For the most part, little has changed with regard to Arkansas' approach to recruiting the Class of 2012, though there have been some noticeable adjustments.
Last year, recruiting coordinator Tim Horton focused on the state of Arkansas, east of Morrilton, along with targeted recruiting elsewhere and of course being active in the recruitment of all running back prospects.
"There's just been a few little tweaks," Horton said. "I've gone into Memphis now, and that was an area that I had not covered until my first year we were here when we got Tenarius Wright. I've gone back into Memphis. We've scooted Willy[Robinson] into the panhandle of Florida a little bit more. But really from a recruiting standpoint we're pretty much status quo."
Horton has already landed commitments out of Memphis from Ridgeway offensive guard Cordale Boyd, 6-3, 290, Ridgeway defensive end Brandon Lewis, and the Hogs are on several others from the area. Horton was also in charge of the recruitment of Olive Branch (Miss.) wide receiver D'Arthur Cowan, 6-3, 175, 4.56. Olive Branch is just 20 miles southeast of Memphis. That area, 1.3 million population, is nearly half the size of the state of Arkansas, 2.9 million, and it rides the border.
"It kind of runs in cycles," Horton, a Conway (Ark.) native, said. "Right now, you hate to say it, but Little Rock to a certain extent is in a little bit of a down cycle. At least to me, this year and even next year Memphis is a city that appears to be really strong. I think you're getting better coaching and the programs are a little bit better even than just four years ago when I was recruiting over there. So, good cycle for Memphis, and hopefully that can translate into us getting a few more players from that city."
Robinson is no longer focused in Louisiana like before, and his presence in the Florida panhandle has already been felt with the commitment of Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby outside linebacker Jakarri Thomas, 6-2, 190, 4.5, who chose Robinson and the Razorbacks over offers from Stanford, Ole Miss, Miami, Maryland, Illinois and many others.
"We're real pleased with where we are," Horton said. "There's still some really high profile recruits that we're going to swing our bat for. That's one thing we've not been afraid to do since Coach [Bobby] Petrino has been here. Let's go swing. We may not get a hit. We're going to strike out some, but we're going to get some of those kids."
In the past, there have themes with different classes, like a lot of size or speed. Character has always been a factor with this staff, but this year a premium appears to have been set on it. Some commitments have excelled in the face of adversity, many appear to be headstrong and dedicated while others are standouts in the classroom. At the same time, there is some serious speed with this bunch, even with the offensive linemen, ends and linebackers. With the recent 25-signee rule, talk of multi-year scholarships and overall more being expected out of coaches with regard to accountability with recruits, it is a smart move to put character at the forefront.
"Most importantly, they've got to fit our profile," Horton said. "We want our players to look a certain way and be a certain way. There may be some kids that other people may recruit that we don't, but we feel real good about where we are right now."
The Hogs picked up two commitments on Monday in Owasso (Okla.) wide receiver Keon Hatcher, 6-2, 195, 4.5, and Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington cornerback Jared Collins], 6-0, 165, 4.4. Owasso is just outside of Tulsa, a city offensive coordinator Garrick McGee has heavily recruited since his arrival. McGee went to Booker T. Washington High School, and his father coached there. Tulsa has a metro area of just under 1 million and is an hour-and-a-half drive from Fayetteville. As with Memphis, the UA coaches consider it an extension of the state.
Pump the breaks
Arkansas is about to start fall camp, so recruiting will slow down over the next month. With 14 commitments, the Hogs are in a similar position as they have been in recent seasons, with the opportunity to continue to evaluate throughout the season and fill up the rest of the class over the next five months.
"You're in a time period now where all you can do is Facebook. Starting September 1 is when you can start making the phone calls, and you can start going out. The month of August is really not as active a month for recruiting because they're in their two-a-day practices and getting ready for their season, and obviously we are too. But once September 1st hits, that's when you hit it hard again," Horton said.
Impact RB for 2012?
Arkansas is trying to get an impact running back for 2012 in Broderick Green. Green will miss the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, and he is technically out of eligibility because he will have enrolled in school five years ago, the maximum. However, Arkansas will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility due to a medical redshirt he received at USC that cost him his freshman year and this latest injury that could cost him his senior year. It is possible this will be granted.
"He's not going to be ready through September and into October, and I think right now the consensus is let's just get him well and have him back next year," Horton said. "He will have his undergraduate degree in December, and at that point he should have another year of football eligibility left.
"He got a hardship at Southern Cal, so we will have to petition the NCAA to get a sixth year."
As for the running backs coming back, Horton likes his group. They are led of course by Heisman Trophy candidate Knile Davis, 6-0, 226, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, despite not seeing 20 carries until the seventh game of the season.
"They really do a good job buying into the team first concept. There's nobody happier for the success that Knile Davis had than Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo. And it works the other way. When Ronnie has success, his greatest fan is Knile. Kind of in a 'me generation,' it's kind of unusual. They're first-class kids."
Davis stood out in individual drills in the spring, but when the team went 11-on-11, he did not have many breakout runs. Part of that could be attributed to a young offensive line working against a veteran defensive front.
"You're obviously concerned," he said. "You want them to play at that high level day, after day, after day and rep, after rep, after rep. When you go back and watch the video, there were some things that he could do better. But when you really look at it, he's going to be just fine."
The Hogs lose Van Stumon at fullback, who is trying to make the roster with the St. Louis Rams. They brought in a junior college fullback in Kiero Small, an intriguing signee who packs a punch at 5-10, 255. Tight end and fullback are interchangeable for the most part, and tight end Austin Tate, 6-6, 253, also has experience blocking at fullback. The Hogs plan to give incoming freshman Kody Walker, 6-2, 235, a look at fullback.
"We're encouraged by Kiero Small. I think that's something that'll be fun to watch in two-a-days and through fall camp. Can this guy really do it? If first impressions are what they are then we're really optimistic about him. Then we're probably going to take a little look at Kody Walker there. He's a kid that could play both tailback and fullback. Those are two young guys that we hope can come in and contribute."
Nash provides punch
Horton also oversees the tight ends, though much of that responsibility falls into the hands of graduate assistant and former NFL tight end Richard Owens. Junior Colton Nash, 6-6, 261, played tight end as a true freshman but has been at defensive end the past two seasons.
"We needed a little more punch offensively at that position, particularly as a blocker. Colton Nash is a big, strong, physical kid. I think one of the things a year ago that we're going to miss is D.J. Williams is probably a better blocker than we give him credit for, so we think that Colton will be able to come over there and give us a punch off the edge," Horton said.
Arkansas will take the field Thursday for the first day of fall camp. The newcomers come out from 3-4:30 p.m., and the veteran players will start from 6-8 p.m.