Hogs' best teams have had one thing in common

By: Matt Jones
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018
From left to right, Arkansas basketball players Clint McDaniel, Scotty Thurman, Corliss Williamson, Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart huddle during the Razorbacks' 1995 SEC Tournament championship game loss to Kentucky on Sunday, March 12, 1995, in Atlanta.
Photo by David Gottschalk
From left to right, Arkansas basketball players Clint McDaniel, Scotty Thurman, Corliss Williamson, Corey Beck and Dwight Stewart huddle during the Razorbacks' 1995 SEC Tournament championship game loss to Kentucky on Sunday, March 12, 1995, in Atlanta.

— The recruiting challenges that face the majority of the athletic teams at the University of Arkansas are well-documented.

Arkansas is the second-smallest of the 11 states in the Southeastern Conference footprint, and less than a decade removed from topping an enrollment of 20,000 for the first time, the UA’s alumni base is relatively small compared to other universities in the SEC.

There also is the athletic situation at the state’s two largest public school districts, Little Rock and Fort Smith, which once were feeders to the Razorbacks, but have dried up in football. Arkansas has signed one player from Fort Smith in the last 10 years and none of consequence since Northside’s Matt Jones in 2001. The Razorbacks have signed no players from the Little Rock public school district since Central’s Antwain Robinson was one of three from there in 2005.

It should be noted that Little Rock private schools such as Pulaski Academy and Pulaski County public schools such as Joe T. Robinson continue to produce a number of football recruits from the Little Rock area, many of whom sign with the Razorbacks. The greater Fort Smith area includes Greenwood, another program adept at producing Division I players, such as two-sport signee Connor Noland this year.

The Razorbacks have also signed at least one player from Northwest Arkansas’ four largest public schools in six of the last eight years, including Springdale’s Isaiah Nichols this year.

Scanning the hometowns of the Razorback teams we remember best, one is quickly reminded that Arkansas never has won on Arkansans alone.

The Razorbacks’ greatest teams have always included a mixture of homegrown talent meshed with players from metropolitan areas within a 350-mile radius of Fayetteville. This goes not only for football, but most other sports on campus.

Consider the hometowns for many of the players on Nolan Richardson’s great basketball teams in the 1990s:

-Todd Day, Ron Huery, Arylyn Bowers, Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart and Elmer Martin from Memphis

-Lenzie Howell and Oliver Miller from Dallas/Fort Worth

-Lee Mayberry and Clint McDaniel from Tulsa

-Mario Credit and Derek Hood from Kansas City

-Scotty Thurman, Teddy Gipson and Brandon Dean from North Louisiana

The usual starting lineup for Arkansas’ 1994 national champion and ’95 national runner-up teams consisted of Beck, McDaniel, Thurman, Stewart and Corliss Williamson, who grew up in Russellville.

The starting lineup for Arkansas at the 1990 Final Four was Day, Mayberry, Miller, Credit and Bowers.

A similar trend can be found for Arkansas’ best football teams — not only those littered with Texas natives during the days of the Southwest Conference, but also since the Razorbacks joined the SEC. Consider the hometowns of some of Arkansas’ top SEC performers:

-Felix Jones, Tulsa

-Ken Hamlin, Memphis

-Cobi Hamilton, Texarkana, Texas

-Anthony Lucas, Talulah, La.

-Kenoy Kennedy, Terrell, Texas

-Fred Talley, Longview, Texas

-Richard Smith, Shreveport, La.

-Mark Smith, Webb City, Mo.

-Jason Peters, Queen City, Texas

-Henry Ford, DeMarcus Love and Rawleigh Williams, Dallas/Fort Worth

All of those players were first-team All-SEC, with the exception of Peters, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

New Arkansas coach Chad Morris says he understands there is value in rebuilding Arkansas’ presence in those areas. His first signing class included late signings from the Dallas, Tulsa and Memphis metros, which Morris has described as extensions to the Razorbacks’ in-state recruiting efforts.

By comparison, Bret Bielema’s five signing classes had a combined three from Dallas, two from Tulsa and one from Memphis, or an average of about 1.2 per class. He also committed Bumper Pool, a Dallas-area linebacker who signed with Arkansas after the coaching change last December.

Bielema signed a handful of players from other out-of-state areas historically recruited well by Arkansas, but much of his focus was spent on areas such as South Florida, South Louisiana and the Kansas, Mississippi and California junior colleges where the Razorbacks were not as well established.

Bielema had good intentions to recruit nationally for Arkansas — especially for offensive linemen — but he didn’t win enough recruiting battles to offset the reduction in recruits closer to Arkansas. Many of those recruited from far away didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons and transferred, a trend that’s always been less for those Razorbacks who were closer to home.

One area neither Bielema nor Morris have shown much attention is Kansas City, which is a three-hour drive from Fayetteville and of increasing influence among the UA student population. The Kansas City metro had 25 FBS signees in 2018, including 20 with Power 5 programs the likes of regional teams Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State, and out-of-region teams like Clemson, Texas and Michigan.

Steve Little, Tony Cherico and Greg Kolenda were All-Americans at Arkansas, and all were from Kansas City.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 recruiting edition of Hawgs Illustrated

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