New Jersey back likes Bielema’s run emphasis

By: Richard Davenport
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Joel Thomas is Arkansas' running backs coach after spending four years at Washington.
Photo by University of Washington
Joel Thomas is Arkansas' running backs coach after spending four years at Washington.

— Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas and Coach Bret Bielema’s emphasis on the running game has one of the nation’s more highly recruited running backs, Jonathan Hilliman, looking to visit the Hogs during the spring.

Hilliman, 6-1, 210 pounds, 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash, of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, N.J., has 33 scholarship offers but has said his top 10, in no particular order, is Ohio State, Notre Dame, Stanford, Michigan, Boston College, Rutgers, Alabama and LSU, while Arkansas and Vanderbilt are tied for the 10th spot.

“I would like to learn more about the school as a whole,” Hilliman said of Arkansas. “Judging by social media,their fans are very loyal fans. It would really be fun to get a whole view of the school.”

Hilliman, who rushed 123 times for 1 ,408 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior, said he’s called Thomas several times and appreciates him not sugarcoating things.

“Great guy. Stand-up guy,” he said. “He tells you how it is.”

During Bielema’s tenure at Wisconsin, the Badgers featured running back Montee Ball, who broke the NCAA career records for total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns

“That means he runs the ball a lot,” Hilliman said. “That’s something all running backs would like to see.”

New Jersey natives Damon Mitchell, an Arkansas 2013 quarterback signee, and 2012 linebacker signee Vin Ascolese, who was inked with the previous staff and never made it to campus, helped the Hogs with Hilliman.

“They see it as a school you would like for the next four years,” Hilliman said. “It caught my attention that New Jersey players really appreciated Arkansas.”

After talking to Thomas and other Razorbacks coaches, Hilliman is looking forward to visiting the Hogs.

“I’m really excited to head out down south and see what’s up about Arkansas,” he said.


Highly regarded sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen, 6-3, 170, of North Little Rock, was one of several top prospects who took in the 73-71 victory by Arkansas’ men’s basketball team over Missouri last Saturday.

“I thought they played good,” Allen said. “It was a great atmosphere, and I really enjoyed watching the game.”

Allen, who has more than 10 scholarship offers, including ones from Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisville and Baylor, is rated the No. 25 prospect in his class by The Hogs’ style of play is appealing, he said.

“They like to run up the floor and run up and down, instead of walking it up the court and trying to make plays like that,” said Allen, who has also visited Baylor, Louisville and Memphis.

North Little Rock Coach Johnny Rice praised Allen’s humbleness and work ethic.

“I don’t know of any kid that’s outworking him during practice,” Rice said. “In the mornings or in the evenings, he’s working on his individual stuff on his own.”

Allen said he doesn’t have a time frame in mind for a decision.


Warren has produced numerous Division I football signees under Coach Bo Hembree and has three more in the 2014 class Arkansas is looking at.

Offensive lineman Jhamahl Bell, 6-3 1/2, 295, is standout who appears to have a solid shot of getting a scholarship offer from Arkansas.

“He’s talking to Arkansas a lot,” Hembree said. “I think he’s going to make a visit up there in the next couple of weeks. He’s had a really good off season. He’s lost some weight. He played the year about 305. He looksreally good. He’s getting to where he can move better. I think he has a chance to be a really good football player.”

Hembree said he also thinks well of receiver VonEric Gonder, 6-1, 190, and linebacker Kendrick Newton, 5-11, 230. The spring evaluation period, which runs from April 15 to May 31 and college coaches to visit schools and observe practices, will be key for Gonder and Newton, according to Hembree.

Gonder had 51 receptions for 972 yards and 8 touchdowns last season.

“He was probably our most complete receiver from last year,” Hembree said. “I’m excited about where he’s at.”

Newton recorded 127 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 quarterbackhurries and 4 pass deflections last season.

“He was [an] all-state player as a junior,” Hembree said. “He runs well. It’s just a matter of people knowing about him. They’re sending a lot of letters right now.”


Quarterback Rafe Peavey, an Arkansas commitment, and his father, Jack, spent about four hours visiting Arkansas on Saturday.

Peavey, 6-2, 197, 4.5, of Bolivar, Mo., pledged to the Hogs last summer after also receiving scholarship offersfrom Missouri, Nebraska, UCLA, Boston College, Ole Miss, West Virginia and others. He spent about an hour and a half with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney.

“We went over the offensive plans and where he’s taking the offense,” Peavey said. “When you get into college football, it’s like a different language and he really puts it in terms that you can understand it. He’s a great teacher.”

The visit was the first for Peavey since the hiring of Coach Bret Bielema and the new staff. He said the visit reinforced his commitment to the Hogs. He was given a tour of the new football complex under construction by on-campus recruiting coordinator Chris Hauser.

“He’s a super nice guy,” Peavey said. “We really got along well.”

Peavey said he plans to return soon to meet Bielema, who was out of town.

E-mail Richard Davenport at

Sports, Pages 36 on 02/24/2013