‘Pooh’ excited for his first full game

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas linebacker Chris "Pooh" Paul is ready to play a full game against BYU tonight in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

A knee injury in preseason camp caused Paul to miss two scrimmages and resulted in him playing off the bench in Arkansas' 56-13 victory over Western Carolina in the opener.

When Paul was penalized for targeting and ejected in the fourth quarter of the Western Carolina game, it also meant he had to miss the first half of the next game when the Razorbacks beat Kent State 28-6.

Paul has been limited to 55 plays with 36 against Western Carolina and 19 against Kent State.

"Man, I'm highly excited," Paul said of his anticipation for tonight. "You know, this is my first real game, playing a full game.

"To get in front of the Razorback crowd and just the atmosphere and the energy that they bring, I know it's going to be a great Saturday.

"I've got a lot to make up for, and that's fine. I want to thank God for everything and just go out and play my best brand of football.

"I'm excited. I'm anxious. I'm ready."

Paul, a redshirt sophomore from Cordele, Ga., had 62 tackles last season when he played in every game and started the last two because Bumper Pool was injured. He had a career-high 12 tackles in Arkansas' 55-53 triple overtime victory over Kansas in the Liberty Bowl.

"We thought going into camp that he was going to be as good a linebacker as we have and unfortunately ... we haven't seen that," Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said. "But we got a little glimpse of it last week.

"I expect him to have a great game. He's practiced well, so I expect him to grab some confidence and with that, he's got a lot of talent."

Paul started the second half against Kent State and finished with five tackles, most notably during Arkansas' goal-line stand when he tackled running back Jaylen Thomas for no gain on a second-and-goal play from the 1 as the Razorbacks stopped the Golden Flashes on downs.

"I sat back the whole first half and I told myself, 'I've got to make it up to these guys. I've got to make some plays,' " Paul said. "My Pops always told me, 'Big-time players make big-time plays when it comes down to it.'

"So I came down and I made a big-time play."

Another big-time play for Paul came when he and defensive tackle Keivie Rose combined to sack quarterback Mike Alaimo for an 11-yard loss after Kent State had driven to the Arkansas 46.

"Pooh is super important to us," Razorbacks senior guard Brady Latham said. "Great guy, vocal leader, he plays hard all the time. He brings fire and juice to the defense.

"Every time Pooh is on the field, we expect him to make plays and he's a great guy to have back."

Paul watched the first half of the Kent State game from the sideline before helping the Razorbacks shut out the Golden Flashes in the second half.

"Honestly, I really didn't look at it as a frustrating aspect," Paul said. "I just looked at it as sitting back and being a leader.

"Coaching up the guys like [freshman] Brad Spence. Just keeping the energy alive on the sidelines.

"I understand that I was injured and I had gotten the targeting call, but that doesn't stop the leadership aspect of things. So I prided myself on being vocal with the guys and keeping their spirits high.

"There really wasn't any frustration because I knew our defense was in good hands with the guys that would display it out there. They did a great job throughout the week preparing themselves, so I was confident."

Senior linebacker Antonio Grier, a transfer from South Florida who returned an interception for a touchdown against Kent State, joked that Paul at times gets too vocal.

"Sometimes I have to tell him to be quiet. He doesn't stop talking," Grier said with a smile. "Always energized whether it's lifting or asking questions in meetings and taking notes.

"He's really a great person to be around. He's a real stand-up guy."

Pittman said speed is what helps make Paul, 6-1 and 233 pounds, so effective on defense.

"He's such a really good kid, he's a hard-worker, but he has special speed," Pittman said. "He can make plays a little faster than what a lot of guys can.

"A yard difference, half-yard difference, is a big deal in being able to get a guy on the ground."

Paul said Pittman was encouraging last week knowing he would have to sit out until the second half.

"He came up to me numerous times in practice telling me, 'You're not going to be out there in the first half, but when you get out there you need to basically introduce yourself again,' " Paul said. "I just thought to myself I needed to make plays and put my name back out there."