Will Gragg came to Arkansas with high expectations and on Saturday fans got to see a glimpse of his potential.
Gragg caught three passes for 47 yards including a 33-yard screen play in the 33-10 loss to LSU. Gragg signed with Arkansas out of Dumas High School as a 4-star recruit and the younger brother of former tight end Chris Gragg. Gragg talked about what it was like getting extended playing time this past Saturday.
“It was great,” Gragg said. “It was really my first time getting my feet wet being able to make plays in a game that mattered. It made it fun again.”
When did you know you were likely to get some extended playing time and opportunities against LSU?
“Just during the course of the week I worked in more with the ones and they calling plays that had my number on them,” Gragg said. “So I had kinda had a feeling I was gonna get a chance to make something happen.”
What happened on the 33-yard gain?
“Ya’ll know we’ve been running the screen play forever and getting big plays,” Gragg said. “The coaches told me that I was gonna get my chance to do it with us being a couple of tight ends down. He told me at halftime to get ready for it and we ran it and it got executed.”
Dan Enos, who is Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, had praise for Gragg.
“Will did a good job,” Enos said. “He was impressive. He had a very nice run on that screen. Caught a ball on third down. He did a good job. Will is a guy who has earned himself more opportunity with how he has played. We always tell guys as a coach, ‘You are gonna get opportunities and what you do with those opportunities will determine how much more of an opportunity you’re gonna get.’ Certainly Will the way he played this past week has earned himself more opportunities. He will get a bunch of reps this week and I would expect to see him play quite a bit of snaps on Saturday.”
We know you tell players that, but how much do you appreciate the fact he was ready to play when his opportunity came?
“I appreciate Will Gragg and how he has handled himself the past year,” Enos said. “He has come to work every day and had a serious mindset to him. He’s focused at meetings, focused at practice and when you get the opportunity to succeed and I think he’s really starting to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates. I think we will certainly see his role increase this week.”
Barry Lunney Jr. coaches the tight ends and also echoed some of what Enos said while praising Gragg.
“His attutude’s been good,” Lunney said. “He’s done a good job of staying engaged and taking advantage of his game opportunities. So that’s been a positive thing. Some guys just do a little bit better in game-time situations. He’s obviously - not to minimize what he’s done - he’s far from perfect in that regard. He’s done some nice things in particular in the passing game.
“The screen play, it wasn’t executed overly perfectly, but the run after the catch, you can’t argue with that. It was very well done. Made a third-down conversion on a route and did the same thing a few weeks earlier against Alabama late. so he’s done a nice job of taking advantage of his opportunities.”
You are still a young player, but some feel that if you don’t start as a freshman something’s wrong, what’s it like having to wait to play?
“Everybody’s timeline is different,” Gragg said. “Hunter Henry came in here and started as a freshman. Jeremy Sprinkle didn’t make a play until his redshirt sophomore year. Everybody’s timeline is different.
“Just whenever your number gets called coach told us you can’t determine when you get into the game, but how you play once you do get in the game. So just make the most of your opportunities. It took my brother three years for him to get his feet wet. So we’re kinda used to it and just keep working.”
Was it hard not to play when so much is expected?
“No not really pressure,” Gragg said. “Just waiting for my moment. I knew I wasn’t ready and the coach wasn’t gonna put me out there if I wasn’t ready. They waited until I was ready and they figured I was ready to make a play and I guess they were right.”
When one asks the younger Gragg about his older brother who bought a home in Fayetteville and is rehabbing to get ready for the 2018 NFL season that brings a smile to his face. How much have you leaned on Chris the past three years?
“The past 21 years,” Will said with a wide smile. “But really with him being down this year he has gotten more involved in the game. He’s really with him being at home he is watching film and telling me things I need to do. He’s watching every play of the game on Saturday. On Sunday when we get by ourselves he can tell me what I did wrong and things like that. He has been a huge help. I’m forever indebted to him.”
How much time do you guys spend together?
“Probably whenever I leave from here I’m going straight to his house until I go to bed,” Gragg said. “That’s my best friend. He cooks sometimes for us and we watch films and movies being a big brother to me giving me tips on things I need to know. It’s just good having someone at home to go to who has been where you are and has been to where you want to go and knows how to get there.”
Gragg knows he has waited for his turn and now he’s also aware of what he has to do to continue to get reps.
“Just keep working,” Gragg said. “Come in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and do what I can to get prepared, get ready and watch film. Get all the things I need to do.”
The Razorbacks and Gragg will get real test on Saturday when No. 17 Mississippi State came to Reynolds Razorback Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff televised on CBS. What do you feel the offense has to do to have success against a very good Mississippi State defense?
“We’ve got to establish the run game against any defense,” Gragg said. “But their defense is one of the best in the country. I think they’re a Top 10 defense. They played well against Alabama. They held the No. 1 team in the country. We’ve just got to establish the run game and everything else will build off that.”