Arkansas center Travis Swanson is believed by many to be the best-looking prospect at his center position for the NFL as a fifth-year senior, while his textbook fundamentals and gripping size makes him a viable candidate to be selected in the top three rounds in May.
Yet, scouts that have spent time in either of Bret Bielema’s practices over the past month will tell you that Hogs kicker Zach Hocker has versatility and the right leg to make a longstanding career on the next level as well. Hocker entered the 2013 season as the SEC’s active leader in total points, extra points made and total points per game. In 2012, Hocker led the nation with a 64.7 yard average on kickoffs.
With successes last season, however, came huge setbacks from both his team and his role as a kicker. Arkansas went from a preseason top-10 team plummeting to an unranked 4-8 record, with Hocker connecting on 11-of-18 field goals. Two misses came in critical junctures in the LSU game, and he was replaced in the ballgame by backup John Henson.
After a much better structure this season, Arkansas and Hocker have since rebounded. Arkansas begins play with Southern Miss Saturday at 2-0. Even with a groin injury suffered in fall camp, Hocker has netted three field goals in the team’s first two games, including a 24-yard field-goal against Louisiana-Lafayette, breaking Bill Burnett’s school record of 294 points.
Hocker is 10 field goals short of breaking Todd Wright‘s career school record of 60.
The difference from last season is Bielema’s strong value on special teams — so much so that that Bielema gave him the opportunity to select his personal holder. Hocker went with Matt Emerich, this is seen uncharacteristic as quarterback Brian Buehner was assigned to him last season. Bielema has kept Hocker fresh giving his veteran placekicker Wednesdays and Fridays off from practice during each game week.
Hocker’s leg is so refreshed that the kicker will punt for the first time in his career and handle all three kicking duties. Hocker signed as a punter out of Russellville (AR) High, but walk-on punter Dylan Breeding was so impressive in 2010 that Hocker was used as a placekicker, thus winning the placekicking battle over a very inconsistent senior Alex Tejada his freshman season.
Hocker slipped by the punter signed in the Razorbacks’ last recruiting class, junior college transfer Sam Irwin-Hill, in fall camp. Irwin-Hill averaged 45 yards per boot for City College of San Francisco (CA) last season.
Hocker sent a 53-yard field goal right through the pipe last weekend against Samford. Hocker has made a 57-yarder in the team’s first scrimmage, not the 67 yarder that Arkansas kicking great Steve Little performed in the 1977 game versus Texas. Little’s kick is still tied as the longest kick in college football history.
Hocker broke the Arkansas single-season record for points by a kicker with 118 as a sophomore in 2011. Records are made to be broken, and Hocker will definitely break his two-year old record this season. That will allow Arkansas to have a leg up on the competition in the SEC this season as well.