NSD: Hogs sign just 4 in-state players but all could play early; Bielema apologizes
FAYETTEVILLE - Other than cornerback Joseph Putu, the Rhode Island native attending junior college in North Dakota and signing Wednesday with the Florida Gators, Arkansas held fast Wednesday to the 18 recruits committed to sign with the Razorbacks on national signing day.
McTELVIN AGIM, HOPE
Added to UA spring semester enrollees, McTelvin Agim, the Farm Bureau Awards Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year from Hope graduating high school early and participating in Arkansas' on-campus practices before the Liberty Bowl, and Deion Malone, an offensive lineman signed in December and transferring to the UA from Northwest Mississippi Community College,
Wednesday's signees brought the class to 20 with possibly one to come, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. A signee not officially listed by the UA, offensive lineman Dylan Hayes of Little Rock Christian apparently might begin on a scholarship different than an athletic scholarship.
"We signed a young man, Dylan Hays, in the last 48 hours who is going to join us in scholarship form in some capacity," Bielema said during his signing day press conference at the Fred Smith Football Center.
With Putu's Florida flip the likely catalyst, Bielema made a comment on an ESPNU interview that created a mini controversy though he said at Wednesday's press conference it was meant to be a compliment to Florida and Ole Miss.
"Florida is kind of the new Ole Miss," Bielema told ESPN2. "They're doing some things in recruiting that kind of shock you a little bit."
After opening Wednesday afternoon's press conference expressing general excitement about the recruiting class, Bielema said, "I said something earlier that came across in the wrong way, I guess. I made reference that I was paying a compliment to Florida. We have seen them kind of pop up everywhere. Before my last couple of years here really we had only competed against Florida and Georgia in Florida itself. Well, this last week we were competing against them on a wide receiver in Texas, a player in Louisiana and a player in North Dakota. And I had never seen that before. That's all I was making reference to. Last week we stumbled across an offensive lineman in Illinois. We started to proceed with him and found out before I got anything going he had committed to Ole Miss. And I told my staff, ‘Ole Miss - they are everywhere.' It wasn't in reference to anything other than that. I was paying a compliment to Florida."
Bielema said he phoned explanations to Florida coach Jim McElwain and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze "and that was received well."
"So I will put that little nugget to bed," Bielema said. Freeze said he took it as a compliment. McElwain apparently didn't with a comment at Florida's signing day press conference that may have occurred before Bielema said he called him.
"Gotta get a kick out of it a little bit because obviously this guy doesn't know who the heck I am," McElwain was quoted. "I sure as heck don't know who he is. I'm not sure we even ran into him on the recruiting trail. But I know what I"m all about and I know what the university of Florida is all about."
Of far more lasting importance to Arkansas, Bielema addressed that of the 20 signees, only four, receiver Jordan Jones of Smackover, defensive tackle Austin Capps of Star City, running back-receiver T.J. Hammonds of Pulaski Robinson, and Agim are from Arkansas.
"I was warned when I came in (December 2012 from Wisconsin) how cyclical Arkansas recruiting can be," Bielema said.
Bielema said the emphasis always is Arkansas first and "build out" from there and vows there are in-state walk-ons who will contribute down the road.
Agim, the Razorbacks' lone 5-star recruit, is expected to help immediately at defensive end or tackle and has been praised by Bielema since signing a financial aid agreement in December. Jones could help right away, too, even with the Razorbacks returning all their receivers and activating Deon Stewart and JaMichael Pettway, who redshirted last season.
"Jones, the kid from Smackover is a tall rangy kid who ran a sub 4.4 40," Bielema said, noting Jones impressed him back when he was a sophomore attending Bielema's football camp. "Just saw the talent and got with him and his family. He needed to do some things off the field and he did that and we made an offer and then as the rest of the SEC came in he stood strong to everybody. I think is going to be a very, very gifted athlete here who will compete right away for us at wide receiver."
Hammonds, recruited as an athlete capable of playing running back, receiver or defensive back, has a chance, too, particularly at running back with 1,000-yard rushers Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams both turning pro and sophomore Rawleigh Williams coming off a neck injury.
"We are going to start him off at the running back but also let him work at the slot receiver and as a punt returner," Bielema said.
Devwah Whaley, the 4-star running back from Beaumont, Texas, is the most heralded offensive recruit.
"I have recruited a lot of good running backs," Bielema said. "He is as gifted as any of the ones I have recruited. I've had three or four freshmen come in and be 1,000-yard rushers. There's nothing that tells me anything different about this young man."
Incoming freshman defensive lineman Capps (6-4, 320) of Star City doesn't have Agim's prep credentials but could develop big time on either line, Bielema said.
"I don't know if Austin Capps can play right away," Bielema said. "But he is a guy who could play probably on either side of the ball. He is big, tough and physical. I offered him when he was a sophomore in high school. He's an in-state product we feel very strong about."
For position needs, Bielema said stocking linebackers and the offensive line were priorities he believes have been filled. Malone already practicing this spring helps a line that graduated All-America guard Sebastian Tretola and starting center Mitch Smothers with underclassman starting tackle Denver Kirkland turning pro.
Paul Ramirez, another junior college transfer (San Bernardino, Calif.), reports this summer and should help immediately at offensive tackle with freshman Jake Heinrich of Urbandale, Iowa, signed as an offensive guard.
For linebackers, Arkansas signed four freshmen: outside linebackers Alexey Jean-Baptiste of Pompano, Beach, Fla.; Giovanni LaFrance of New Orleans; and Dee Walker of Moultrie, Ga. and middle linebacker De'Jon Harris of Harvey, La.
Bielema said he wanted a junior college linebacker with more experience but said he saw none better than this quartet, all of whom he said could help immediately.
"I think all of them can do two things," Bielema said. "They can all run and they can all hit."
Safety, another "thin" area, Bielema said, has added freshmen Deon Edwards of Clermont, Fla. and Micahh Smith, Marshall, Texas. The D-line added freshman tackle Briston Guidry of Metaire, La., and freshman end Jonathan Marshall of Shepherd, Texas.
Offensive additions are wide receiver Kofi Boateng of Arlington, Texas; tight end Grayson Gunter of Madison, Miss.; fullback Hayden Johnson of Columbia, Mo. and quarterback Cole Kelley of Lafayette, La.
Though arriving as a true freshman, Bielema said Kelley will get an August preseason shot, joining the wide open quarterback battle starting this spring with junior two-year letterman backup Austin Allen, sophomore Rafe Peavey, redshirt freshman Ty Storey and Ricky Town, the transfer from the University of Southern California. All are trying to succeed graduated three-year starter Brandon Allen.
2016 ARKANSAS RECRUITING CLASS
Micah SmithS6-1197Marshall, Texas
Dee WalkerOLB6-2210Moultrie, Ga.
Paul RamirezOT6-5275Rialto, Calif.
Hayden JohnsonFB6-3250Columbia, Mo.
Cole KelleyQB6-7260Lafayette, La.
A Jean-BaptisteOLB6-3220Pompano Beach, Fla.
J. MarshallDE6-4270Shepherd, Texas
T.J. HammondsWR5-11195Joe T Robinson
G. LaFranceLB6-2235New Orleans, La.
Jake HeinrichOG6-4295Urbandale, Ia.
Kofi BoatengWR6-1183Arlington, Texas
Grayson GunterTE6-6233Madison, Miss.
Austin CappsDT6-4320Star City
De'Jon HarrisMLB6-0240Marrero, La.
Briston GuidryDT6-3286Metairie, La.
Devwah WhaleyRB6-0210Beaumont, Texas
Deon EdwardsS6-1200Clermont, Fla.
Deion MaloneOG6-3295Batesville, Miss.