THE RECRUITING GUY:

Arkansas receivers coach tries to build trust first

By: Richard Davenport
Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland signed with Arkansas over Florida State and Miami. He said Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon was key in his recruitment.
Offensive lineman Denver Kirkland signed with Arkansas over Florida State and Miami. He said Arkansas linebackers coach Randy Shannon was key in his recruitment.

— When Michael Smith was hired away from Kansas State to be Arkansas’ receivers coach, he already had a reputation as one of the nation’s better recruiters.

The addition of Smith paid off immediately. He was responsible for receiver Melvinson Hartfield’s commitment to Kansas State, as well as his switch to the Razorbacks after Smith left for Fayetteville.

Smith said he focuses on relationships when it comes to recruiting.

“A lot of people say Michael Smith is a players coach,” Smith said. “That’s what I do, I coach players. I’m able to relate to a lot of those guys because I remember when I was 17, 18 years old, I remember some of the things I wanted to hear from recruiters or people I hung around with. I try to relate to them and break the ice that way.”

Leaving Kansas State, where he had played in college, wasn’t easy. Smith also had coached the Wildcats’ running backs from 1997 to 2005 and receivers from 2009 to 2012. But the opportunity to further his career and coach in the SEC, along with the chance to work again with Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema, whom he coached with at Kansas State, was too hard to pass up.

“It kind of makes it easier when you go in there with an SEC emblem and an Arkansas Razorback emblem on your shirt to get kids to come play for you,” Smith said.

He said having two daughters, a 17-year-old and a 12-year-old, allows him to stay in touch with the times.

“I think that’s why guys look at me as one of their best friends,” Smith said. “It’s kind of creating that trust. I want to do that with the players I have at Arkansas, because I know if they can trust me they’ll do anything in the world for me.”

RECRUITING JITTERS

Arkansas helped itself by signing three highly regarded high school offensive linemen in its 2013 class.

Dan Skipper, 6-10, 295 pounds, 4.97, of Arvada (Colo.) Ralston Valley; Reeve Koehler, 6-3, 315, 5.1, of Honolulu St. Louis; and Denver Kirkland, 6-5, 330, 5.1, of Miami Washington are all rated as four star prospects by CBS Sports Network national recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

Skipper, who plans to major in engineering, was accompanied by his parents Jan. 18 during his official visit to Arkansas.

“Our academic people were off the charts,” Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. “They said it was the best academic presentation they had ever seen, so at that point I thought we were doing pretty good.”

Skipper, who chose the Razorbacks over Tennessee,Michigan, Ohio State and Ole Miss, committed to the Volunteers when Pittman was still in Knoxville.

“He’s going to be a great player,” Pittman said, “a super good player.”

Koehler worked with Pittman while attending a Tennessee camp.

“He’ll be one of the strongest linemen we have on the team when he comes in,” Pittman said. “He might break some records when he walks into the building, bench [press] and [power] clean. Unbelievably strong kid. He works out with his dad all the time.”

Pittman credited linebackers coach Randy Shannon and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s tenure as the St. Louis Rams’ offensive line coach for helping land Kirkland, who officially visited Arkansas on Jan. 25.

One of the keys to swaying Kirkland was winning over his mother, Demetrica Roker, who made the trip to Fayetteville with her son. It was a three team race between Arkansas, Florida State and Miami.

“It went back and forth with Miami, but at the end it was between us and Florida State,” Pittman said. “We still thought on signing day it was between us and Miami, but it was really us and Florida State. Denver called me a half-hour before he went on the show and said he was going to be a Razorback.”

Still cautious, Pittman watched Kirkland’s announcement on ESPNU.

“When he started talking about the ‘University of ’, I didn’t know if it was Miami or us,” Pittman said.

Pittman said the desire to win makes recruiting very competitive.

“These kids keep you young,” Pittman said. “They do you a favor by keeping you young, but they also putsome years on you wondering if they’re going to come or not.”

A NO-FLASH SALES PITCH

Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who was the lead recruiter for running back Alex Collins, has developed a reputation as being a top-notch recruiter in south Florida.

Fort Lauderdale University High School Coach Roger Harriott called Partridge one of the best recruiters in the country back in January.

“I don’t think there’s any flash to me,” Partridge said. “I just talk to them on their level. I really work hard not to ever talk bad about another school, just sell what we have here at Arkansas, the things we’re proud of, and work hard to find kids that fit what we’re going to do and what we have to offer.”

He also said the real key is earning a prospect’s trust.

“I tell them right away. I say, ‘Don’t trust me yet, make me earn your trust,’ ” Patridge said. “That kind of defuses some things when I meet kids.”

E-mail Richard Davenport at rdavenport@arkansasonline.com

Sports, Pages 28 on 02/10/2013

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