Arkansas head football coach Chad Morris / Staff photo
As a Razorback fan I acknowledge with all certainty the importance of recruiting. Gathering talent is as important if not more so than player development, game planning, and in-game decision making for a coaching staff. But it’s not something I dote on or follow that closely.
I’m more interested in a player that is a Razorback than one who might be one day.
That said, hats off to new Razorbacks football coach Chad Morris and his staff for what must have been a fantastic recruiting weekend.
Four players who visited Arkansas last weekend have committed to the Razorbacks during the previous two days. That is significant with Arkansas only expected to sign eight players in the February signing period, which opens on the seventh.
Defensive end Courtre Alexander (6-4, 260) from Owasso, Okla., safety Myles Mason (6-2, 205) from Birmingham, Ala., linebacker Andrew Parker (6-2, 225) from New Orleans, and running back Rakeem Boyd (6-0, 200) from Houston by way of Independence (Kan.) Community College.
They are all three-star recruits which isn’t going to make recruiting fans rejoice. That’s reserved for four- and five-star recruits.
However, what is impressive is that when Morris and his staff got these young men on campus for a visit, they were able to close the deal. That is significant.
Morris has only been on the job about six weeks. The expectation is that Morris and his staff will be able to garner visits from even better talent for future recruiting classes. It’s encouraging to see what this staff can do in a single weekend of selling their program, the University of Arkansas, and Fayetteville.
Of course, the key at Arkansas has always been getting visits from elite-level talent. It’s too early in Morris’ program to judge him and his staff on that this year, but that factor is going to be key for the program in the future.
Obviously, the better the Razorbacks do on the field, the more attractive the program becomes to more-talented recruits, but that’s not the only aspect. Much of recruiting is has to do with how hard the staff works and how relatable they are to the kids.
It’s too early to really tell for sure, but the results from last weekend’s recruiting efforts look very positive in that regard. Recruiting results don’t just materialize out of the vapor at Arkansas. It takes time and effort. Time has been short for this Razorback staff, but it seems the effort has been anything but.
Now, of course, commitments aren’t binding. Everything is fluid until the players sign on the dotted line.
Comings and Goings
One player that is enrolled at the UA and will compete for the quarterback spot in the spring is quarterback Austin Aune, who spent the last six-years in the New York Yankees franchise.
He’s a walk-on that originally signed to play football at TCU before trying his hand at professional baseball. He has four years of eligibility, and can possibly add some maturity to Arkansas’ quarterback room, which includes junior Ty Storey of Charleston, sophomore Cole Kelley of Lafayette, La., redshirt freshman Dalton Hyatt and fellow walk-ons in redshirt freshman Jack Lindsey of Springdale and sophomore Carson Proctor of Vero Beach, Fla. Freshman Conor Noland of Greenwood joins the team for practice in August.
Kelley, of course, has the most experience of the players with four starts last season when Austin Allen was hurt, but Morris has declared the starting job up for grabs when spring practice starts. Arkansas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Craddock said ultimately what the Hogs are looking for at quarterback is a winner.
Anytime there is a coaching change there will be a churning of the roster. We’re seeing it with the program this week. Two players have exited the program and another is unable to continue playing because of injuries.
Center Zach Rogers graduated in December and has decided to pursue a career in law enforcement rather than use his final year of eligibility. Kicker Cole Hedlund has also left the team after an up-and-down ride with the Razorbacks. Offensive lineman Jake Heinrich is being forced out of football by a series of injuries. He is seeking a medical exemption from the NCAA that will allow Arkansas to honor his scholarship but for him not to count against the program’s 85 scholarship maximum.
With only one year of eligibility left, it’s understandable that Rogers, who played behind Frank Ragnow most of his career, doesn’t want to start over with a new coaching staff. If his heart isn’t in it, then it’s better that he moves on. The same can be said for Hedlund, whose play at Arkansas never quite lived up to expectations. It’s just a shame that Heinrich (6-4, 293), who appeared to have a promising college career and perhaps more in front of him, has to step away.
After spring practice, there is every likelihood that some other players might decide that Morris’ program isn’t the right fit for them either. Generally that’s the case every year, but it’s even more likely with a new coaching staff in place.
Coaching changes are difficult on some players, who have to fight to prove themselves to a new coaching staff. Some may lose ground. However, for other players, it’s just the opportunity they were looking for, a second chance with no or at least fewer preconceived notions.