FAYETTEVILLE – Though just a likely bowl game away from completing his first year head coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks, Sam Pittman’s previous 25 years coaching offensive lines taught him well that the eventual last act of signing day drama ends with with an anticlimax, and a transfer.
So that the Razorbacks signed 23 on Wednesday’s start to the 3-day early signing period with all football coaches and no drama coaches involved heartened Arkansas’ head coach.
“The greatest thing I think about this class is once they committed, they stayed committed to us,” Pittman said. “I think that says a lot about our coaching staff and the relationships that they had built with these guys. But really, really happy that there was no drama. Seems like every year at this point there’s a lot of leaving and coming. And that didn’t happen to us.”
Though of course they fretted a bit to the last but without evidence to fret like in recruiting seasons past.
“We had Zoom in home meetings with them last week and then again this week and there was never any indication that they were talking to other people, interested in other people,” Pittman said. “And for that me and our entire staff are grateful for that and pleased with the kids that we signed today.”
It may have seemed dramatic with Arkansas Wednesday adding defensive lineman Cameron Ball of Atlanta’s Tri-Cities High as an official signee and Tuesday adding Jones (Miss.) Junior College transfer defensive tackle Jalen Williams as a verbal commitment officially signed Wednesday, but Pittman said he and his staff were privately assured by Ball and Williams they would sign.
“That was big to pick up Cam Ball on a public announcement today,” Pittman said during his Wednesday recruiting press conference after the 23 had signed. “We’ve known (Ball would sign) for quite awhile. And Jalen Williams.”
Williams, 6-3, 310; Ball, 6-5, 303; and Solomon Wright, 6-0, 270 of Vian, Okla. are the defensive linemen and Devon Manuel, 6-9, 292 of Sunset, La.; Cole Carson, 6-5, 290 and Terry Wells, 6-5, 306 of Parkin via Wynne High are the offensive linemen whose size Pittman covets in his ongoing effort to get the Hogs bigger in the trenches.
That effort doesn’t cease with two early signing days left and then the February signing period upcoming.
“Now we still have some scholarships available and I think we still need one more big D-lineman, preferably a pass-rushing defensive end,” Pittman said. “And at least one more offensive lineman. We have one available scholarship and we can push three forward. If I had my druthers I’d like to go 2 and 2 on both sides. As of right now the thoughts are going big and going on both sides of the ball but obviously we would take the positions of need if somebody gets in the transfer portal we think can help us.”
Wright standing only 6-0 doesn’t seem to fit the massive defensive lineman that Pittman said he covets, but he explained.
“Solomon Wright, I loved him on tape,” Pittman said. “He has great explosiveness and can really run. He’s not quite as tall as your typical D-lineman would be in the SEC, but he’s also much quicker. I knew his daddy. Kenyatta, played there at Oklahoma State and he’s a wonderful guy. We went after him hard and I was really happy we were able to sign him.”
He also discussed Jalen Williams and Ball.
“Jalen Williams, we’ve been on him for a long time,” Pittman said. “He was a high school qualifier and we tried to get him last year to come in and help us. He wanted to wait and see his other options and different things. Play there at the junior college and all that stuff. We were able to get him and he’s over 300 pounds. Then Cam Ball we’ve recruited him it seems like forever as well. He’s a guy that I think a lot of teams looked at both ways, offensive or defensive line, but he wants to play D-line. Our needs are both sides, but we need some young, big defensive linemen and he was able to fit that bill. We were very fortunate to be able to get him.”
Wells was among his 2020 first commits and never wavered.
“He’s a 305-pound kid that really has great feet, smart and I think he can develop into an excellent offensive lineman,” Pittman said.
“Cole Carson, the only thing with Cole was I wanted to see how big he was. He came in and I know he can… He’s as big or bigger than Frank Ragnow (the former Arkansas All-American now 3-year NFL center Pittman recruited former Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema). I remember thinking that whenever I first met him. I liked his athleticism on the field. I liked his natural ability to explode through his hips. Then Devon Manuel, the first thing that kind of caught my eye about Devon was not necessarily his size, because he’s huge, but his basketball skill. Watching him from playing basketball. he’s very light on his feet.”
With Spread offenses expanding the typical starting defensive backfield from the standard four to five and even six, recruiting secondary numbers becomes primary to Arkansas defensive coordinator/safeties coach Barry Odom and cornerbacks coach Sam Carter.
Arkansas signed five: Trent Gordon, 5-11, 190, an immediately eligible transfer from Penn State, and incoming freshmen Jayden Johnson, 6-2, 206, Cedartown, Ga.; Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan, 6-1, 195 Kansas City, Mo.; Chase Lowery , 6-0 180 Frisco, Texas; and Keuan Parker, 5-11 173 of Tulsa’s football fabled Booker T. Washington.
“You look at the DBs, we signed five of them,” Pittman said. “So obviously, with Barry, our system runs three safeties back there, two corners. So we wanted to go heavy at that position. We got some really good safeties in that group.”
The freshmen can expect to be groomed to play.
Gordon, with three years at Penn State, presumably plays right away.
“We got a nice transfer, Trent Gordon at corner, that we hope and feel like will come in here and give us immediate help,” Pittman said. “And then Keuan Parker has great speed, the kid out of Booker T. And Chase Lowery is an athletic guy that can help us in punt returning as well as at corner or possible. Then Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan is a guy that can play a nickel all the way back to a safety position for us.”
At linebacker the Razorbacks added Marco Avant, 6-3, 212, a Forrest City native who ended up starring at Jonesboro High; and Christopher Paul, 6-1, 225 of Cordele, Ga.
““I like Marco,” Pittman said. “He transferred schools and ended up over at Jonesboro and I think had a lot of improvement. He is long and I think he is going to be a big guy. He can run and I think he is really going to to develop into a fine player Pooh Paul out of Georgia, he’s a Mike, to me. He’s big, I think he’s about 250. He’s a big linebacker, one that can handle the A gaps.”
In recruiting stars, 4-star receiver Ketron Jackson, 6-2, 190, of Royse City, Texas and 4-star running back AJ Green, 5-11, 194 of Tulsa’s Union High lead this class.
Pittman touts his other skill position recruits, too, receivers Jaedon Wilson 6-3, 172, DeSoto, Texas; Bryce Stephens, 6-0, 170, Oklahoma City; Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, 6-2, 210, Rockledge, Fla., running back Javion Hunt, 6-0, 205, Oklahoma City; and tight end Erin Outley, 6-4, 255, Little Rock Parkview.
“If you look, there’s a lot of talent there with Ketron and Rocket and Jaden and Bryce,” Pittman said. “You know, Bryce Stevens will have a decent chance, a good chance to win the 100 meters in 4A here in Oklahoma. And AJ’s won it. The running back there, AJ Green. We’ve got good speed. Obviously Ketron Jackson is a highly recruited kid. Rocket Sanders can play several different spots.
Erin Outley, he was one of the first guys in this class when I got here that I wanted to offer. I thought he fit in perfectly with what we do.”
Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles signed two dual-threat quarterbacks: Landon Rogers, 6-4, 215 of Little Rock Parkview; and Lucas Coley, 6-2, 207, San Antonio, Texas.
“We felt like we needed two quarterbacks in this class,” Pittman said. “I like them. Landon Rogers, obviously here in the state, very big, very athletic. He can run. I think he’s a guy that would really fit into what we’re doing offensively. He has a very strong arm. I think he can become much better than he is right now.
Lucas Coley is certainly a guy that’s a run and pass threat as well. Not quite as big as Landon. But he’s played good ball there in Texas and had a lot of success. Very smart.”
Incoming freshman kicker/punter Cameron Little of Moore, Okla. will be counted upon to challenge for immediate time.
“Cam Little in our opinion is as good a kicker as there is in the country,” Pittman said. “We were very fortunate to get him.”
Pittman was asked about the Razorbacks signing so few (four) from Arkansas.
“Well, we got four from Arkansas, and I don’t know that we offered a whole lot more than that,” Pittman said. “Certainly you want to get a lot of kids in your own state. I believe that the Razorback means something to them. We did not get every kid in the state that we offered even though we would have liked to. But we were not able to lock down the state totally.”
One the Hogs sought, defensive back Dreyden Norwood of Fort Smith Northside, signed with Texas A&M.
On this staff, the State of Oklahoma practically becomes Arkansas West. Pittman and Odom are both Oklahoma natives and offensive line coach Brad Davis and tight ends coach Jon Cooper both University of Oklahoma graduates.
They signed six Oklahomans.
“ We signed a lot of speed out of that state,” Pittman said. “We have several different guys that have ties in the state of Oklahoma and it certainly was good for us this year.”
ARKANSAS 2020 SIGNEES
- Jalen Williams DL 6-3 310 Tylertown, Miss. Jones JC
- Trent Gordon DB 5-11 199 Spring, Texas Penn State
- Cameron Ball DL 6-5 303 Atlanta, Ga. Tri-Cities
- Jayden Johnson DB 6-2 206 Cedartown, Ga. Cedartown
- Cameron Little K/P 6-2 170 Moore, Okla. Southmoore
- Landon Rogers QB 6-4 215 Little Rock Parkview
- Devon Manuel OL 6-9 292 Sunset, La. Beau Chene
- Erin Outley TE 6-4 255 Little Rock Parkview
- Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan DB 6-1, 195 Kansas City, Mo.
Lincoln College Prep
- Marco Avant LB 6-3 212 Forrest City Jonesboro
- Jaedon Wilson WR 6-3 172 DeSoto, Texas DeSoto
- Chase Lowery DB 6-0 180 Frisco, Texas Frisco
- Christopher Paul LB 6-1 225 Cordele, Ga. Crisp County
- Solomon Wright DL 6-0 270 Vian, Okla. Vian
- Lucas Coley QB 6-2, 207 San Antonio, Texas Cornerstone Christian
- Bryce Stephens WR 6-0 170 Oklahoma City, Okla.
- Cole Carson OL 6-5, 290 Bogata, Texas Rivercrest
- Keuan Parker DB 5-11 173 Tulsa, Okla. Booker T. Washington
- Javion Hunt RB 6-0 205 Oklahoma City, Okla. Carl Albert
- Terry Wells OL 6-5 306 Parkin Wynne
- Raheim Sanders WR 6-2 210 Rockledge, Fla. Rockledge
- AJ Green RB 5-11 194 Tulsa, Okla Union
- Ketron Jackson WR 6-2 190 Royse City, Texas Royse City