henry, who is one of eight Arkansas signees who played high school football in the state. “It’s awesome to kind of come in as his first and as the years go on, look back to us as his first class at Arkansas.
“So we definitely have to come in and contribute and make a difference here.”
It’s the same attitude former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino’s first signing class carried into the 2008 season. While Arkansas failed to reach a bowl game that year, the class eventually proved to be one of the most influential and produced players like Tyler Wilson, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Chris Gragg.
Koehler said the 2013 class is eager to start another era at Arkansas.
“It’s definitely special,” Koehler said. “I feel like there’s an urgency on us to do good in the classroom. Do good in the community and then do good on the field.”
Koehler is keeping things in perspective, though. There are good and bad days.
For starters: Koehler admitted to walking to the wrong end of campus on his first day of class. Adjusting to college courses — after finding where they are — has been challenging as well. Koehler also said his first week in the weight room was a breeze, but things got much more difficult when the third week rolled around in mid-June.
“Some days we feel like, ‘Yeah, we can start,’” Koehler said. “Then some days we have a bad workout and we’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got to put in more work to start.’
“So it has its ups and downs like a roller coaster.”
Arkansas’ coaches aren’t permitted to work with players in the summer, but strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert has put them through rigorous workouts. Henry agrees it has been challenging, but the work will pay off.
So will the chance to run with veterans in seven-on-seven and other player-led drills. Koehler — who will line up at guard/center — said he’s been learning how to play center with Rimington Trophy candidate Travis Swanson’s help. Henry said he has a much better grasp of the playbook after running routes on the field.
“At first I would just look at words and look at just lines,” Henry said of his first glance at the playbook. “But as I’ve gotten out and kind of run stuff and gotten out and run against defense and run it with the team, it’s not that hard to pick up.”
Bielema described the adjustment period for the newcomers as a “steady one” last month. He hasn’t had much interaction with players, but said there was one instance that helped him see they’re getting acclimated to being high-profile college students.
He asked a few to make an appearance at an Arkansas football camp for elementary school children earlier this summer. Bielema described it as a big success.
“We asked our guys if they could just say hello and have an autograph session just to see their personalities come out,” Bielema said. “I think they did a couple of touchdown dances. Some of them, I hope, don’t ever score. …
“I tell all of our coaches, you know, the one thing that is bad about the NCAA rules that exist now is, here you recruit these kids, you spend all this time, all this energy, all this effort to get them here. And then once we get them here we can’t really be around them. … That’s why it’s tremendous to build a relationship with those guys.”
It won’t be long until coaches and newcomers will be on the practice field together.
Henry and Koehler said they’re looking forward to it. It has been a long summer for Arkansas’ 2013 signees, but important as they prepare for college football.
“I can’t wait,” Koehler said. “Ever since week one, it’s been ‘When can I play football again?’”