There is a Ryan Mallett who watched his first round talent drop to the third because his character and dedication were called into question. There is a Ryan Mallett who sat behind Tom Brady in New England for three years because, well, it is Tom Brady. There is a Ryan Mallett who stirred controversy because “if he were good enough, he would not still be a backup.” There is another Ryan Mallett who finally gets a chance to show you who Ryan Mallett is as he gets his first NFL start Sunday versus the Cleveland Browns.

While we wait to meet Texans starting quarterback Ryan Mallett, let me introduce you to my Ryan Mallett. Our Ryan Mallett is more accurate though. Being a native Arkansan and University of Arkansas alum, I use personal possessive pronouns for the former Razorback QB just as I/we do for any of sons or daughters that make our state proud. (When using the word former in reference to someone who no longer plays for Arkansas, you must use their position because you are a former player, but you are NEVER a former Razorback.)

Yes, the Texas High star was the 2006 Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas, but he is an Arkansas boy. We do not claim him on the technicality that the Mallett’s live on the Arkansas side of Texarkana, but make no mistake we would. We would for the same reason I am not offended when someone cracks a joke that we are all related – we are one big, often dysfunctional family. No matter how many times we may have complained about one of our own, we are quick to tell you where they from and how we are almost, kinda, sorta connected to them when they make it big, even when it kills a little piece of our soul to think what might have been if we could have just kept them at home, cough, cough- Gus Malzahn.

This may be a bit of a foreign concept here in Texas because of the mere size of the state, divided college and professional allegiances, and the ever-growing list of NFL players with Texas ties. In contrast, we in Arkansas have our Hogs. Eleven quarterbacks from the state Texas have started in the NFL this season alone, while Arkansas has few that have ever made an NFL roster.

It is every little Arkansas boy’s dream to play in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, and when one of those kids actually lives that dream, we all live it with him and through him. KTHV 11, Little Rock’s CBS affiliate proved that by changing its broadcast schedule to air Mallett’s first NFL start and added “Today’s Mallett Moment” to its sportscast every night this week.

10-year-old Mallett’s dream was just at the bottom of the hill where he waved cars into parking spots before Razorback games. At the time Ryan’s dad Jim coached and mom Debbie taught in nearby Lincoln, Arkansas. We ate up that fairytale-like story when Mallett finally ran through the A at Razorback, mostly because we did not think it would ever happen.

Even as one of the nation’s top recruits, there was no room for him with his beloved Hogs because they had a hot-shot freshman and fellow Arkansan Mitch Mustain on campus. In typical Mallett fashion, he brushed it off and went to the place he thought was the best fit for his talents – Tom Brady’s alma mater Michigan.

We, on the other hand were feeling sorry for ourselves because we watched another one of our kids take his talents elsewhere. Then, in a cruel twist, we had neither. Frustrated with Houston Nutt, Mustain transferred to USC sending our state into the largest pity party to that point. (We have had far bigger since, as anyone who has not been under a rock can understand why.)

Thanks to Appalachian State shocking the world, which lead to firing of Lloyd Carr and hiring of spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez, we had a chance to bring Mallett home to The Hill. (You may have heard that Mallett is not exactly a mobile, spread QB.)

The talk in Arkansas was not just about who our new coach would be, but also who our quarterback would be. Could we really bring that cannon arm home? Would he even want to? The hiring of Bobby Petrino lead to a homecoming that probably would have saved BP’s job had he not given a job to the motorcycle chick, but I digress. Petrino’s high flying offense would finally put Ryan Mallett in cardinal and white, and he was everything we hoped he would be for our school and state.

#15 took Razorback football to heights many of us could not realistically hope for before, and he did it with a smile on his face and a visible love of football and his team. Ironically enough, that smile and his never rattled demeanor used as ammunition against him. You have heard, and probably many of you repeated that Mallett’s lazy, dumb, does not care about anything, lacks character, troublemaker, etc.

Statements like these are usually based purely on assumption, often by those without knowledge of the situation or with an agenda, so I have put together a quick summary of what I/we know about my/our Ryan Mallett.

We have never questioned Ryan Mallett’s physical or leadership skills because we have witnessed the incredible strength of his arm throwing the ball and of his charisma carrying his team.

We already know how hard he works because he has been outworking and studying most players long before he met Tom Brady.

We do not consider that he just might not have the intelligence to be a quarterback because we watched him pick apart defenses with ease.

We do not mistake his laid back demeanor for lack of effort or love of football because we have seen the passion and sheer joy he brings to the field.

When that competitive fire shows itself, we do not call him hotheaded because we have watched him learn to control his emotion without losing it.

We do not question his character, not because we perceive him as perfect, but because of his honesty in owning his mistakes and the fact he has not been broken by allegations and criticisms that have killed many a career.

Yes, Ryan Mallett had growing up to do, but no matter what you think you know about any player, they all do. There is a definite polish that the New England system can take credit for, but most of what you will see has always been there. For that, you give Jim and Debbie Mallett credit. (and we will take that credit through our kinda, sorta, almost connections.)

Nothing I have said means that I will not critique his performance. I do not know how he will fair with an offensive line that has struggled, but I do know he is a leader that has already answered most concerns through his actions. Sunday, his play finally speaks for itself.

There are so many reasons that make us want Ryan Mallett to succeed, but his story has so many twists and turns, it was hard for me articulate. Two weeks ago I asked Ryan if he had seen Arkansas offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola’s touchdown pass. His face lit up telling me how he made the Texans watch it over and over. He talked about how that one play could impact recruiting, but more importantly, “give us that boost we need to pull it off this weekend.” I laughed because I did not have the same confidence as he against Mississippi State, the number one team in the country.

Recalling our conversion put it all together for me- he believes in us, and we believe in him. As long as he is the Houston Texans’ starting quarterback, we will be calling the hogs for you because win or lose, Ryan Mallett has always been and will always be, an Arkansas Razorback.

#WPS #NeverYield

Follow Leslie on Twitter @LK_Comm.


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