24-man class gets lift from Florida Five

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema talks about the Arkansas Razorbacks' new players during the national signing day press conference at the Fred Smith Center in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema talks about the Arkansas Razorbacks' new players during the national signing day press conference at the Fred Smith Center in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - A five man blast of Florida talent acted as an antidote to the wintry conditions outside the Fred Smith Football Center, where Arkansas’ signing day festivities were held Wednesday.

The Razorbacks tapped strongly into Florida on national signing day, landing five prospects to equal the number of new in-state signees for Coach Bret Bielema’s staff. The signees from Arkansas and Florida comprised 42 percent of the 24-man class announced by the Razorbacks.

Bielema said the players Arkansas signed had to understand the program was building back from consecutive losing seasons.

“We want to have a winning culture here,” Bielema said. “We’re a team that’s on the rise in the SEC and want to make a big transition from where we were to where we’re going this year.”

Signing Day Recap

Richard Davenport recaps National Signing Day for the Razorbacks. (By KNWA)
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Bielema and his staff understand pulling players from Florida is critical in that transition, and the Razorbacks have signed nine from Florida in two years, nearly matching the 11 from the Razorbacks’ home state.

“I really think when I took over we needed to be strong in Arkansas, and we were going to recruit the snot out of Texas,” Bielema said. “We’re going to do great in-state and in the surrounding states in general, and the next big area for us has to be Florida. Thankfully we’ve been able to keep that going.”

Arkansas’ pickup of the day was former Florida State commitment JoJo Robnson, a wide receiver from Miami Northwestern, the alma mater of linebackers coach Randy Shannon. Robinson, who had been committed to Florida State since July 2012, joined four other Floridians - receiver Kendrick Edwards, defensive end Anthony Brown, cornerback Cornelius Floyd and linebacker Randy Ramsey - as new Razorbacks.

Arkansas also received letters of intent from five Arkansans, keyed by four-star defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, as well as running back Juan Day or North Little Rock, defensive end Jake Hall of Springdale Har-Ber, tight end Jack Kraus of Bentonville and safety Josh Liddell of Pine Bluff Dollarway.

Shannon played a key role in drawing the talent from his home state of Florida.

“The great thing about here is if you can get the parents up, you have a great shot at getting kids from south Florida,” Shannon said. “If the parents do not come, it’s going to be pretty tough.”

Shannon said south Florida is a difficult place to recruit.

“You’ve got to have some connections,” he said. “If you don’t have many connections, it’s going to be hard to recruit down there. So, guys trust in me. The coaches trust in me. A lot of parents trust in what I do. A lot of counselors and principals that I know throughout the whole south Florida region trust me. And now it has to be up to the individuals, the kids coming up.”

Arkansas’ group of 24 signees, with space for one or two more, is ranked 29th nationally by Rivals.com, No. 33 by Scout.com and No. 30 in the composite 247Sports.com rankings.

“I don’t really care where we’re ranked today,” Bielema said. “I’m going to tell you, I am going to care where we’re ranked in three years with these guys, in two years, in one year.”

The class is headlined by Jackson, the first offered player in the signing class, offensive linemen Frank Ragnow of Chanhassen, Minn., and Brian Wallace of St. Louis, quarterback Rafe Peavey of Bolivar, Mo., and kicker Cole Hedlund of Argyle, Texas.

There was minimal signing day drama, with the landing of Robinson and losing out on a couple of prospects, like defensive end Solomon Thomas, who decided on Stanford.

Arkansas addressed needs on the back seven of its defense with three linebackers, four cornerbacks, some of whom might develop into safeties, and the safety Liddell.

“It was huge,” cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. “We needed to get some more skill set guys in terms of numbers and make sure we got some guys in here that can get some things done.”

Arkansas added four wideouts, including 6-6 Kendrick Edwards and 6-4 Cody Hollister, as well as the 6-5 tight end Kraus, bringing height that was missing from last year’s roster. The Hogs also had a second big class of offensive linemen for position coach Sam Pittman, with Jovan Pruitt of Dallas and junior-college transfer Sebastian Tretolo joining four-star signees Ragnow and Wallace.

“I had a coach tell me a long time ago if you can’t do a cartwheel when a guy commits to you, that means you’re recruiting the wrong guy,” Pittman. “You know I can’t do a cartwheel, but in my mind I was doing them. And a back flip.”

Sports, Pages 15 on 02/06/2014