FAYETTEVILLE - Bret Bielema's first recruit for 2014 actually was among his first recruits during 2013.
||DT Bijhon Jackson
Arkansas second-year head football coach said on Wednesday's opening of the national period that he visited then junior defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado shortly after taking the Arkansas job in December 2012.
Jackson, listed 6-2, 320 and ranked the No. 1 high school football player in Arkansas by Hooten's Arkansas Football and Arkansas 247 among others, offensive lineman Brian Wallace of Florissant, Mo. and Christian Brothers High are the most touted players by publications and recruiting services among the 24-man class.
"The first player I offered in this class," Bielema said Wednesday at the Fred Smith Football Center as he discussed each recruit with accompanying film clips. "He is a young man out of El Dorado who is very big, very powerful and very fast and sudden. Here you see him make a play in the A-gap making the running back understand that he's there. That's 330 pounds of love coming on top of him. Here he is again wrapping up No. 2 and introducing him to that landing technique. Look at him explode. The greatest thing about Bijhon is he probably helped me understand Arkansas more than anybody else. I saw tape and realized we wanted to offer him in December (2012) when I first got here.
"Coach (Barry) Lunney (the assistant recruiting Arkansas) went down there, and the whole town stopped. We went to his dad's workplace and 200 or 300 employees welcomed us with a Hog call walking in the door. It's not just the young man, and not just his family. It's a community behind him that wanted him to have success. That's what Arkansas is all about."
Lunney said Jackson is "one of those who could write his own ticket anywhere he wanted to go and gone into signing day wearing a lot of hats" but committed to Arkansas after Bielema's visit and was steadfast. "He knew where he wanted to go and that was it," Lunney said. "That's always refreshing."
Regarding Wallace (6-6, 305), a consensus four-star recruit, Bielema said, "Brian might have been one of our most heavily recruited players. You see him here just walking the D-end off the line of scrimmage and continuing to play through the whistle. One of the more gifted offensive tackles I have seen as a raw high school player. He has the potential to help us right away."
Aside from El Dorado's Jackson, the Razorbacks signed in-state running back Juan Day, North Little Rock; tight end Jack Kraus, Bentonville; defensive end Jake Hall, Springdale Har-Ber, and safety Josh Liddell, Pine Bluff Dollarway. The Razorbacks targeted six from Arkansas, missing only on Springdale Har-Ber defensive tackle Josh Frazier who committed last autumn to Alabama and signed with the Crimson Tide.
|QB/S Josh Liddell
The Razorbacks went to the signing day wire contesting for three recruits, Solomon Thomas of Coppell, Texas, Demetrius Jackson of Miami and receiver Jojo Robinson of Miami. Thomas signed with Stanford and Jackson signed with the University of Miami, but Robinson of Miami's Norland High chose Arkansas over national champion Florida State, LSU, Auburn and TCU.
"You see this little hitch screen for two yards that he takes for a 45-yard gain," Bielema said as the video rolled on Robinson. "Here you see him as a returner, one of the things we think he can do right away. He is a heavily recruited kid we think can make an impact right away."
Four have a chance to make an impact right away in spring practice.
Three December high school graduates, quarterback Rafe Peavy of Bolivar, Mo., cornerback Chris Murphy of Marietta, Ga.'s Lassiter High, receiver Jared Cornelius of Shreveport's Evangel Christian, and sophomore junior college transfer receiver Cody Hollister of Arizona Western Community College signed their letters of intent in December and are participating in the Razorbacks winter offseason program.
Peavey's name has been bandied about Arkansas since Bobby Petrino was succeeded by 2012 interim coach John L. Smith.
"Rafe was offered by the previous staff and thankfully he was," Bielema said. "He will have every opportunity to prove himself in the spring and the fall. He is a very accurate passer and a very live arm. He is what a quarterback is supposed to be."
Receivers were a sore spot during the Hogs' 3-9 season of 2013 so the staff will put Cornelius and Hollister this spring and Robinson and 6-6 Kendrick Norland of Miami, Fla's Norland High in August on a fast track to help right away.
In apparent need of quick fixes, Bielema and his staff signed only Hollister and offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola (Iowa Western Community College) from the JC ranks. They were mostly burned last season after signing seven junior college transfers. Tretola, listed as a tackle but set to be a guard or center, reports to the Razorbacks this summer.
Offensive line was a big item for the Hogs 2014 class, adding tackle Jovan Pruitt, center Frank Ragnow of Chanhassen, Minn., Tretola and Wallace. Kraus, projected much in the mold of 2013 fifth-year senior graduated tight end Austin Tate of Harrison, will be groomed at tight end where All-SEC Freshman Hunter Henry returns.
North Little Rock's Day was the lone running back signed with the Hogs. Jonathan Williams and 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year Alex Collins return.
Parade All-America Cole Hedlund of Argyle, Texas, signed to replace graduated four-year placekicker Zach Hocker.
The Hogs signed defensive linemen Anthony Brown of Miami's Killian High, Armon Watts of St. Louis and Christian Brothers, Springdale Har-Ber's Hall and El Dorado's Jackson. They worked hard to shore up the linebacker and secondary spots vexing them last year.
Cornerbacks Cornelius Floyd (Miami Gulliver Prep); Santos Ramirez, Shreveport Evangel; Henre Toliver, Marerro, La. and the already enrolled Murphy and safety Liddell of Dollarway will increase the secondary's speed, Bielema said.
"I think we increased our speed and athleticism very much in the back end with this class," Bielema said. "We didn't have a lot of defensive skill in last year's class. This year's class features that. We knew we had to get linebackers, defensive backs and offensive linemen."
Linebackers signed include Dwayne Eugene, Marrero, La. and Archbishop Rummel High, also Toliver's high school; Khalia Hackett, Douglasville, Ga.; and Randy Ramsey, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Overall, Bielema said it was a huge advantage to have a full year to work on this recruiting class vs. the grab-bag of coming into the 2013 recruiting situation in December 2012 while assembling a staff.
Linebackers coach Randy Shannon, hugely instrumental in recruiting the Miami area as the former Miami head coach and defensive coordinator and great Miami player, will have increased responsibility in 2014 but will not be the defensive coordinator. Former DC Chris Ash left the Razorbacks to become the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State.
"Obviously I haven't hired a defensive coordinator yet," Bielema said. "Randy and I talked right away after the departure of Chris. Randy is going to bump up on our staff and be named senior associate head coach. He helps me in so many ways from football to recruiting to hiring a couple of people in academics who had worked with him in the past. He will remain there and I will have a coordinator in place within the next seven days."
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