Aug 21, 2013 11:45 PM by AP
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Julian Horton took a deep breath and exhaled when asked about his relief this season at Arkansas.
There was just no simple answer for the Razorbacks senior wide receiver, who has waited patiently over the last three seasons to see extended time on the field.
Horton is part of an Arkansas receiving corps this season that has paid its dues over the last few years. The Razorbacks have sent four wide receivers to the NFL after the last two seasons, leaving behind an unproven group that would love nothing more than to follow in the talented footsteps of its former teammates this season under first-year coach Bret Bielema.
Following the departure of leading receiver Cobi Hamilton to the Cincinnati Bengals, along with the transfer of Mekale McKay and injuries to others, Arkansas is expected to begin the season with receivers who accounted for only 50 of the team's 272 catches last season.
It's a far cry from the last few years when the Razorbacks fielded one of the top receiving groups in the country, though Horton is hardly ready to concede a dropoff of any kind from the group that remains.
"There are so many emotions bottled up into one," Horton said. "I'm just thankful, excited and anxious to have the opportunity my senior year to finally play and show what I can do.
"When you come to college, you expect to sit for a while behind some guys, but we just had a crazy run of great guys."
The run of talent Horton spoke of included Hamilton, who had 90 catches for 1,335 yards last season and was drafted by the Bengals in the sixth round. He also was referring to the year before that, when Arkansas had three receivers (Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams) taken in the fourth round.
The talent provided the Razorbacks with more than their share of highlight moments during a run to the Sugar Bowl following the 2010 season - and a trip to the Cotton Bowl the year after that. Arkansas' coaches are now hoping it also provided a blueprint of success for the former understudies, a group Bielema called "very, very hungry."
"They're not here to lean on anymore," Horton said. "Now it's on us. Now we've got to be the people that step up and make plays for this team to win games. It's a great opportunity and a great feeling."
Senior Javontee Herndon enters this season as the Razorbacks leading returning receiver after a 21-catch effort last season while playing in Hamilton's shadow. His catches last season equaled that of McKay, though the talented sophomore transferred to Cincinnati shortly after the beginning of preseason camp.
Adding to Arkansas' depth concerns at the position, senior Demetrius Wilson suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Also, Bielema said Wednesday that sophomore D'Arthur Cowan suffered a foot injury in practice and is expected to miss action while recovering from surgery.
Herndon and Horton are the two likeliest to have breakout seasons for the Razorbacks, both because of their experience and the ability to stretch the field they've shown during the preseason. The two realize their combined 35 catches from last year will lead to some doubts about whether they can take over a leading role, but they share little of that doubt.
"I don't feel like we have any pressure at all," Herndon said. "We've been waiting so long for this opportunity, so we're just ready to go out and prove we can be the same playmakers that Cobi Hamilton, Jarius Wright and all those guys were."
Bielema hired former Kansas State assistant coach Michael Smith as Arkansas' wide receivers coach following last season. Smith, a record-setting receiver in his own right while with the Wildcats, said experience is the key to success for Horton and Herndon in the Southeastern Conference.
That, and playing like they have something to prove - which they both know they do.
"The one thing you can't coach is experience, and these guys have played in the SEC at a high level," Smith said. "They understand what it takes to win in the SEC."