Felton keeps teammates laughing

Robbie Neiswanger
THE MORNING NEWS
Published Monday, December 24, 2007

FAYETTEVILLE He'll sing George Strait tunes at the top of his lungs when the time is right and show off his dance moves in the locker room just to earn a few laughs.

He has made a career of cracking jokes in team meetings and tossing out one-liners in the huddle to lighten the mood. And if that's not enough, he has been known to turn cartwheels for fun, which he did during Arkansas' media day back in August.

So much of Arkansas offensive lineman Robert Felton's collegiate career has been predicated on spreading joy to everyone around him, he deserves the title of team Santa Claus this Christmas.

"He's got the figure to fit Santa Claus that's for sure," center Jonathan Luigs said of the 6-foot-4, 328-pound Felton last week. "He's always happy, too. Every day is Christmas for him."

Arkansas' jolly, old St. Robert will wrap up his collegiate career when the 25th-ranked Razorbacks (8-4) play No. 7 Missouri (11-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1. But it's safe to say the Houston native's antics won't soon be forgotten when he hangs up his Arkansas cleats for good after the Cotton Bowl.

Felton, no doubt, has left a mark on the Razorbacks because of his charismatic approach to the game. But it's nothing out of the ordinary for the fun-loving Felton. After all, he has always been the center of attention because of his spirited personality.

"I can definitely turn a hostile situation into a joke or a laugh," Felton said. "Sometimes that gets me in trouble because people are like, 'Oh, you don't care.' But you always need to laugh."

Teammates say they'll remember Felton as the guy who, somehow, knows the words to any song and doesn't hesitate to prove it by singing in the locker room or practice field. The same goes for his dancing skills or his love for hamming it up.

Take the time receiver Marcus Monk made his long awaited return to the field after missing time with a knee injury. Felton looked at Monk with a confused face and asked what he was doing in the huddle with the Razorbacks. A round of laughter followed.

"I'm always joking," Felton said. "I'm always laughing. I'm always loud. I'm always talking to people. I dance. I sing.

"I don't think I've done anything out of the normal. Now, for somebody else, that would be way out of the normal."

Felton's laid-back philosophy on life has been important, especially during some trying times the past month.

Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt's resignation, the two-week search that resulted in Bobby Petrino's hiring and the awkward situation surrounding bowl preparation haven't been easy.

But Felton was still smiling on the practice field last week.

And making sure his teammates were smiling with him.

"Anything Robert Felton does you're going to laugh at," Luigs said. "You always need a jokester to lighten the mood around here. Everybody can get tight and stressed out. So to have a class clown in Robert Felton it just kind of loosens everybody up."

Said right tackle Nate Garner: "The moment you look at him you start laughing. If there's any tension around he'll cut through it with his comedy show."

Felton's light-hearted persona resembles former Arkansas great Shawn Andrews, who was known as the team's jolly giant in his career. Andrews' reputation for being the team's Santa Claus was perpetuated by the fact his birthday was Dec. 25.

Felton's birthday is Sept. 25. But his antics have been more than enough to keep even Arkansas' coaches on their toes.

"In the course of a meeting when it might be getting intense, he'll come up with something and I'll just look at him and you can't help but smile," offensive line coach Mike Markuson said. "Sometimes it wasn't funny. But as I look back, it was refreshing. ... He has been an awesome guy to be around."

But Felton's career has been more than just fun and games.

The Houston native has been valuable on the field as well because of his versatility and dependability. Felton is a jack-of-all-trades on the line and can play every position, sliding from tackle to guard to center and has gotten time at every one of them in his career.

Arkansas asked Felton to make his latest move the final two games of the season after starting left tackle Jose Valdez was sidelined with an ankle injury. Markuson slid Felton from right guard, put redshirt freshman DeMarcus Love into the lineup and the offensive line put together two of its most powerful, dominating performances against Mississippi State and LSU.

"He has played every position in this league and that's an unbelievable statement," Luigs said. "You can tell by his work ethic on the practice field he may be joking the whole way there, but once he gets there, he knows it's time to work. He's able to put it down on the practice field and it translates to the game field."

In addition, Markuson said Felton has proven he can play hurt as he wobbled around on aching knees. Markuson said Felton has never complained about injuries, though. Instead, he has continually proven his toughness to go along with his humor.

Felton will carry a 25-game starting streak into the Cotton Bowl. He has started 36 of 37 games the past three seasons and Markuson thinks those traits will help him at the professional level.

"When they come in and talk to us and ask those questions, they're taking notes going, 'Versatility and unselfish,'" Markuson said. "That's what it's all about. This guy is willing to play, whatever it takes. He'll play hurt. Those are things that factor in because those guys, you pay them a lot of money. They've got to be able to go play and be able to withstand some pain."

Felton will get a chance to showcase his talents in the Hula Bowl when Arkansas' season ends. He's hoping he has done enough in his career to garner a chance to play in the NFL.

But if he hasn't, Felton has a backup plan.

Not only is Felton funny, charismatic, tough and physical, he's smart, too.

He already has earned degrees in criminal justice and sociology and is a few credits shy of a third in communication.

"Obviously, I want to try to go to the next level," Felton said. "But reality is, most people don't make it at that level."

So if football doesn't work out, there are plenty of career paths he can follow. Like, say, stand-up comedian. Or Santa Claus.

But, for now, Felton said he has only one thing in mind when the Razorbacks report to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl: Find ways to put smiles on his teammates' faces one final time.

"You have to have fun," Felton said. "If you don't have fun, it's not going to be fun. Then people are going to start quitting because they don't want to do it. You just have to come with a smile on your face every day and if you smile, you can make somebody else smile. That's my goal."



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