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A youngster’s questions and answers with Arkansas’ Woodhall

Editor’s Note: Eleven-year-old J.D. Olson, the son of HitThatLine.com contributor Nate Olson, sat down with Arkansas track star and double amputee, Hunter Woodhall, as the 2020 indoor season was winding down and the outdoor season was set to begin before the pandemic halted SEC spring sports. J.D. just finished fifth grade at Collegeville Elementary School in Bryant.


By J.D. Olson
Special to HitThatLine.com

Hunter Woodhall’s track accomplishments would be impressive if he had two good legs. He doesn’t. A condition caused Woodhall’s parents to make the decision to amputate his legs when he was 11 months old.

Even though he faced much adversity growing up, he eventually found track and his success helped him to become more accepted by his classmates.

Woodhall, who is from Utah, began to excel on the track in high school. He was ranked No. 20 in the nation in the 400 meters with a top time of 47.32 seconds. He won a bronze medal in the 400 meters and a silver medal in the 200 meters at the 2016 Summer Paralympics.

Syracuse, Utah, mayor Terry Palmer declared Sept. 15, “Hunter Woodhall Day,” and he was named 2016 Male High School Track Athlete of the Year.

He became the first double amputee to earn a Division I scholarship when he signed with the University of Arkansas. He ran six indoor meets as a freshman and recorded a personal best 1:58.04 in the 800-meters.

He ran a best time of 47.42 in the 400-meters and was a bronze medalist in the 4×400-meter relay at the SEC Outdoor Championships.

He was named to the First-Team All-American Team at the NCAA Outdoor Championships after his 4×400-meter relay team finished sixth.

As a sophomore, Woodhall was an All-American during the indoor and outdoor seasons and ran a lifetime best 46.22 in the 400 meters at the SEC Outdoor Championships. He ran a personal best 1:50.68 in the 800 meters during the indoor season.

Woodhall hoped his junior season would be his best yet.

His 4×400 meter relay team took second as the SEC Indoor Championships, and he qualified for the indoor nationals in the 4×400 meters and distance medley relay. The 4×400 team won the event at the Arkansas Invitational and ran the fifth-fastest time in school history and was ranked as the fastest 4×400 team in the nation in February.

The indoor season ended suddenly before the NCAA Indoor Championships, and the outdoor season was canceled before it began due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I learned about Woodhall’s story while following him on the social media app Instagram. He posts many inspirational videos on the app. When someone asked about why he doesn’t have any legs, he told his story, which had millions of likes and views.

That story caused Ellen DeGeneres to invite him on her daytime talk show. Ellen then surprised Woodhall with a $20,000 check to use for his expenses to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, which have now been postponed.

I had a chance to sit down with Woodhall during the indoor season. We talked about his childhood, signing with the Hogs, going on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and more.

Q: Were you bullied growing up because of your legs?

A: Yeah, I went through a lot of bullying. I was home schooled until I was in the fifth grade. My parents started a business, and they didn’t have time to home school me anymore, and I went to public school. I went through a lot of bullying in fifth grade and into sixth grade as well. It wasn’t until I got to junior high where I found some friends who really treated me like I should have been. I had some friends who really cared about me.

Q: Did you play any other sports growing up?

A: I played all kinds of sports. Both of my brothers played sports, and I just wanted to follow in their footsteps. I started with T-ball, and then soccer and I played basketball and wrestled. I obviously ran track and played football. Basically, anything I could try out I did. I wanted to do what my brothers were doing.

Q: Was there a time you wanted to quit or doubted yourself?

A: Absolutely. There’s been so many times in my life, especially in sports, where things have gotten really hard, and I’ve questioned if it’s the right thing to be doing or not. When you get past those points and fight through that and come out the other side, you come out a better person and better athlete. I think it’s our hard times and our failures, which really define who we are.

Q: How did you first get into track? Was it a hobby at first, or was it something you were really focused on from the beginning?

A: That’s a good question. I started running 5Ks and things with my family – fun runs over the holidays and things like that. Like I said, I went through a lot of bullying, and when I got to junior high, the few friends I did have, were on the track team. So, I started running track because I felt comfortable on the team and felt comfortable being around my friends. That’s actually what got me running.

Q: Was there anyone who impacted your life like a coach or family member?

A: My family, obviously, had a huge impact on where I am today and everything I have been through but also, specifically my dad was always a really big influence in my life. There’s a number of different people in my life who showed they believed in me. A lot of times, they believed in me more than I believed in myself probably. A big reason I am where I am today is because of the people I have had in my life.

Q: What has been your main motivation?

A: There have been a lot of people behind me, but one of the biggest motivators for me is I have just been scared to let those people down. Not just one specific person but everyone who has taken the time to say they believed in me or defend me or something like that. The moment I give up or stop chasing my dreams is when I let them down. To know they believe in me and want me to succeed – I have to do whatever I can to prove them right.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you found out you had an offer from Arkansas?

A: Excited I would say. My recruiting process was extremely difficult. I had really hard time getting colleges to recruit me just because I was missing my legs. It had always been a dream of mine to compete in a conference such as the SEC. Just to be able to have that moment and share it, not only with my family, but also the people that have supported me to this point. That was a big deal in my life and real emotional.

Q: What was one of the most important tools you used to become an athlete?

A: I would say discipline is the biggest one. Discipline is such an overarching topic, and it can be applied to so many parts of your life. It always flows over to different parts. For example, when you are disciplined in the classroom, you are probably going to be even more disciplined when it comes to your sport or the chores you are doing or all of those things. When you can be disciplined in all aspects of your life, they all coincide. It’s hard to put a little bit of effort into one thing and think you are going to be all in and 110 percent in another thing.

Q: When you first came to Arkansas what were your thoughts when you struggled a little bit individually?

A: My freshman year was really difficult for me. I wasn’t used to the training, and I wasn’t used to how fast everyone was running in the NCAA, so it was really hard for me to adjust. It was one of those times I talked about earlier when you go through a hard time or hardship, and you have to reevaluate and keep pushing on. It was a lesson for me that I can’t take anything for granted, and if you want to compete at the highest level,  or you want to be at the highest level, in anything you are doing it is going to take some work.

Q: What was it like being on The Ellen show and knowing hundreds of thousands of people were watching?

A: It was so cool. I think it was amazing to be around someone who has such a positive outlook on life and puts so much love back into the world. Just to be able to use my story and what I have been through to impact somebody else’s life, that’s what it is all about. That’s very special.

PHOTO BY NATE OLSON | HITTHATLINE.COM

Q: Have people ever said anything about your artificial legs being an advantage in your running?

A: Yeah, I get that a lot, and usually … It happens the faster I run the more people are complaining. That is just one of those things where when things start happening in the public eye and people start watching, there’s always going to be people saying negative things. I think in my mind, we are not going to focus on the people that are being negative because that is going to take away from the people who are supporting us – right? It makes more sense to put all of our effort and attention into people that are supporting us and saying kind things.

Q: What is a piece of advice you want to give to other kids and athletes who are dealing with disabilities?

A: I think not even for disabilities, but everyone – it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, success is something you decide to do. If you have a dream, there is nothing that separates you from the person sitting next to you in class or the person on TV. We are all humans, right? The thing that makes you successful is how much do you want it, and how much do you want to work? And are you going to make sacrifices for that? So, just chase your dreams regardless of who you are and where you are.

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Hogs

Having college campuses open doesn’t rule out classes still being online

It was Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk who pointed out the glaring omission most people have made in trying to guess whether there will be college football starting in the summer.

“Campus, if it’s operational, we can have sports,” Sterk said in a teleconference Thursday. “Classes are a different matter. If a school is online, it doesn’t necessarily prevent athletic events from happening.”

Yahoo Sports’ Nick Bromberg read it basically the same way I did which is why the SEC vote coming up next week will probably provide some kind of advancement for sports beginning June 1.

“If there’s a closed campus schools probably aren’t going to be able to host games whether that’s football or any other fall sport,” he said Friday afternoon with Derek Ruscin and Zach Arns (Ruscin & Zach) on ESPN Arkansas. “If instruction is online but campus is open, we can probably still do that.”

“I’m convinced the college football season is going to be held in some shape or form,” Bromberg said. “I don’t know necessarily if all 130 FBS teams will be playing.”

Now I’ve been saying that since all this started. The reason is very simple because nobody can afford to let it fail.

“There’s going to be a college football season because we know just how much football subsidizes every other program,” he said.

Some smaller schools have already started cutting non-revenue programs. It will probably wreak havoc on the pre-built schedules and may actually get the SEC to each team playing nine conference games (a move Alabama’s Nick Saban has pushed for a couple of years) and more regional non-conference games.

The financial landscape is going to change and the biggest effects from this shutdown is going to be felt more a couple of years down the road.

For smaller programs the money is going to get tight.

Pro sports are inching their way back to playing games. Major league baseball is planning a start around July 4. NBA players are pushing to get things rolling there for some kind of season.

Even the NFL has opened their buildings for the first time in awhile beginning this coming week.

Like a lot of other things, it’s about the money.

“That’s only going to build,” Bromberg said.

To follow the NASCAR model of compartmentalizing things, college football would have to limit players to position groups which won’t be much of an issue until August when you have to start getting the team together.

It will depend on what happens with the coronavirus. There is no way to have a consistent test that produces results fast enough to really be accurate for more than a few minutes.

Take the test, it shows negative, walk outside and, in theory anyway, that person could become positive. That’s one of the handful of problems with contagious viruses. Short of being in a bubble there’s no way to avoid it.

It’s why NASCAR is not doing the testing at the track. It’s almost impossible to accomplish and the numbers are starting to show being outside or in open environments is safer than staying inside.

“I don’t know how it gets in August,” Bromberg said. “At the same time, as we have learned, our whole world could be completely different in six weeks.”

And, yes, the whole issue has falling into the quagmire of politics where common sense and good judgement don’t collied very often.

“It’s another part of the conversation we keep having over and over again,” Bromberg said.

And it’s politics that will provide a margin of error that might be pretty small.

“If you screw up that one shot, you’re second chance is not going to be nearly as good as the first one,” he said.

That’s why patience is going to be the most valuable thing for fans right now.

It’s required when you’re trying to hit a moving target.

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Hogs Football

McGee on return of live sports this weekend with NASCAR

ESPN’s Ryan McGee, who covers NASCAR and college football, talked Friday afternoon with Derek Ruscin and Zach Arns (Ruscin & Zach) on ESPN Arkansas about the drastic changes for Sunday’s race in Darlington.

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Halftime

🕛 HALFTIME POD presented by Jeff’s Club House 🐗 5/15/2020

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Podcasts

Bud Light Seltzer Morning Rush Podcast — DMAC as the Hog Logo, Pittman on Zoom and more!

Tye & Tommy on who you think of when you see the Hog logo, DMAC joins, plus how sports impacts the economy!

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Hogs Football

D-Mac would like to see Razorbacks put No. 5 in rafters … eventually

Darren McFadden looks on the football field these days at Arkansas games and hopes whoever is wearing No. 5 does well but then they will put the number in the rafters.

“I would love to see that number hung up in the rafters,” he told Tye Richardson and Tommy Craft (The Morning Rush) on ESPN Arkansas Friday morning. “I’m not the type guy to go out and make a big scene out of it but I would love to see that number hung up.”

McFadden played three seasons and he knows what he accomplished.

“Just for what I did and the history,” he said. “I own just about every school rushing record, College Football Hall of Fame, two-time Heisman runner-up, two-time Doak Walker award. I think that’s a jersey that definitely should be hung up.”

The current wearer of the number is Rakeem Boyd and he’s fully aware of the significance of having that number on his back. He’s talked about the honor of wearing it at Arkansas.

“It’s always mixed emotions when I see it,” D-Mac said. “I always want them to do their best but at the same time it’s not a number I want to see out there really. It’s part of football and not something you can just take with you.”

The only numbers retired at Arkansas is Clyde Scott’s 12 and Brandon Burlsworth’s 77. Scott’s number was briefly brought back (with his permission) for All-American kicker and punter Steve Little to wear from 1974-77.

It’s just a hunch but D-Mac would probably be okay with Sam Pittman needing it to land a potential All-American every couple of decades or so.

“As time goes on, the right people will make the right decisions and it will eventually be hung up,” he said.

McFadden is also frustrated with the results on the field the last few years … and it cost him a little bit of money.

“It’s been brutal,” he said. “Especially being in the locker room (while with the Raiders and Cowboys) with guys you played against in college. Guys make friendly bets and things. I used to meet with the quarterbacks in Oakland and every week I’d pick Arkansas.

“I don’t care who they were playing I was picking Arkansas. Eventually it got to the point where I’d just bring in my $10, lay it on the desk and told ’em to let me know if we end up winning.”

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Podcasts

Darren McFadden conversation on The Morning Rush!

The greatest Razorback of all time Darren McFadden joined The Morning Rush for an exclusive interview! Check it out!

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Andy Hodges

No rush to decide fate of sports as we don’t know what we don’t know

With “corona fatigue” starting to sweep across the country, predictions about our fate seem to change multiple times daily and sports fans are almost at the point of desperation to find out something.

That’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.

“We just gotta wait and see what happens,” WatchStadium.com college football analyst Brett McMurphy said Thursday afternoon with Derek Ruscin and Zach Arns (Ruscin & Zach) on ESPN Arkansas.

In other words, sports fans, none of us really have a clue what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen.

Granted, in Arkansas we haven’t had mandatory shut-down orders. There’s been some suggestions and guidance but by and large the good citizens have been allowed to decide what risk is comfortable for them.

McMurphy doesn’t know, either, but he’s been talking with everybody in the world of college football and there’s hope.

“It’s very realistic to have a full 12-game schedule this year,” he said about college football, but he didn’t mention any specific timetable for that schedule to start. “(Commissioners and athletic directors) stress anything and everything is on the table.”

SEC presidents and chancellors are scheduled to vote May 22 on whether to allow their schools to open athletic facilities to athletes for voluntary workouts in June, according to a story at ESPN.com from college football writer Sam Khan, Jr.

In March, the league voted to suspend things through May and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was confirming or denying anything Thursday.

Again, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Around the SEC the total number of positive tests for the combined states in the league is far below that of New York. Testing is a hot-button topic, although the leaders on the whole coronavirus mess testified before the U.S. Senate this week that it’s not really that accurate.

You could take the test that’s negative and be positive 10 minutes later when you go to the first door outside the doctor’s office. That comes from the top scientist in the country on the national task force.

What are the real numbers? We have no idea.

The numbers show a staggeringly low number of deaths among healthy young people. Even testing positive the odds are you won’t get sick, much less die.

There won’t be a vaccine by football season and that’s a little misleading. According to the top scientist in the country on the nation’s task force again, out of every 100 people that get the vaccine 40 are still going to get it. The numbers say 2 of those people will, unfortunately, pass away.

That’s if they duplicate the results of the most successful vaccine in history on viral infections (the flu). Treatments are improving daily, which is why the death rate percentage is dropping and likely why we’ll see college football start on time.

You can’t look at the daily numbers without looking at the overall context. We will likely never really know what the exact number actually is and there will likely be positive results for a while.

In the end, though, the guess is economic necessity will bring college sports back.

Which is what McMurphy sounds like he expects the powers that be to do.

“They want to try to start Sept. 5,” he said Thursday afternoon. “The one thing to count on is how critical the money is … they’ll figure out a way to play.”

Nobody has a clue what that’s going to look like, though.

And making a decision (or even predictions) now is a little silly.

“I don’t see the big rush out west to cancel stuff that far off,” McMurphy said. “We need to wait a little bit more. We’ve got until we have more information. It looks like the country progressing better. What will it look like in a month?”

Well, we don’t know because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next month.

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Halftime

🕛 HALFTIME POD presented by Jeff’s Club House 🐗 5/14/2020

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Hogs Football

Pittman lands another walk-on from Arkansas, which is what he wants

After several years of coaching staffs apparently interested in watching some of the best players in Arkansas go elsewhere, Sam Pittman told us he wanted to keep ’em home and that’s what he’s doing.

Shiloh Christian wide receiver Beau Cason (6-5, 190) chose to walk-on with the Razorbacks on Thursday, announcing it via Twitter:

Pittman told us he wanted to focus more on getting a lot of in-state walk-ons and Cason is the 12th  from inside the state to go with a couple from surrounding states.

“We have an opportunity with our university with how we can get kids in that Arkansas needs to go heavy on preferred walk-ons and walk-ons in their program,” Pittman told us earlier.”

It’s why he has all 10 assistant coaches recruiting within the state. Yes, it pays dividends in various areas.

“If you do that, there’s a lot of good things that can come out of that, but one of them is I think your walk-on program is going to be much better,” Pittman said. “The relationships with the high school coaches are going to be better, relationship with the state of Arkansas is going to be better.”

Here are the walk-ons committed to the Hogs right now:

• Braden Bratcher, QB, Little Rock Pulaski Academy
• Donte Buckner, RB, White Hall
• Chris Harris, ATH, Dumas
• Kevin Compton, ATH, Watson Chapel
• Truitt Tollett, WR, Springdale Shiloh Christian
• Beau Cason, WR, Springdale Shiloh Christian
• Jonas Higson, TE, Bentonville West
• Brooks Both, LB, Harrison
• Caleb Fields, LB, Fayetteville
• Chandler McIntosh, LB, Little Rock Joe T. Robinson
• Jackson Woodard, LB, Little Rock Christian
• Rhett Thurman, K, Cabot
• Vito Calvaruso, K, Jefferson City (Mo.) Helias Catholic
• Eli Chism, LS, Shreveport (La.) Calvary Baptist