Bobby Petrino and Houston Nutt know how tough it is to keep the talent home.
Over the last decade or so, elite recruits like Michael Dyer, Kiehl Frazier, Zac Brooks, Altee Tenpenny, Lee Ziemba, Bret Smith and Cedric Houston left the state of Arkansas to play at other prestigious schools. While some of those recruits didn’t pan out, they were highly regarded Arkansas natives coming out of high school–and they didn’t sign with the Razorbacks.
This year, things seem to be different. First of all, the 2015 class in the state of Arkansas is very strong. Typically, the top five or six players in the state are SEC “starter” caliber, but this year it appears double that number may be good enough to play in college football’s top conference. And so far, the Razorbacks have done a good job of protecting the border. With more than nine months until national signing day, they already have five of the top seven players on board, with the other two– four-star prospects Will Gragg and K.J. Hill–being strong possibilities to come aboard too.
Jamario Bell, Ty Storey, Daytrieon Dean, Colton Jackson and this weekend’s addition–Deon Stewart–are all rated in the top seven in Arkansas and are already on board with the in-state SEC school.
How about that? If Bret Bielema and his staff can get the best seven players out of Arkansas, along with a few other gems (like No. 10 C.J. O’Grady), they’ll be doing something Petrino and Nutt couldn’t–they’ll keep their SEC rivals at bay, recruiting wise.
“It’s definitely a good start,” four-star QB commit Storey told Saturday Down South after learning of Stewart’s commitment. “We still have some work to do, too, and we will. I know one thing that opened our eyes when we were all up there recently is Coach Bielema showed us film of the Sugar Bowl and the Cotton Bowl teams and how many Arkansans were starting on those teams. That was kind of cool and that was one big thing, that we want the in-state guys.”
Stewart was a nice gift over the weekend. The speedy receiver is out of Hardy (Ark.) and is the eighth commitment of the class. His addition bumped the Razorbacks into the No. 13 spot in the national team rankings–and getting Gragg and/or Hill could push the Razorbacks into the top 10. Arkansas hasn’t been regarded as a top 20 type recruiting power in many years, if not decades. That includes the Mitch Mustain-Damian Williams class of 2006 and Darren McFadden’s class in 2005. Neither were in Rivals.com’s top 20, if that gives any indication of what is going on with the Razorbacks right now.
“(The coaches) helped me realize a lot of things about being an in-state kid, whether it’s playing football or life after football,” Stewart told SDS. “There’s nothing like growing up in Arkansas and playing for the Razorbacks. It’s been a dream since I can remember. I’m hoping we get those guys (Gragg, Hill and O’Grady), and having them would be great. I’d have big expectations about what we can do all together.”
Four-star DT Hjalte Froholdt is Arkansas’ top-rated recruit, and he’s an example of how the program can stay close to home or go far to impress a recruit. He’s in Sweden right now (and hopes to be back in the United States for his senior year), but he’s paying close attention to the work the staff is doing at home. Even across the Atlantic Ocean, Froholdt was well aware of–and excited about–the addition of Stewart.
“I guess you can say that the coaches and staff at Arkansas sure know how to present how awesome the place is,” Froholdt told SDS over the weekend. “I watched Deon’s tape. He’s really athletic and has great hands. I’m so happy to get a skill guy with us … I think the feeling with the coaches and their commitment and passion for the program just makes you believe it too … so the main reason Arkansas can keep in-state and international players like me interested is their presentation of the Razorback family.
“Because everyone knows that all the schools have great facilities … but do you feel at home there? That’s what I think is the most important part of what they do.”
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South’s references to ratings follow the 247Sports.com composite rankings for high school prospects.