Photographs by Jason Ivester
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance runs after the catch during a practice Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Saturday, August 12, 2017
The 22nd in a series profiling newcomers to the Arkansas Razorbacks football team.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas Razorbacks receivers coach Michael Smith was bubbling with positive energy when asked about junior college transfer Jonathan Nance's work this summer and his improvement in learning the offensive schemes.
Smith was about a minute into his comments when he got to a key ingredient regarding Nance: injuries.
Jonathan Nance glance
HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-0, 182
HOMETOWN Gulfport, Miss.
HIGH SCHOOL Gulfport High
LAST STOP Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
AGE 19 (born Aug. 19, 1997)
NOTEWORTHY Early enrollee with two years of eligibility. … Had 31 receptions for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns as a college freshman. … Missed time with a shoulder injury in 2016 and had 13 catches for 153 yards. … Ranked as the No. 13 juco wide receiver and the No. 117 overall juco prospect by 247 sports. … College teammate of fellow Arkansas receiver Brandon Martin. … Had 63 receptions for 743 yards and 6 touchdowns while earning second-team all-state honors as a high school senior. Also had 60 tackles and 2 interceptions. … Chose the Razorbacks over Colorado State, Troy and Louisiana-Monroe. … Parents are Melissa and James Nance Jr.
"My biggest thing with all those guys is keeping them healthy all through camp," Smith said. "It's going to be a long season for us, but we're looking forward to it."
Nance, a 6-0, 187-pound junior from Gulfport, Miss., and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, has stayed healthy through two weeks of camp. Smith lists him among the Razorbacks' top three available receivers at this point along with La'Michael Pettway and Deon Stewart.
But Nance has a history of injuries.
A shoulder problem cost him a few games last year. Before that, a broken foot on April 1, 2016 -- the first day of spring practice -- knocked him out of drills and slowed his summer progress.
After enrolling early at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, a defensive back landed on his knee during spring camp, spraining his posterior cruciate ligament and slowing him for several practices. Nance returned in time for the spring finale, and now he's got his sights set on the vast amount of playing time available after the Razorbacks lost a big group of senior wideouts.
"I look at it like I've got to come in and try to play right away," Nance said midway through summer. "I'm just going to come in and do what I need to do. Anything to help the team at receiver or wherever I can. Special teams, returning kicks, anything."
Smith said Nance's summer was impressive.
"Jonathan had a great summer," Smith said. "I'm really, really proud, first of all, at what he did in the classroom. He had over a 3.0 [GPA]. From a football aspect, he's just been diligent in the playbook."
Nance and the other inexperienced receivers spent lots of time with senior wideout Jared Cornelius going over the playbook, and they've done hours of voluntary work catching passes from Austin Allen and the other quarterbacks.
Allen, asked about Nance at SEC media days, sounded optimistic.
"Yeah, he's a really good football player," Allen said. "Quick, smart, and we'll see if he's tough. That's two of the three that you need.
"He has good hands and has a really good feel for route running and being able to get open and knowing what to do with the ball in his hands. I'm excited to see how he does."
Nance began camp at the Z wideout position behind Cornelius but is taking first-team reps while Cornelius rests his tight back.
"He's shown us through some 'Hoganese' classes that he has learned the offense," Smith said. "He can play in the slot, he can play X. We're looking for some big things from him in camp."
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Nance's injuries in junior college probably made him a little under-recruited.
"He's a very talented player," Bielema said while showing a video highlight of Nance catching a go route with an over-the-shoulder grab at the Signing Day on the Hill event. "He catches the ball naturally with his hands."
Bielema noted Nance practiced through pain for part of spring drills.
Nance and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College teammate Brandon Martin learned the offense together on the fly during spring.
"Now I've seen the film and what I was doing wrong -- me being out there getting yelled at about not being in the right spots -- I know I have a better understanding of the plays and the concepts and what's going on with the offense," Nance said.
Nance signed with Southern Mississippi out of high school before transferring to Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The tempo in spring drills at Arkansas was an eye opener for Nance.
"At our juco, we practiced hard every practice," he said. "We had an up-tempo practice, but this is more fast-paced, like everything flying around. They expect the best out of you every play no matter what. All the time at practice ... I could tell this was big-boy football."
The Razorbacks were Nance's only Power 5 scholarship offer.
"It's an opportunity for me to play big-time football in a big-time conference, and I just took that as a plus for me," he said.
Nance committed to the Razorbacks earlier in the process than Martin, who told his teammate privately about a week before signing day he was going with Arkansas.
"At first it wasn't like we were going to the same place, but he was thinking and seeing all the receivers leaving and that he could come in and help, too," Nance said. "So I was already committed here and then he made his decision right during the signing day period.
"But it was a big step though, knowing he's going to come and we're both at the same place now."
Sports on 08/12/2017
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