Hawgs Illustrated

Linebacker legacy: Pooh Paul ready to carry the torch*


By Andrew Joseph

Linebacker legacy: Pooh Paul ready to carry the torch*

After the conclusion of Arkansas’ spring game, Chris “Pooh” Paul exerted a unique sense of poise for an underclassman under the bright lights of the media room inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

As he answered yet another question about the team’s preparation for the upcoming season from a sea of reporters - a childhood memory flashed through his mind. He couldn’t help but think of the countless mock interviews recorded by his mom on the family camcorder after youth games, pretending to be the star player he always dreamed of becoming.

And now, here he was, living out that dream on the state’s biggest stage rather than in the Paul family living room.

The new-look Arkansas defense under defensive coordinator Travis Williams will be tasked with replacing its top three tacklers and both defensive captains from last season. There is no doubt from anyone within the Razorback football organization that Paul is ready to rise to the occasion.

“He is a guy who we are counting on to take that next step,” Williams said.

With the help of his parents, Chris Sr. and Velieka, Pooh has been preparing for this moment since he was seven years old. The postgame press conferences with his mom were immediately followed by a film session with his dad who was the team’s coach.

“My parents put a lot of time and effort into me, and I don’t want that to go to waste,” Paul said. “I tell them every day that I am thankful for them. I am forever in debt to my parents.”

Paul has sat behind some of the most productive linebackers in program history during his first two years on campus. In 2021, he appeared in just four games, making one tackle while taking notes from the walk-on-turned-all-american Grant Morgan and Arkansas’ all-time tackle leader Bumper Pool.

Despite the lack of playing time, Paul never considered entering the all-toofamiliar transfer portal. He knew his time was coming.

The Georgia native looked to his Navy veteran and football coach father for words of encouragement.

“Everything in this world starts with discipline,” Paul Sr. said. “We talked about patience and capitalizing on opportunities.”

Last season, Paul burst onto the scene as a crucial member of the linebacker corps with Pool and Drew Sanders, a third-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. He secured 62 tackles, 4 sacks, and 1 forced fumble while appearing in all 13 games.

Paul began the season in a distant third

place on the depth chart behind the PoolSanders duo. He showed he was ready for a bigger role while soaking up snaps vacated by Pool who dealt with a prolonged hip injury in 2022.

Coming off a deflating 21-19 loss to Liberty, the Arkansas coaching staff decided it was time to make a change.

Former linebackers coach Michael Scherer met with Paul to discuss him becoming an every-down player ahead of the Razorbacks’ matchup against LSU in Week 10. Paul left the meeting with a big smile on his face that wouldn’t fade until he fell asleep later that night.

Following the meeting, the underclassman instantly made two phone calls: one to his dad and another to Sanders. The recipients of the calls were different, but the message was the same: “I want to get better before the LSU game. Can you help me?”

Sanders accepted his request with open arms and made plans for the pair to study film together. The two linebackers spent hours in Coach Scherer’s office every day from Monday to Thursday, scouting an endless amount of tape on the Tigers’ offensive tendencies as well as critiquing their own defensive film from the past week’s defeat.

“I cannot thank (Sanders) enough,” Paul said. “He really helped me out a lot and took me under his wing.”

He stayed on the call with his father for an hour and a half. While the elder Paul congratulated his son for earning the extended snaps, he emphasized the importance of capitalizing on each opportunity, regardless of playing time.

“If you are getting ten snaps per game, you need to be making 10 tackles,” Paul Sr. told him.

The Razorbacks suffered a heartbreaking 13-10 loss to the Tigers as backup quarterbacks Malik Hornsby and Cade Fortin struggled to move the offense. Despite the offensive ineptitude, Arkansas kept itself in the game behind an inspired defensive performance spearheaded by Paul

The redshirt freshman lived in the LSU backfield, leading the team with two sacks and two tackles for loss. He harassed Tigers’ quarterback Jayden Daniels who put up a season-low 96 total yards of offense in the win.

“That game was electric for me,” Paul said. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Paul had introduced himself to the SEC and there was no turning back.

He set a new career-high in tackles in each of the next three weeks against Ole Miss (7), Missouri (9), and Kansas (12). The final two games came without Pool in the lineup.