"First time I saw him," recalls Assistant Coach Don Breaux, "I thought: 'That can't be him.' He was so small and he had on those horn-rimmed glasses. I figured this must have been some history major, not the boy who was supposed to be the great new quarterback." But it was him.
"Him" is Bill Montgomery, a bookish-looking prelaw major with a B average, and it was Breaux's job last year to instruct him in the mechanics of Coach Frank Broyles' new souped-up offense. When the season was over Montgomery had set school records by completing 134 of 234 passes for 1,595 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led the Razorbacks to a 9-1 record and a tie for the Southwest Conference title with Texas, then on to a 16-2 upset over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
"He's a new breed, a polished drop-back passer who can also run the option," Broyles says. "Where else do you find that kind of quarterback? Not in the pros. Pros don't count on the quarterback as a runner, but we combine a pro passing attack with a running quarterback, and Montgomery is the boy who makes it go."
He makes it go because he not only passes with precision but because he is a deceptive runner. "He's going to get better and better until he drives people crazy," says Darrell Royal of Texas.
A few years ago Montgomery was so frail that the smallest hip pads were too big for him and his jersey flapped in the breeze. Now he has fleshed out to a man-size 183 pounds. Muscle is something new for Montgomery, but poise is something he has always had, even if he himself argues the point.
"I remember my first game for Arkansas," he says. "There were 53,000 people in the stands, and when I threw my first pass it almost went out of the stadium. Two plays later I fumbled. Great start, huh?"
Last year was a critical one in many respects for Arkansas, for Broyles installed a new defense as well as a new offense and had to pray that a horde of sophomores would somehow master both. "We could never have done it if we hadn't had two excellent assistant coaches," Broyles says. "We got Richard Williamson from Alabama to work with our split receivers. Williamson helped Dennis Homan and Ray Perkins to become All-Americas at Alabama. And we got Don Breaux from Florida State to design the offense and to work with the quarterbacks." Breaux, when not busy working with Montgomery, smoothed out the intricacies of an offense that floods the field with five receivers and somehow manages to leave enough players around to form a passing pocket.
One of Williamson's prize pupils was Chuck Dicus, a sophomore split end last year. Dicus, who caught 50 passes (plus 12 in the Sugar Bowl) for 778 yards and nine touchdowns, often seemed to have suction cups on his fingertips as he hauled in pass after pass. In high school he was a quarterback and he had the distinction of beating Montgomery's team several times.
"I used to worry so much before games I'd get sick," Dicus recalls. "I'm just happy that Bill is the quarterback here because I can let him do all the worrying for me."
The running attack will be provided by Tailback Bill Burnett, the third of the Burnett brothers to play for Arkansas, and by Fullbacks Bruce Maxwell and Russ Garber. Burnett, like brother Bobby, gains vital yardage by diving over stacked-up linemen when he is not doing some dazzling out-in-the-open running. Teammates speak of Maxwell, a former Marine, with awe. "One day in practice he had three teeth knocked out," Dicus says. "But he never came off the field. Just spit out the teeth and lined up for the next play."