Where are they now?
It sounded bizarre, almost unfathomable. But Tony Bua said it.
By Clay Henry
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
“I took the foot off the pedal.” Then, it all made sense. He said he’s not working quite as hard at his highly successful roofing and construction business on the north side of the Dallas Metroplex “to spend more quality time with family.” I get that after seeing Bua enjoying the pre-game atmosphere on the field before the Arkansas-Texas A&M game in September as part of his duties as the honorary captain. He did live Facebook video with his 9-year-old son, Blaze. They definitely enjoyed being on the field at AT&T Stadium during warmups. You can find the video on YouTube. “I’m not hitting it quite as hard,” said Bua, owner of Bua’s Next Level Roofing, with crews in Dallas and Northwest Arkansas. “I’ve got good people. I probably could be doing more on social media and that’s the driver in business today.” Bua knows that’s the root of a successful business, but he isn’t all in. He wishes today’s college football players weren’t so much into social media either. “I think back on my teams at Arkansas and how close we were,” he said. “We were all about team. I’m not sure that’s the case in the game today. “What I see is players concerned more about their individual brand and how many social media views they get. I get it, the Name, Image, Likeness thing. But I think it’s hurt the game. “It’s about me, me, me. It should be team, team and team. I feel fortunate I played in a different era. I think that ’99 group I came in with had a lot of leadership types. We came together pretty fast.” Bua recalls stories from a friend who played a few years ago at Washington State. “The team was in some struggles, so their coach, Mike Leach, banned them from social media for three weeks,” Bua said. “It worked. Made sense to me, too. They got back to work.” Bua has always been impressed with hard work. That was his identity as a four-year player at Arkansas. He was part of coach Houston Nutt’s famed 1999 signing class that produced eight NFL players, including Bua. He played parts of three seasons in the NFL after the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the fifth round in 2004. Nutt signed Bua as a defensive back after a sterling season for 14-0 John Curtis High in River Ridge, La. He had sparkled as a tailback the previous two seasons at Liberty, Texas, where he also earned AllState honors a center fielder in baseball. He gained over 2,300 yards at Liberty as an underclassman. It didn’t matter what sport he played or where he played, Bua always made plays. His 408 tackles from 2000-03 at Arkansas was the school record until earlier this season when Bumper Pool passed him. It took Pool five years, getting an extra year when the NCAA altered rules because of the covid-19 season. Bua is happy for Pool to take his spot atop the record books, noting they both live in the same town now. “I’m in Lucas and Bumper played at Lovejoy High here,” Bua said. “But I do notice they put an ‘Equality’ patch on their jerseys.” Bua thinks that is not appropriate because Pool got five seasons to his four. There is one notable difference between the breakdown of the tackle charts: Bua made 248 unassisted tackles, still tops in the UA record book. Pool had but 173 solo stops among his career total of 439 entering the Ole Miss game. “It took 19 years for someone to get me and I’m glad it’s Bumper,” Bua said. “I have a lot of respect for the way he plays. “I have talked to him and one of the things I told him, his body will feel all those tackles when he gets older.” Bua said his body has begun “to break down over the last three years.” He sustained a “broken shoulder” in a snowboarding accident a few years ago. “I didn’t really have any problems until then,” he said. “But I’m starting to feel it in my knees. I can tell you when the weather is going to change because I get up in the morning and I can’t walk. It takes me three days to get over it.” Some wonder how all those running backs feel. Bua worked them over. And, you can still see one of his biggest hits on YouTube, a block on a punt return during his rookie year in the NFL. He had just come off the injured list from a hamstring injury when he smashed two St. Louis Rams with a block that was replayed for most of the next week on every sports show. “He was a big hitter, very physical,” Nutt said. “He made so many big plays for us. “I was especially glad when he recovered the fumble at Lexington so we didn’t have to go past seven overtimes.” There were plenty of overtimes during Bua’s days at Arkansas. “I enjoyed all of them,” he said. “The overtime games were so much fun. I was in that one in Kentucky, the one at Ole Miss and the one with Tennessee. We won an overtime game at Alabama, too. “We won a lot of games, but there were some we lost that are among those I recall the most. We got our butts kicked by Georgia (30-3) in the SEC Championship, but that was a great experience until the game started. “What I will tell you is that competition is what it’s all about. You might get your teeth kicked in on a play, but what it’s all about is to get back up and play the next down. That was what I was all about. “Georgia had us 14-0 pretty fast so I knew we were probably not going to win that game, but I wanted to compete with them and never give up. I will say that I didn’t think it was much fair for Georgia to have 70,000 of the 80,000 in the building. It made my ears ring with how much noise they made.” Bua would like to forget a three-game losing streak in 2003 after the Hogs had climbed to No. 7 in the polls with the overtime victory at Alabama. It started with a 10-3 loss to Auburn on Homecoming that included several disputed calls by SEC referees, including two that wiped out touchdowns. That Auburn game ended with Bua chasing referees all the way to their dressing room, something that was talked about the following Monday in Nutt’s office. “That was embarrassing,” Bua said. “I made it about myself.” The next week at the start of the Florida game, Bua got a warning at the outset from the closest official. “He said, ‘No. 22, we are watching you. Don’t say one word,’” Bua said. There were two plays where they followed up on the warning, at least in most minds. Florida outlasted the Hogs, 33-28, in a game the Gators led by 26 points midway through the fourth quarter. Bua was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit that negated a fourth-quarter pass interception by Sam Olajubutu that might have set up the winning drive. “No way that’s a penalty,” Bua said. “We all knew that. Earlier in the game I made a one-hand interception in the end zone and they didn’t give it to me.” Bua was so frustrated on that play that he ran off the field with his hands in the air. “I took myself out because I knew I was about to say something to the official,” Bua said. “I’ve told that story so many times now. I really don’t like to talk about it. Coach Nutt told me to get back in the game. “That game should have been one of the greatest comebacks in Arkansas history. I really believe that.” It doesn’t change the fact that Bua was one of the greatest players in Arkansas history, three times on the All-SEC second team, and All-SEC first team by the coaches as a senior. “I’ll never forget going to midfield after the South Carolina game and Lou Holtz said, ‘Where did you get No. 22?’” Nutt said. “He said, ‘Coach, he never takes a lazy step.’ Tony should be in the Arkansas Hall of Honor. Coach Holtz was right. He played full speed every snap.” Bua gets to hear those stories all the time. Nutt and Bua live about two miles apart. They’ve played some golf and enjoyed plenty of lunches. “Coach Nutt told me I’d be a safety, but when I got there they had Ken Hamlin and Corey Harris,” Bua said. “So he asked if I would play outside linebacker. I played there three years. “When Ken went to the league, I got to play free safety as a senior. I thought I was a safety, but maybe that hybrid linebacker spot was my best spot. I would probably fit best in today’s spread schemes in that hybrid spot. “When I got to the NFL, they were still playing fullbacks. That was tough on safeties, where I played in the league. I recall an exhibition game against Houston when I got hit three plays in a row by a fullback. It felt like he drove my shoulder all the way through me to the ground. There was one play that busted my facemask and my shoulder pads. “About the time I was out of the league, the spread teams seemed to emerge. Maybe I was two or three years too early or I could have played seven or eight years in the NFL. But maybe it’s good that I didn’t play that long. It seems the man upstairs is always looking out for me.” Bua thinks the right man is leading the Hogs. He’s been around head coach Sam Pittman a few times and likes what he sees and hears. “No coach is perfect and you can probably find things you don’t like in a game,” Bua said. “That’s just going to happen. But I think you have a man who loves the Razorbacks and embraces our traditions. Give him time and good things will happen. “I think it does take time. He’s still building. I have been around a little bit because (tight ends coach and former teammate) Dowell Loggains reached out to me. Dowell has gotten me involved. “There was a long time when it didn’t feel like the coaches wanted (former players) around. It’s a brotherhood again now at Arkansas. These coaches are receptive to us.”