FAYETTEVILLE — Freshman tight end Luke Hasz was headed for an outstanding season when he broke his clavicle against Texas A&M.
Hasz had caught 16 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns when he went out with the injury. He’s a true freshman from Bixby (Okla.) High School and has a very bright future at Arkansas.
But with Hasz gone now the Hogs have to turn to North Texas transfer Var’keyes Gumms, redshirt senior Nathan Bax, redshirt sophomore Tyrus Washington and Louisville transfer Francis Sherman who is a senior. Arkansas also signed four-star tight end Shamar Easter from Ashdown in the Class of 2023 with Hasz, but he is still developing according to Sam Pittman though he didn’t completely rule out using him.
“There’s always a possibility, but there are some other guys over there,” Pittman said. “I like Maddox Lassiter. I do. (He’s a preferred walk-on freshman from Warren). I like him a lot.
“Shamar’s going to be a really fine player for us. He’s just not ready today to do any of those things that you’re talking about. But he’s going to be a really good player for us in the future.”
Lassiter, 6-foot-3, 232-pounds, was a quarterback for Bo Hembree at Warren. He opted to walk on at Arkansas and shift to tight end. The Hogs have also worked running back Dominique Johnson at tight end this week.
“He’s not only back there,” Pittman said. “We have some 20 package where we can have availability of him playing at the tight end position, but you are right, we experimented two or maybe three years ago and we got a running back hurt. He came in and did such a wonderful job. We are looking at that in some situations. I just want to make sure that we all know that he hasn’t moved to TE permanently. We are looking in some 20 package where he could be in a TE position, if that makes sense.”
Gumms and Johnson have each caught one pass this season. No other tight end has any receptions outside of Hasz. Pittman was asked what he has seen from the tight ends this week?
“The change in the offense would be due to we just have to get better,” Pittman said. “Some of the things we might do would be going into that. We’re very comfortable with the other tight ends that we have. You know, sometimes opportunity, we find out more about a guy than obviously if he’s standing over on the sidelines. I’m very comfortable with the tight ends that we have.
“Will we change some? We might because we always do a little bit just trying to attack the defense that we’re getting ready to play. Very comfortable with how it’s gone the first two days, but obviously very sorry that we don’t have Luke. Just a great kid. But we’ll go ahead… anyway, we’re going to be fine and we haven’t changed much.”
Pittman was asked if the open competition there will continue through all the practices this week?
“If there is rotation, we have that established every Saturday,” Pittman said. “To answer your question, we’ll make our decision on Friday after we’ve looked at all the tape and all those type things and then we’ll have a plan on how to do it. That competition at least for that game will be over throughout the week’s work and then go from there.”
Gumms caught 34 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns while earning second-team Freshman All-America honors at North Texas in 2022.
“Yeah, his film was good and he’s a good player,” Pittman said. “The physicality part of it. Again, his ability to make plays. He has it, he just has to make them. A lot of his, to be honest with you, a lot of his non-playing was because of Luke. Because they were very similar in blocking, but route running, and as far as their assets were. I think you’ll see a good player from him. I do. Just one that wasn’t able to get on the field quite as much because Luke was ahead of him.”
Bax started his career as a walk-on transfer from Illinois State. He has caught three passes for 16 yards in his career with the Hogs and eventually earned a scholarship. Bax was asked how the room is holding up without Hasz?
“It was really unfortunate to lose Luke, but he’s in good spirits and he will be right back,” Bax said. “He had a great start to the season, and I expect him to take off once he gets back. But we’re keeping the same schedule as normal. Every week is a competition, and we’re going to continue that just with a little more edge this week and lock in on the details as well.”
Bax also talked about how Johnson has looked when he’s working with the tight ends.
“He’s been with both as far as the field and then running backs in the meeting room,” Bax said. “He’s done a good job wherever he’s been. He’s embraced every step of it. And he’s always been a team guy, so I expect nothing less from him as far as embracing the role that he’s going to assume on Saturday.”
Bax was asked how big a transition it would be going from running back to tight end?
“I’m sure it would be for anyone, but Dom is one of those guys that is always going to put the team first,” Bax said. “Like I said, he’s going to embrace it and take it step by step. He’s done a good job doing it at running back and now at tight end. He’s doing a good job doing both.”
Regardless of how many tight ends that Pittman and Morgan Turner play on Saturday one can expect a wild game with the Rebels.
“Yeah, you know there’s always going to be fireworks in this game,” Bax said. “I think both teams play with a chip on their shoulder, and you’ve got to go out there and expect to keep throwing punches. We’re always excited for this game. It’s always one of those games we circle on the schedule. It’s going to be a big one for us.”
The Hogs and Ole Miss will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night in Oxford. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.