Richard Davenport has been a recruiting columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2007. He also hosts Recruiting Thursday each Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. statewide.
Bielema emphasizes keeping top Arkansas talent in the state
Arkansas football head coach Bret Bielema watches his players at practice Saturday, April 13, 2013, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema had a good idea about the number of in-state prospects he and his staff would be able to recruit before taking the job.
The amount of Division I prospects will vary from year-to-year and will likely tap out around 12 in a good year.
"I do know this, if a young man can play SEC championship-level football, we want him at the University of Arkansas," Bielema said. "If he's within the state we need to tell him that he needs to stay in our state and if wants to try and leave we need to remind him he won't be welcomed back."
Not long after National Signing Day in February, Bielema started traveling and talking to Razorback Clubs throughout the state.
"I think it's important for us to realize and understand once a Hog, always a Hog," Bielema said. "That's a part that's really been evident to me no matter where I've been in the state. Northeast, southwest, central, it doesn't matter. The people are very, very passionate about their Hogs and want kids to be able enjoy that for a lifetime."
Bielema said the reception from recruits and coaches has been outstanding since December and January when he and his coaching staff were on the road. During that time, the Hogs were also able to concentrate on underclassmen and get a leg up on future classes.
"We've been welcomed with open arms," Bielema said. "Even in some potential hostile areas where they just like the style of play that we have and like the fact we put an emphasis on character and a value of what a kid is."
His success at Wisconsin has helped open doors but Bielema is quick credit his All Star type coaching staff and their connections for his optimism.
"It's very, very important that we ride the curtails of the men they were before we hired them here," Bielema said. "It's been awesome and it's only going to get better."
This year's NFL Draft saw four former Razorbacks and 13 players who was coached by the Arkansas coaching staff taken in the three day event held in New York City. Seeing a young man develop over the years as a person and athlete is very rewarding.
"It's just incredible feeling," Bielema said. "I know how special it is for the player and his family. I just believe first impressions last a life time. Some of these young men when you saw them at a certain age when they were babied face and the whole world is in front of them you can see the talent but it's your job to bring it out of them. It's really something special and it's probably why we all got into the game of coaching."
While at Wisconsin, the offensive and defensive lines were strengths for Bielema, but he notes his staff is strong at producing top-notch talent. He praised defensive line coach Charlie Partridge's success.
"He's been with me five active years," Bielema said. "I believe he has four defensive ends that start in the NFL out of those five years and one of them was just named the [NFL] Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL in J.J. Watt."
Bielema is proud of his coaching staff and their ability to get players to the next level.
"Joel [Thomas] had a couple drafted," Bielema said. "Randy Shannon has had players throughout his time as an assistant and as a coordinator and head coach at Miami. Of course, Sam Pittman and Jim Chaney and with what they heave done, not just at Tennessee, but everywhere they've been. It's second to none. Michael Smith has an unbelievable tradition of wide receivers and players he's recruited at Kansas State that have gone one to do special things."
"If you want to be a great player and combine that with great academics and represent yourself in a first class manner then we have enough room for you."