FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas offensive lineman Jason Peacock understands what many will think whenever they hear his name this season.
He’s the returning starter who was arrested in the spring. He’s the one who stole a debit card from another student’s purse on campus. He’s the bad guy.
“If they call me a bad guy, you know what, so be it,” Peacock said last Saturday, speaking to the media for the first time since his arrest. “But if they get a chance to sit down and talk to me, I’m sure they’ll think different. … I just made a mistake.”
Arkansas’ tumultuous offseason, in some ways, began when Peacock was arrested and charged with felony theft of property after stealing the credit card. Peacock later used it to put $35.01 worth of gas in his car before being caught by campus police.
He became the first of six Razorbacks arrested over the span of two months, five of which were on felony charges. The timeframe also included Bobby Petrino’s high-profile motorcycle accident and scandal. Petrino and the other five players who were arrested in the offseason are no longer part of the program.
Peacock is. So he feels fortunate to still be in Arkansas’ plans as it prepares for 2012.
“I’d rather not get into the details of it,” Peacock said when asked about his arrest. “But I made a mistake. And I was lucky to have the opportunity to get back on the team seeing what I had done was wrong.”
Making amends wasn’t an easy process by any means, though.
Peacock said it took every ounce of energy to ensure he could be with the team now.
He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor theft and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a year of supervised probation in June. Peacock didn’t sit in a cell to serve the time, instead working off his debt with labor this summer.
“It was hot,” Peacock said. “It was hard. But I had to do it.”
It was just one of many stipulations presented by the Razorbacks in order for Peacock to be permitted to return to the program. Arkansas strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp didn’t go into specifics, but said it did include plenty of special time with he and his staff.
“One thing that he got, and I explained to him, is if you can’t do things right in your personal life, you can’t do things right at class or whatever it might be, it always shows up on the field through penalties and missed assignments,” Veltkamp said. “It made sense to him. And he had a lot of things he had to do to maintain his status as a team member here and he cranked it up this summer.
“He worked far beyond what I thought he probably was even capable of.”
Peacock said he had no choice. His mistake had backed him against the wall and he didn’t want to bow out before his senior season after starting nine games in 2011.
Arkansas didn’t want him to. He was expected to be an anchor at one tackle position after showing promise once he moved into the starting lineup last season.
But Arkansas coach John L. Smith – who was hired to replace Petrino well after Peacock’s arrest – said the lineman had to prove he wanted to return to the team.
“He has done a tremendous job of correcting the problem,” Smith said late last month. “The ball was in his court. So he had to go get this thing done.”
Peacock is now working with the second-team offensive line behind former walk-on David Hurd in preseason camp. Arkansas hasn’t announced any further punishment Peacock is facing for his offseason arrest, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the senior was suspended for at least the opener against Jacksonville State on Sept. 1.
Either way, Peacock said he’s “very thankful” to be on the practice field and is concentrating on helping the Razorbacks built toward the season. Teammates believe they’ve seen a difference in Peacock since his return to the team, too.
“For him to get back on the team he had to prove himself,” Arkansas running back Knile Davis said. “Be it workouts a little bit early. He had to do some extra things. Running. Conditioning. You know, punishment. And he did it all.
“He knows he was wrong. He learned from his mistakes and is doing better.”
Peacock wishes it could be taken back. It was a decision Peacock knows could cost him for some time in the court of public perception. But his parents, coaches and teammates have all been integral in helping him get through the difficult offseason.
And he’s very thankful to be a member of the team as preseason practice continues.
“I know they’re going to say whatever they’re going to say anyway,” Peacock said of any critics. “But at the end of the day, I’ve just got to focus on what we’ve got to do as a team to get to the national championship. That’s all my concern is. …
“I’m just very fortunate.”