FAYETTEVILLE — Jarques McClellion was two games into second-year apprenticing when he became startled with a start.
Totally apprenticing as a redshirting freshman cornerback in 2017 recruited out of Delray Beach, Florida, by former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and the Bielema staff, McClellion’s freshman 2018 season under new coach Chad Morris figured to be like an apprentice gradually breaking into his trade.
Special teams and maybe some reserve cornerback work here and there but not much.
At one corner fourth-year junior Ryan Pulley, the 2015 lockdown cornerback returned recovered from the injury ending his 2017 season at one game.
At the other corner Chevin Calloway started having played 12 games in 2017 backed by Britto Tutt, seasoned with a one year of junior college plus a Razorbacks redshirt year.
It all changed so fast. Calloway left the team for personal reasons after two games.
Tutt was hampered by injuries. So from game three on, McClellion the apprentice became a starting cornerback.
“The feeling was unreal at first,” McClellion said. “I knew if I got the opportunity I had to show the coaches what can I do. So when Calloway was out, then when Britto went down I was like ‘OK, it’s my first time in SEC play.’ I just had to be confident and be the person who I am and be the player that I know I am and just prove to the coaches that I can play hard and do my job in the starting job.”
He had to do it in a hurry. Because with quarterbacks shying from throwing to Pulley’s side already, they really picked on the rookie corner.
“Yeah, that’s how I felt at first but at the same time I knew the background of coming from South Florida,” McClellion said.
The background including some of the best ever Alabama Crimson Tide receivers to come out of Florida, or anywhere else, helped McClellion prepare for the big stage.
“I had been going against Jerry Jeudy in 7 on 7 every day and Calvin Ridley and all the big name receivers,” McClellion said. “My confidence is always going to rise to another level.”
He knew it must or he would be lost. For all that was thrown at him, McClellion intercepted three passes and broke up six others.
“I couldn’t be that little kid that’s a redshirt freshman and have Pulley as a junior,” McClellion said. “I had to be mature just like him and stay on the field as long as he did. I just felt ‘OK, I’m going to prove to these other quarterbacks and receivers that I’m the best out here. That’s what I tried to show last year and that’s what I am going to try to keep what I do this year.”
He’d better. Because with Pulley eschewing his UA first-year senior season to turn pro, McClellion is THE main man corner and the most experienced player in the entire secondary other than junior safety Kamren Curl, a 2017 starting cornerback who started every 2018 game at safety.
“Since Pulley left in the secondary we lost last year’s lockdown corner,” McClellion said. “Now that’s me. I’m turning into that leader and lockdown cornerback. Same for Kamren Curl at safety. He’s been playing as a true freshman since I came in so he already knows how it feels to be on the field.
Conversely as Curl last year adjusted moving from corner to safety, Montaric “Buster” Brown of Ashdown, now the starting corner opposite of McClellion, originally played safety.
“Buster just started working corner just last year,” McClellion said. “Now he’s doing some technique that corners I’ve seen took them two or three years to learn it just took him a good month. He’s getting into a rhythm having the confidence. He’s athletic. I look at him as my brother and I know he’s not going to disappoint.”
Growing up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the country, so rough that one he idolized and whose No. 4 he now wears, defensive back Greg Bryant of Alabama-Birmingham was shot and killed driving home over an Easter weekend, McClellion credits his parents, grandmother and aunt for keeping him on the straight and narrow.
“I would get mad when they picked my friends out and tell me who to hang out with and who not to,” McClellion said. “But when I looked at it, it was a business decision for me because half of them (the ones his family forbid him from associating) are either dead or in jail. But the ones they picked out, one is at West Virginia, another is at the University of Iowa playing … it was a blessing.”