Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in documentary film.
Razorbacks add 24 signees
Class ranks 11th in SEC
El Dorado High School defensive lineman Bijhon Jackson signs his letter-of-intent to play football for the University of Arkansas on National Signing Day at the EHS Wildcat Arena Wednesday. Jackson was surrounded by his mother Michelle, seated left, and father Anthony, seated right, many family members, classmates, teammates and coaches.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas signed 24 players to its football team Wednesday, including a highly-recruited receiver who had not previously committed to the Razorbacks.
JoJo Robinson signed with Arkansas at his high school in Miami, completing the list of players who signed a letter of intent on national signing day. According to Scout.com, the four-star recruit was previously committed to Florida State.
"He's very, very gifted," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said of Robinson. "I give credit to Randy (Shannon).
"JoJo was a guy who had interest and at the time I really didn't know because he had a lot of options. He decided he wanted to come take a visit and he came with his mom and his uncle. I think they had a certain perception, just like every kid does, of Arkansas - this stigma until you get here. I think the great thing about Northwest Arkansas is once they get here, they're like, 'Wow!' If a kid wants different, we've got a chance."
Robinson was the only player to commit to the Razorbacks on Wednesday. Arkansas missed on a pair of other targets as Coppell, Texas defensive end Solomon Thomas signed with Stanford and Miami Booker T. Washington defensive end Demetrius Jackson signed with Miami.
New Iberia (Westgate), La. defensive tackle Tae Thibodeaux reportedly has a scholarship offer from Arkansas but has not signed a letter of intent with any school.
The Razorbacks' signing class was ranked 11th by Scout, Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN among schools in the Southeastern Conference. The class had an average of 3.04 stars per player according to Scout, which is the highest for any Arkansas class since the recruiting service began in 2002.
"Somebody threw out a stat that only two teams with losing records were ahead of us in the ranking system," Bielema said. "That's all great, but I really don't care where we're ranked today. I'm going to care where we're ranked in three years with these guys, or in two years or one year."
The bulk of Arkansas' top recruits came on the offensive and defensive line. Offensive linemen Jovan Pruitt, Frank Ragnow and Brian Wallace Jr. signed with the Razorbacks on Wednesday, giving the team a strong trio of linemen for the second consecutive year.
Denver Kirkland and Denver Skipper helped highlight Bielema's first signing class with the Razorbacks and the pair started all eight conference games as freshmen. Reeve Koehler, a four-star prospect a year ago, redshirted and could compete for playing time next season.
"We think pretty highly of those guys," said offensive line coach Sam Pittman. "This new crop of guys, it'd be hard to be more pleased with the group of guys we've got in our class. They're good kids and very talented. "They love the game. I feel like we're going to see some really nice things out of that group."
El Dorado defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson, who played in the U.S. Army All-American Game last month, was the star of Arkansas' defensive signees Wednesday. Bielema said he offered Jackson shortly after he arrived in Fayetteville in December 2012.
"He was the first player I offered and he committed a few days later," Bielema said. "It was pretty cool when I went down there to recruit him and the whole town just shut down. That showed how big the program is across the state."
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Jackson was one of five in-state players who signed Wednesday. Other Arkansas natives to sign with the Razorbacks were Springdale Har-Ber defensive end Jake Hall, Bentonville tight end Jack Kraus, North Little Rock running back Juan Day and Pine Bluff Dollarway safety Josh Liddell.
The state of Arkansas was tied with the state of Florida for the most signees in the Razorbacks' class this year.
"I can't create numbers," Bielema said. "I was very excited because I think the guys we got in-state this year were very good....The good news is the classes coming up have a lot of talent. I think that's just the way Arkansas is. I looked at the signings from the last several years and the numbers fluctuated - a low year might be four or five and a good year might be 10. Whatever that number is, if they can play SEC-winning football we've got to get them."
Arkansas also added the nation's top kicker, Cole Hedlund. The Argyle, Texas native holds the national record with 56 career field goals in high school and he was named a Parade all-American as a senior.
Quarterback Rafe Peavey, receiver Jared Cornelius and Cody Hollister, and cornerback Chris Murphy are other members of Arkansas' 2014 class who signed prior to Wednesday. All four are currently enrolled in classes at the UA and will go through spring practice with the Razorbacks.
Peavey, a native of Bolivar, Mo., played in the UnderArmour All-American Game last month.
"I feel like we've got a lot of leadership and a lot of athletes coming in," Peavey said. "I think the sky is the limit for us and it's going to be about how hard we want to work. I feel like everyone in this class has a good head on their shoulders and are going to be able to see above the waves of a 3-9 record here."
2014 Arkansas Football Signees
Anthony Brown, DE, 6-4, 221, Miami, Fla. (Killian HS)
Jared Cornelius, WR, 6-1, 185, Shreveport, La. (Evangel Christian Academy)
Juan Day, RB, 6-2, 210, North Little Rock, Ark.
Kendrick Edwards, WR, 6-6, 205, Miami, Fla. (Norland HS)
Dwayne Eugene, LB, 6-1, 200, Marrero, La. (Archbishop Rummel HS)
Cornelius Floyd, CB, 6-1, 190, Miami, Fla. (Gulliver Prep)
Khalia Hackett, LB, 6-3, 210, Douglasville, Ga. (South Paulding HS)
Jake Hall, DE, 6-5, 250, Springdale, Ark. (Har-Ber HS)
Cole Hedlund, K, 5-10, 170, Argyle, Texas
Cody Hollister, WR, 6-4, 205, Bend, Ore. (Arizona Western JC)
Bijhon Jackson, DT, 6-2, 320, El Dorado, Ark.
Jack Kraus, TE, 6-5, 250, Bentonville, Ark.
Josh Liddell, S, 6-1, 193, Pine Bluff, Ark. (Dollarway HS)
Chris Murphy, CB, 5-10, 180, Marietta, Ga. (Lassiter HS)
Rafe Peavey, QB, 6-2, 212, Bolivar, Mo.
Jovan Pruitt, OT, 6-6, 290, Dallas, Texas (Bishop Dunne HS)
Frank Ragnow, OT, 6-6, 291, Chanhassen, Minn.
Santos Ramirez, CB, 6-1, 172, Shreveport, La. (Evangel Christian Academy)
Randy Ramsey, LB, 6-4, 215, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (Dillard HS)
JoJo Robinson, WR, 6-0, 185, Miami, Fla. (Northwestern HS)
Henre' Tolliver, CB, 6-1, 165, Marrero, La. (Archbishop Rummel HS)
Sebastian Tretola, OT, 6-5, 315, San Bernardino, Calif. (Iowa Western CC)
Brian Wallace, OT, 6-6, 305, Florissant, Mo. (Christian Brothers College HS)
Armon Watts, DT, 6-5, 250, Saint Louis, Mo. (Christian Brothers College HS)