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Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Inductee: Ryan Mallett, a Larger-Than-Life Star

FAYETTEVILLE — The quarterback who returned to Arkansas to elevate his home-state Razorbacks to new heights crafted a larger-than-life persona through a burst of success before his untimely passing last summer.

Ryan Michael Mallett, hailing from Batesville, possessed a legendary arm and stood tall at 6-6. Teamed up with the offensive mastermind Coach Bobby Petrino, the Razorbacks achieved an 18-8 record during his two seasons as the starter, culminating in a Sugar Bowl appearance after the 2010 season, marking the program’s sole Bowl Championship Series participation.

Mallett, who tragically passed away at 35 last June following a swimming incident in the Gulf of Mexico, is set to be posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame this evening at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. His mother, Debbie, will deliver the acceptance speech.

Mallett’s physical attributes were unparalleled in the history of Arkansas athletics.

“I’ve never witnessed an arm like his,” remarked DJ Williams, the Mackey Award-winning tight end during his time with the Razorbacks, who currently serves as a morning anchor at KARK-TV in Little Rock and a radio host at KABZ-FM, 103.7. “Never.”

Transitioning to coaching after his professional playing career, Mallett was gearing up for his second season as the head coach at White Hall High School at the time of his passing.

Mallett etched his name in UA athletics lore with several iconic plays, including a memorable game-changing moment against LSU in 2010.

During the 2010 regular season finale, Mallett launched a deep pass to Cobi Hamilton from Texarkana, Texas, resulting in an 80-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half against No. 6 LSU in Little Rock. Later in the same game, on a crucial fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter with Arkansas holding onto a slim 21-20 lead, Mallett executed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Joe Adams on a stop-and-go route, outmaneuvering the future NFL standout Tyrann Mathieu for the decisive score in a 31-23 triumph.

The triumph over LSU secured Arkansas’s second 10-win season in 21 years and sealed a Sugar Bowl berth, marking the program’s debut on the BCS stage.

Petrino, now back at Arkansas as the offensive coordinator, expressed his sorrow at Mallett’s absence. “He was an extraordinary player and personality. He had this ability to walk into a room and light it up, engaging with everyone. Ryan Mallett was a fantastic individual; he truly deserves his place in the hall of fame. He made a significant impact on our program.”

Mallett, who used to assist his father, Jim, in directing cars to the parking lot south of Razorback Stadium, harbored dreams of playing for the Razorbacks. Despite initially committing to Michigan in 2006, he eventually transferred to Arkansas, seeking a fresh start away from the coaching changes at Michigan.

Upon his arrival in Fayetteville in early January 2008, Mallett called his father from the Broyles Center parking lot next to Razorback Stadium, expressing his overwhelming sense of belonging. “I’m back at home,” he told his father, Jim Mallett, as recalled in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2009.

Mallett embraced the pressure and expectations that preceded his debut as a Razorback. “I’m exactly where I want to be in this jersey,” he declared while donning his No. 15 Arkansas jersey in 2009. “I’m thrilled because I know we have a special team.”

Following his transfer to the Razorbacks, which was facilitated by the efforts of the Houston Nutt regime, assistant coach Tim Horton, and Petrino, significant changes were made to accommodate Mallett’s arrival in 2008.

Petrino altered the weekly practice structure to prepare for the upcoming seasons. “That’s when I started to do Sunday night practices,” Petrino explained. “We held Sunday night practices for Ryan to familiarize himself with the offense, allowing our coaching staff to observe his execution and energize us for the week ahead. Ryan has made invaluable contributions to Arkansas football.”

Anticipation for Mallett’s debut was palpable, as highlighted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s 2009 college football special section.

“He believed he was one of the best players in the nation,” remarked Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee that summer. “He set high expectations for himself, and I believe he handled it exceptionally well.”

Indeed, Mallett excelled, guiding the Razorbacks to an 8-5 record and a Liberty Bowl victory in his sophomore year in 2009. He elevated his performance to new heights in the subsequent season, working alongside a talented group of receivers, including tight ends like Williams and Chris Gragg, as well as emerging wideouts Adams, Hamilton, Greg Childs, and Jarius Wright.

Mallett’s stellar 2010 campaign saw him set school records with 3,869 passing yards and 32 touchdowns, leading the Hogs to a remarkable 10-2 regular-season record. Their only defeats came against No. 1 Alabama (24-20) and No. 7 Auburn (65-43), the eventual BCS national champions.

His contributions put Arkansas football back in the national spotlight as the team closed out the regular season with six consecutive victories, entering the Sugar Bowl matchup against Ohio State ranked No. 8. Despite a 31-26 loss to the Buckeyes, Arkansas concluded the season at 10-3, securing the No. 12 spot in the final AP poll. The loss was later nullified by the NCAA due to Ohio State’s use of ineligible players.

Describing Mallett’s impact, Gragg, who played for the Razorbacks from 2008-2012 and later for the Buffalo Bills, stated, “His personality was larger than life. He was a joy to be around, bringing positivity every day. He was a consistent presence, always striving to uplift others. He’s a true legend, leaving his mark as a Texas and Arkansas icon with his high school and collegiate achievements. He made significant plays, secured numerous wins, and created unforgettable moments. I’m grateful to have been part of it.”