Bret Bielema came to Arkansas in December and immediately identified the core group of kids he was going to build the 2013 recruiting class around – the in-state high school commits.
Fayetteville's Austin Allen was one of the recruits in Arkansas' 2013 class that Bret Bielema leaned on for leadership.
“You want great Arkansas kids to be the foundation of what we’re building, and they can be the guys that spread the gospel,” Bielema said Wednesday when introducing his 2013 recruiting class to the media.
And spread the Hog gospel, they did. Each of those players worked social media to help Arkansas’ recruiting efforts. They called other prospects, and they worked on them in person as well.
It’s hard to say for sure what kind of impact they had.
But on paper, Arkansas appears to have the best recruiting class it’s had since 2009. The Razorbacks’ 2013 class is ranked 22nd nationally in the 247Composite team rankings, which are an average of the rankings from major recruiting services.
This, despite Arkansas enduring a very painful 2012 that saw head coach Bobby Petrino get fired and the Razorbacks struggle under interim coach John L. Smith. And this, despite Bielema only being on the job a little more than two months and some of his staff members being around a month or less.
There’s still work to be done. Five-star running back Alex Collins of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) South Plantation ended up not signing as planned Wednesday, but he’s expected to do so soon. And when he does, there will still be two spots left to fill.
Otherwise, so far, so good for the new staff at Arkansas.
After reaffirming his commitment to Arkansas, Hunter Henry started recruiting for the Razorbacks.
Collins is the obvious headliner as the nation’s top-ranked running back and the only five-star in the Hogs’ bunch. But the Razorbacks signed six four-stars, including Henry, the Under Armour and 247Sports All-American tight end from Pulaski Academy, and Allen, the Semper Fi All-American quarterback from Fayetteville.
Bielema feels both of those in-state four-stars -- along with Fayetteville’s Ellis and Brignoni, Forrest City’s Beanum and Greenwod’s Morgan – played a role in helping the Hogs put together a solid class.
“In the transition to where we are now, I did lean on those three Fayetteville kids cause I knew they were solid,” Bielema said. “I knew they believed in this place for what it was beyond any coach or anything like that. They love what a Razorback means. All three of them are dynamic kids.
“I hit them up right away about recruiting other guys.
“Hunter Henry was another one. He was all over anybody and everybody … once he wanted to reaffirm that he was going to be a Razorback. Tevin Beanum was awesome, awesome, awesome reaching out to guys, and Drew Morgan, I bet you he wore out the phone trying to get other guys to come here.”
Two more in-state kids eventually joined the class. Osceola safety Korliss Marshall committed on Sunday and signed Wednesday. Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College linebacker Martrell Spaight, a North Little Rock native, flipped from Kansas State to Arkansas on Dec. 19.
There was one that got away. North Little Rock four-star running Altee Tenpenny signed with Alabama on Wednesday after being committed to the Crimson Tide more than a year. He’s the only in-state player offered by Arkansas that didn’t end up at Arkansas in 2013.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that could only get stronger,” Bielema said of the Hogs’ in-state recruiting efforts. “We didn’t get everybody we wanted this year. The part that we will want to make sure we can correct from this point forward is establishing what that means.
"It’s kind of been this way everywhere I been, but you can tell it here at Arkansas. When you come here from the state of Arkansas and play and letter and get your degree, it’s a gift that gives the rest of your life.
“If you’re a kid that leaves the state, you’re going to be the kid that left and you’ll always be remembered as that guy. Your glory will never be the same. That’s not slamming anybody or doing anything to people that leave other than the fact we need to tell our kids and make that be reinforced from their recruitment process that that’s the fact of life and that’s reality and that’s what life is.”
Bielema has said his plan is to build a wall around the state when it comes to recruiting. By signing eight of the nine in-state kids offered for 2013, you could certainly say he’s off to the right start.