When Arkansas takes the field against Western Illinois in the 2008 season opener, many new faces will making their Razorback debut. However, when it comes to the offensive line, Arkansas can boast of a talented group of veterans who have seen all types of in-game action and blocked for the some of the best players in the nation. Among those veterans is the Razorbacks’ senior left tackle Jose Valdez.
Valdez has been part of an offensive line that has earned numerous accolades during his tenure at Arkansas. Valdez takes pride in learning from the best and all he had to do was, playing at left tackle, look to his right to see All-Americans Robert Felton, Jonathan Luigs, Stephen Parker and Tony Ugoh and All-SEC performer Zac Tubbs.
“I’ve put in my time over the last four years,” Valdez said. “I’ve gotten to watch (Tony) Ugoh, (Zac) Tubbs and (Stephen) Parker. I’m still learning things from (Jonathan) Luigs. It’s been awesome. It’s good to know that I’m up here now and starting. It feels real good.”
The 2008 version of the offensive line, like many of the position groups, will feature some underclassmen fighting for starting spots and some will prevail.
“(The offensive line) is relied on a lot,” Valdez said. We’ve got a good mix of players and personalities. Wade Grayson is fighting for a starting spot. Even with me, I had to earn my spot back because in the spring I was put down on the second team because I couldn’t comprehend the playbook. It was a hard thing to learn, but with these young guys, I have to do whatever it takes to help the team.”
Grant Cook, Grant Freeman, Matt Hall and Seth Oxner are just a few of the younger names that may be spotted on the offensive line this season for the Razorbacks. The continued progress of the underclassmen has created competition that has forced the veterans to step up their game to retain their snaps.
“We have younger guys that can really help us, so it doesn’t mean all the veterans will automatically get the playing time,” Valdez said. “It’s about having the best guy in the best position for Coach Summers, so it’s a good mix.”
Like many of his teammates, Valdez has shown improvement throughout the spring and during fall camp. Having moved around on the depth chart, he earned his starting spot when Arkansas’ coaches took notice of his hard work and dedication.
“I had to get in my playbook and actually learn my assignments,” Valdez said. “I couldn’t just get by without knowing my assignments and learning everything. Coach (Mike) Summers made an example of me and told me ‘I’m not going to give you anything; you’ve got to earn it yourself.’ So even though I did start last year, I had to keep fighting for my spot. I just got into my book, met with him one-on-one, learned my assignments and went on from there.”
Valdez has proven to be not only a valuable asset on the field, but his active participation in the community has helped make a difference with people all over Northwest Arkansas.
During his time at Arkansas, Valdez has made numerous trips to local schools to spend time reading, socializing and talking to students about decisions, choices and overcoming racial issues.
Additionally, he has visited The Sunshine School for Disabled Children, attended the Book Hogs Pizza Party at Bud Walton Arena, made a visit to the Homestyle Assistant Living Center for Thanksgiving Dinner and made a visit to an area veterans’ home.
In recognition of his community service, Valdez was Arkansas’ nominee for the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team.
While there have been many on the field changes in the offseason for Valdez and his teammates to adjust to, nothing changes the fact that everyone is just excited for the season to start.
“It’s been hard with the hot, long, grinding practices, but it feels great knowing the season is starting,” Valdez said. “Like Coach (Bobby) Petrino says, we’re going to work every day and bring our hard hats every day, so it’s just work, work and more work.”
Valdez is no stranger to change. Hailing from a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisc., the adjustment from high school to college football wasn’t the only one he had to make as a freshman in the fall of 2005.
“I probably miss the food (in Wisconsin) more than anything,” Valdez said. “It’s just really different than what’s down here. I like the bratwursts up there because everyone has good ones, and the cheese, obviously. I like pepper jack.”
Lucky for Valdez, he had a large group of friends and teammates, including the offensive line, waiting to welcome him and go through the changes and adjustments together and to take a few hits.
“We are in there making holes to let the running backs show off a little bit,” Valdez said. “That’s what we want. We don’t want our running backs or our quarterbacks getting touched. We take pride in that. Coach (Mike) Summers stresses that with us. We take the hit off the quarterback and never let them get hit.”
Whether it is blocking for a running back, protecting a quarterback or being a “hit” with kids in the community, Valdez is a veteran that younger Razorbacks would be well served to follow behind both on and off the field.