FAYETTEVILLE — For almost the first time he can remember during his 24 years, D’Vone McClure in 2017 spent the spring, summer and fall not playing ball or preparing to play ball.

Apparently it all but undid him.

Because the former Jacksonville High School football/baseball star from nearby Rixey first retired from baseball after four years signed out of high school in the Cleveland Indians organization, and then retired after his 2016 season as a reserve receiver/special teamer with former coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks, is balling again. He not only plays Arkansas football again but likely will start whenever new coach Chad Morris’ Razorbacks open with their 4-3 defense using a nickel back instead of a traditional Sam outside linebacker.

What prompted McClure’s return from regular UA student to Razorbacks football?

“Sitting out that year just made me hungrier,” McClure said. “Made me realize what I needed to do better and needed to work on. Things were just out of place with me not being able to compete. I just wanted to go through the fire and be out there. I needed to be out there.”

What was life like without ball?

“It was different,” McClure said. “I got to hang out with my family. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I loved it. But I was missing that part of my life that made my life what it was. It’s what I’ve done since I was a kid. And it was hard to watch dudes that I have grinded with compete without me being out there. I felt there was something I need to finish and I’m out here to do it.”

So with Tanner Burns, in special teams/quality control for Bielema and retained to do the same by Morris, McClure used the bridge between eras to commence linking with the Razorbacks again shortly after Morris’ hiring in December.

“I hit up Tanner Burns and he said, Come see me at the first of January,” McClure said. “That was my first year not playing football or baseball and I just felt empty without it. So I just knew I had to come do it.”

McClure returned as the receiver he had been.

Obviously that changed for the 6-2, 215 pounder before spring drills began.

“I think the coaches know my demeanor and my body more fits defense,” McClure said. “So that’s the change we made and it’s been great. I was a receiver when I came back those first couple of weeks working out and me and Coach (Morris) said, ‘You need to come to the dark side.’ Coach started hinting at it and I made the transition and it’s been great for me.”

Defense was not entirely new to him.

“Actually my first varsity action in high school I was a safety,” McClure said. “I started in 10th grade as a safety and then I moved to receiver. I played some corner my last (high school) year so I have a defensive background.”

Obviously secondary experience comes in handy at the hybrid position variously called Sam outside linebacker or nickel back depending on the personnel grouping.

“I think I’m classified as a nickel/Sam,” McClure said. “Hayden Henry (the 6-2, 222 sophomore from Pulaski Academy) is a Sam and I’m doing a lot of nickel but I’m here to do whatever the team needs me to do.”

Veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis said the team always needs an experienced athlete like former pro minor league baseball player McClure to lend the team his experience.

“I think McClure is a guy with a big upside because he’s older and he’s mature,” Chavis said. “He’s not an 18-year-old kid. He’s a 23-year-old man. That makes a difference.”

They need more than his intangible experience now. They need his athleticism.

Because with Kevin Richardson, the 23-year-old sixth-senior first-team nickel granted an extra season’s eligibility after missing two entire seasons, injured again (likely out until midseason breaking his foot in a freak accident moving furniture), McClure starts preseason as the first-team nickel.

It’s a sad irony since old Jacksonville teammate Richardson was the one who encouraged McClure to give football a shot upon his Cleveland Indians release and encouraged the Bielema staff about McClure.

“That’s my boy,” McClure said. “Just a shame as he (Richardson) was recovering from something (recovered for preseason after limited by injuries last spring) but God puts the strongest burden on the strongest shoulders so he’ll come back times two.”

In the meantime, Richardson’s absence obviously becomes McClure’s nickel with sophomore Derrick Munson and true freshman Joe Foucha working there, too.

“I try not to look at it like that,” McClure said. “I try to look at it that I’m coming in to help the team where they need me.”

He was going to prepare like a ready to play first-teamer regardless of Richardson’s availability.

“(If) you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,” McClure said.

Morris said after the first two practices that McClure started ready to play.

“D’Vone McClure is moving around,” Morris said. “Running well, tracking to the ball.”