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Senior stars fill leadership void at Arkansas; Wilson, Wright step up with Petrino's departure

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- As athletic director Jeff Long walked out of the room after telling Arkansas' players that Bobby Petrino had been fired Thursday evening, a void in leadership had already formed.

Without Petrino's heavy hand and detailed plans to guide the way, a few players stood up to leave the Broyles Athletic Center -- thinking the meeting was finished. There was no yelling, only the rumbling of under-the-breath comments in an otherwise silent room as the enormity of the athletic director's announcement settled in.

That was the moment when Tyler Wilson and Tenarius "Tank" Wright filled that void at Arkansas. The pair of rising seniors had too much invested with four years of endless and mind-numbing work to let their teammates slip away that easily -- literally and figuratively.

There was no disrespect, no interrupting of Long's announcement. There were only two of the most respected and longest-tenured Razorbacks left standing, taking the reins of an environment that felt like it was spiraling out of control.

"I just stood up and told everybody to sit back down and delivered a message that we have to stay here and stick together," Wright said. "And be one family with the coaches that we do have right now with [assistant head coach] Taver Johnson being the director at head coach right now."

Wright and Wilson had the attention of the room. They had both earned that much.

Wright had done so through his years of production for the Razorbacks, most notably his game-ending sack in a double-overtime win at Mississippi State as a sophomore in 2010. He had also done so through sacrifice, passing up higher sack numbers by embracing a rotating defensive line system aimed at keeping players fresh.

He had sacrificed once again this spring, even before Petrino's fateful motorcycle crash on April 1, the accident that eventually led to his downfall. With Arkansas facing a numbers crunch at linebacker, it was Wright who, when asked by coaches, willingly made the move back to his high school position, middle linebacker.

It was Wilson who had arguably sacrificed more than anyone else during his time at Arkansas, sitting behind the laser-armed Ryan Mallett for two seasons while passing records fell like dominoes.

He didn't disappoint after being named the starter, earning first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors.

If anyone had earned the right to talk following Long, it was Wilson.

"I felt afterward it was important I step up and say a few words," Wilson said. "Not give a pep talk because that's not what it's about, but [to] make sure we're all on the same page and assure the guys that we're going to be a successful football team."

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