FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Cameron Bryan wanted nothing more than to get on the field for his senior season at Arkansas.
As the backup kicker to Zach Hocker, Bryan knew his chances of seeing action were slim at best. So, rather than using his feet to kick, the former Bishop McGuinness standout figured he would use them for another purpose — kickoff coverage.
Blessed as one of the fastest and most agile members of the Razorbacks, the 5-foot-10, 176-pound former soccer standout approached new Arkansas coach John L. Smith during the spring about trying out for the new role.
The results surprised even the open-minded Smith, and Bryan made his coach proud during a season-opening win over Jacksonville State — routinely beating his teammates down the field during kickoffs. Bryan didn't record a tackle during the game, but his performance matched that of his efforts in practice and earned him another chance this week when the No. 8 Razorbacks host Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.
“He is fast, and we had trouble all fall in holding him up,” Smith said. “You'd put him on those teams, those scout teams to look at kickoff coverage, punt coverage, those things ... and we can't hold him up. We can't get to the guy. He's as fast a guy as we have. He has a way of winding through, kind of like water, the easiest way down there.”
Bryan's playing time prior to this season was limited to 2009, when he concentrated on kickoff duties in eight games for Arkansas. He made six tackles, five solo, during that stretch, but he didn't see any action the last two seasons while backing up Hocker.
He had always performed well during Arkansas' athletic testing sessions, more than holding his own with the team's fastest players. Bryan even topped the team's pro agility testing chart this spring with a time of 3.95 seconds, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.40 seconds — seventh best on the team.
“I'll tell you what, he's a tremendous athlete,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “When you look at him, you might not think that, but he's on our top five board in agility and quickness every year. He's always got a great attitude and he works hard. That's what you want out of a guy like that. I think he can contribute very, very much.”
Bryan wanted to play another position his senior year of high school at McGuinness, but as the team's only kicker, his risk of injury was too great.
That last thing he wanted during this, his final season, was more of the same.
“I told coach I'd play whatever he wants me to play,” Bryan said. “Any hole, anything that they need me to play, I'd be whatever they need me to be on this team, just so I can have the chance to contribute and not sit out my senior year.”
Bryan's athleticism was well known by his teammates because of his testing prowess. Still, the idea of a kicker taking part on kickoff coverage has taken some getting used to.
“In offseason workouts, he's always been one of the fastest guys we've seen when we're doing our agility and competitive things,” Arkansas safety Ross Rasner said. “He's beating the fastest guys on the team, so everyone knows that guy can fly.
“You really don't see athletes like that at kicker, so he's just a really special guy.”
Any doubts the Razorbacks might have had, however, were put to rest last week against Jacksonville State. Bryan's No. 47 was unmistakable while leading the way down the field on several kickoffs, and Smith praised his newfound specialist for maintaining his composure in his first action “under the lights.”
“He's no longer a kicker,” Smith said. “We've told him, 'You're no longer a kicker. You're a coverage guy.' ”
Bryan still practices with the kickers during the week, but he also makes a point to stay loose for the special teams' portion at the end of practices. He doesn't mind the extra work in the least, not if it results in more playing time — however brief it might be.
“It's cool to get out there and be able to put on display what we normally don't get a chance to,” Bryan said. “It's cool just to put it on display for everyone and show what we're capable of.”