HOOVER, Ala. — Pegged to be the best quarterback in the SEC in 2010, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett is already popping up on preseason Heisman Trophy lists.
And while the senior remained politically correct about his hype Thursday at SEC Media Days, he did show a side rarely seen by athletes in the spotlight.
Because of his arm strength and 6-foot-7, 238-pound frame, Mallet surprised many when he chose to come back to school for a final season.
For Mallett, who transferred to Arkansas from Michigan in 2008, the reason was all about honor.
“I felt like I owed it to the state,” he said. “Playing one year and then leaving, I didn’t find it ethically right. Especially growing up a Hog fan, I would have been disappointed.”
Mallett grew up in Texarkana, Texas, but chose to head north to play ball at Michigan. When Rich Rodriguez took over for Lloyd Carr in 2008 and installed the spread offense, Mallett headed home.
After sitting out a season, Mallett thrived in first-year head coach Bobby Petrino’s pro-style offense, throwing for 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
“We actually have to tone him down a little bit and worry about making some touch throws, not throwing the one ball all the time, not throwing the fastball all the time,” Petrino said. “I’ve been very proud of how he’s worked at that.”
Mallett broke his left foot during conditioning drills in February, sending Razorbacks fans into panic. Arkansas has been picked as a sleeper in the SEC West, and Mallett is seen as the main reason for the lofty projections. Although not known for being a scrambler, Mallett has surprising mobility in the pocket and he dispelled the thought of the injury limiting him this season.
In fact, the broken foot forced him to shorten his stride on his drop step, which has increased his accuracy, Mallett said.
“I’m right on schedule,” he said. “I can jog a little bit. Obviously I’m doing my pool work still for conditioning. I’m not running yet. But the first day at camp, I’ll be out there with cleats on.”
Arkansas practice starts in two weeks, where Mallett’s Heisman campaign will officially begin. No matter what expectations fans or the media place on him, Mallett says if he meets the goals he has placed on himself, he should be in contention for the trophy.
“You know, obviously I don’t think you can name a best quarterback in the SEC until the season is over,” he said. “I had an OK year last year. The expectations of me are high. They’re even higher for myself. That’s just how I was brought up. That’s how I am.”