Chuck Dicus doesn’t keep up with Arkansas football like he once did. Sure, the legendary Razorback receiver had followed his program very closely in the years after a two-time All American career in which he he won the 1969 Sugar Bowl MVP and later that year also starred in the "Game of the Century." But as the decades kept rolling on, life did what life does - other priorities came to the fore.
Still, Dicus occasionally carves out time from his life in Little Rock and work as the president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation to watch the Hogs play. Junior Hunter Henry is one player who has especially caught his eye. Dicus says the 2015 winner of John Mackey award for nation’s best tight end reminds of a former San Diego Chargers teammate: John Mackey himself.
Dicus notes the 6’2", 224-pound tight end excelled with an all-around game featuring strong run blocking. "John Mackey's trademark was after he caught the ball he was going to make yardage because he was so difficult to bring down, and that's kind of what I've seen from Hunter Henry," Dicus told me. "From what I've seen of Hunter he also I think could claim to be a good blocking [NFL] tight end as well as one that can get open. Certainly he's got great hands."
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema agrees. "He runs like a deer, catches like a baseball player. I mean, he is incredibly, incredibly gifted. I don't know if he's great at anything -- he's just really good at everything," Bielema recently told Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman. "His first year he kind of got bounced around a little bit… After that first year I said, ‘Brother, hey, are you in our weight program? You're going to be bouncing those other guys like they did you.’ He's got a hold of guys [now], he gets those hands inside and gets them going backwards and makes them feel the pain a little bit. It's fun to watch."
Of course, the 6’5" 255-pound Henry’s development also gives him a power which could potentially send Hog fans reeling. With a single announcement in the next couple months, he can significantly alter the outlook for next year’s offense, especially if fellow junior stars Alex Collins and Denver Kirkland join him in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Like most fans Dicus sees pluses and minuses in a decision to go pro early.
"I can certainly see where it might be in his best interest if he chose to leave and go to the pros. However, I can make the same argument the other way. Peyton Manning chose to stay. I think that it'd be hard to argue with his success."
We talked more about Henry, the draft, meeting President Richard Nixon in the locker room and an incredible statistic which Dicus claims. The below excerpts are reordered and lightly edited for clarity.
Q: If NFL money had been as good in 1969 as it is now, and you were pegged as a high draft choice, do you think you would have left after your junior year?
A: No, I don't think I would have and I'll tell you why. My grandmother was a school teacher. She valued education above everything else. I think that just out of respect and love for her I would have stayed to get my degree, which I actually did in 4 years.
It's easy for me to say it that way. We're just speculating, I know, but I do think that all things the same I would stay. The risk you take is that you might get hurt. That's the game of football. I just I think I would have been willing to take that risk. [NB: Henry is on track to graduate in December 2016]
Q: You’re in the College Football Hall of Fame. Do you think Henry's shot at himself one day being inducted into that same hall significantly increases if he stays?
A: No question about it. I'm not saying that it can't happen if he were to leave, but I think his chances of that happening increase if he's able to stay another year and have comparable success to what he's had so far, but this is a different age than when I played. These young men today, they have other agendas sometimes.
Q: Does the Henry’s 4th-and-25 lateral at the end of the Ole Miss game compare to anything you ever saw in the 1960s or 1970s?
A: No, I don't recall ever being involved or actually seeing something quite like that before.
Q: Where were you when saw it and what was your reaction?
A: I was at a wedding in Fayetteville and some of the guys had kind of broken away to catch the end of the ball game, so I only got to see the very end. [The lateral and run] was pretty spectacular. Everybody was certainly excited about it… in all sports and in football in particular on rare occasions there comes a play that just defies logic. You can't really explain how that happened and certainly if someone was telling you about it, and you didn't see it, you would probably doubt whether it was true or not.
Q: You said you’re proud to see what Henry has accomplished so far in three years. How has his role as a playmaker on this team differed from yours?
A: My three years we won 28 and lost five games. Hunter has had to struggle through some difficult years and still he's received these honors and these awards. That’s a credit to him. In my case I was just fortunate to be at Arkansas at the right time. Playing in big games like the ‘69 Sugar Bowl and the game against Texas in ‘69. Then we followed it up with another Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss, which we ended up not winning that game - but, again, it was nationally televised.
Q: After that heartbreaking Texas loss, President Nixon walked into the Razorback locker room and spoke to some of you personally. What did he tell you?
A: President Nixon said something to the effect that I reminded him of Lance Alworth. It was a huge compliment for me. I had grown up just idolizing Lance and his ability to be a wide receiver, so I was quite honored by that...
Q: How did the team react to having the president in the locker room despite the fact you’d just suffered a tremendous loss?
A: Well, in my mind having the president walk in that locker room was secondary to what we had just been through. In the matter of roughly three hours we had gone from the highest high to the lowest low. That's difficult for young men and/or women to deal with those kind of things when you prepare so hard for something, and you have it in your grasp and then it slips away. It can be devastating. It certainly was for a brief moment there after that game.
I think we were all somewhat devastated in that locker room, but time goes by and things change… If there's another game coming up behind you, you go put that out of your mind and get ready for the next one.
Q: Henry has been lauded this season for not dropping a single pass thrown his way after dropping a few his first couple years. Did ever go a season without dropping a pass?
A: Well, you know wide receivers usually have a little bit of hotdog in them. I'm going to say that I never dropped a pass. I would say that there may be some people old enough to remember our game against Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, and at the very end of the game I caught a pass over the middle and simultaneously was hit by their free safety. The officials ruled it a fumble, but if I ever dropped one I'm going to say that that's the one that I dropped, because I would rather say I dropped the pass than I fumbled.
For more on Arkansas football, visit BestOfArkansasSports.com. In his latest post, Demirel talks to Henry’s high school football coach and speculates on Henry one day opening a law firm entitled Gronk, Witten & Graham.