Hogs: Henry, Kirkland turning pro, but quality depth abounds; Collins' decision to come
FAYETTEVILLE - Junior consensus All-America tight end and national award winner Hunter Henry, and mammoth junior left offensive tackle Denver Kirkland are leaving Arkansas to declare for the NFL draft.
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Henry of Little Rock and Pulaski Academy announced his decision Monday morning via UA press release, while Kirkland (6-5, 340) of Miami, Fla., announced his decision on Twitter.
"After much thought, prayer and consultation with my family, I have decided to forego my senior year and take the next step toward fulfilling my lifelong goal of playing in the NFL," Kirkland tweets. "The last three years at UofA have given me the opportunity to develop as a scholar, athlete and as a person. For that, I am forever grateful."
Henry was quoted in a University of Arkansas press release.
Winner of the Mackey Award annually bestowed on the nation's best tight end, Henry said, "As I move on to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL, I want to express my deepest thanks first and foremost to God for blessing me with the incredible opportunity to play football at the University of Arkansas. I have grown so much as a person and player these past three years at the University of Arkansas. I have enjoyed my experience more than I could have ever imagined."
Henry thanked Pulaski Academy coach Kevin Kelley, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who signed Henry in his first recruiting class of 2013, Barry Lunney Jr., the tight ends coach for all three of Henry's Arkansas seasons, first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos, Athletic Director Jeff Long "and the entire athletic department and last but certainly not least was the entire Razorback Nation for giving this Little Rock native the experience of a lifetime."
Henry concluded his Razorback career in Saturday's 45-23 Liberty Bowl victory over Kansas State by catching five passes for 92 yards from senior quarterback Brandon Allen, including a 43-yarder on third and 13 that was the game's pivotal play. It preceded Alex Collins' 14-yard TD run at 11:57 of the fourth quarter giving Arkansas a 38-23 lead.
Henry's fourth-and-25 lateral to Collins whose run for a first down ultimately knocked Ole Miss out of the SEC West championship won by Alabama, helped Arkansas beat the Rebels 53-52 in overtime at Oxford, Miss.
For the season, Henry's 51 catches for 739 yards leads all tight ends, pending Monday night's national championship game between Alabama and Clemson.
Bielema has praised Henry since his 2013 arrival and lauded him all this season as college football's best tight end.
And Bielema has consistently praised Kirkland, recruited as a tackle but starting his first two years at right guard before moved to left tackle this season.
The coach said he especially appreciated how Henry, Kirkland and draft eligible junior pro prospect Alex Collins, the running back and MVP of the Liberty Bowl, approached the Liberty Bowl.
"The one thing, Alex did, Hunter did and Denver did, they just wanted to get to the game," Bielema said of them putting aside the pro possibilities to concentrate on the game.
After the Liberty Bowl, Bielema said he planned to meet with Kirkland and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native Collins later this week at their homes.
For now, Bielema's Thursday lunch date with Collins is still on.
Even with Henry departing, the Razorbacks are well-stocked at tight end. Junior tight end Jeremy Sprinkle of White Hall caught four passes for 81 yards with a TD in the Liberty Bowl. For the 8-5 Razorbacks, Sprinkle finished with 27 catches for 389 yards and six touchdowns.
The Razorbacks redshirted three promising freshmen tight ends in Will Gragg of Dumas, C.J. O'Grady of Fayetteville, and Austin Cantrell of Roland, Okla. Redshirt freshman letterman Jack Kraus of Bentonville comes off knee surgery after tearing his ACL during the Razorbacks last on-campus bowl practice in Fayetteville.
During the season, former Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman, moved on in December to Georgia, lauded the progress of backup offensive tackles Johnny Gibson of Dumas and Brian Wallace of Florissant, Mo.