It’s a first step, but an important first step

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
North Little Rock running back Juan Day works out during a team camp at Camp Robinson on July 29, 2013.
Photo by Jimmy Jones
North Little Rock running back Juan Day works out during a team camp at Camp Robinson on July 29, 2013.

Today, college football’s national signing day, will run the gamut from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

Young men will sit in front of student bodies and pull out baseball caps of different universities, and sometimes - too often - there will be a last-second change of mind that elates some and ticks off others.

Some of the signings/news conferences will be televised locally and a few nationally.

This is generally believed to be the day when the foundation for the future of college football programs is further established.

Sometimes that’s true, but not always.

Few of today’s five-star signees will ever play in the NFL, but this column isn’t meant to rain on the great parade that is national signing day.

Especially when the sun seems to be shining so strongly on the SEC, where seven of the top 10 classes will live and breathe football.

Of course, if you are Arkansas, Missouri or Mississippi State - whose classes are all ranked in the low to high 30s - you might be wondering how you are ever going to catch the other schools, especially Alabama, which appears poised to sign yet another No. 1 recruiting class.

The Tide’s recruiting class being ranked No. 1 has become second only to Valentine’s Day when it comes to expectations in February.

If you are Vanderbilt, you have to wonder if your run of four consecutive bowl games is in jeopardy. When Coach James Franklin took off for Penn State, he took some of Vandy’s top commitments with him, and the Commodores’ rankings have fallen into the 70s.

There is also some natural concern for the Razorbacks Nation. After going 7-17 the past two seasons, a top-20 finish in recruiting might have helped ease some of the pain, but that probably isn’t going to happen.

At the time of this writing, the Hogs had two scholarships left and were hoping for a four-star and three-star commitment, which might ease them inside that No. 30 mark.

At Arkansas, and every other school that finishes outside No. 20, there will be talk of recruiting for specific needs and coaching the kids up, and that is sometimes the case, especially the coaching part.

One of the biggest jumps a kid can make from high school to college is in the weight room.

Many high school programs, especially in Arkansas, are way behind the times when it comes to strength training. A big part of that is school budgets, which doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem in Texas or even Louisiana.

What that means is that a two- or three-star player can improve himself if he puts on the right weight and finds the right position.

Jamaal Anderson was a two-star recruit as a receiver for the Razorbacks, but he got in the weight room, gained muscle, moved to defensive end and became an All-SEC player and was the eighth player taken in the first round of the NFL draft in 2007.

The Razorbacks are going to need some more success stories like that. Going into Tuesday night, the Hogs had four players on campus and commitments from 19 others. Of the high school commitments, there are 2 four-star players, 16 three-star players and 3 who are not rated.

The fastest recruit is defensive back Chris Murphy,who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. There are a lot of guys who run 4.5, and that can be improved slightly with proper training.

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema has broadened the recruiting horizons of the Razorbacks, getting oral commitments from players from nine states including Arkansas. Five commitments are from Arkansas, but the Razorbacks also have four commitments from Florida and four from Louisiana.

Bielema will be satisfied, because like every coach in America he knows today is step one.

Sports, Pages 19 on 02/05/2014