Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: 2017 class is sexy enough
Nashville offensive lineman Kirby Adcock waits as he is announced MVP of the class 4A state championship game on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE — Apparently, the four offensive linemen in Arkansas' 2017 recruiting class lack sex appeal.
That's right from the mouth of the head coach, the man who puts them in first class seats on road trips.
Maybe big isn't sexy, but it sure does win football games. Kirby Adcock, Ty Clary, Shane Clenin and Dalton Wagner might be just what the doctor ordered for the team that failed to convert in short-yardage situations too often in a 7-6 season last year.
The offensive line class was what I went to Bret Bielema's media briefing Wednesday afternoon wanting to learn about more. I wanted to hear about a wonderful defensive secondary class, too, but it's when the Arkansas coach talked about what Kurt Anderson signed after his first year as O-line coach that I started filling my notepad.
The good news is that all four of those linemen are already in Fayetteville. Adcock, Clenin and Wagner are already enrolled in UA classes. Clary is 1 mile away at Fayetteville High, a late commitment and a counter in the 2018 class next year. He'll enroll at Arkansas this summer in a weird NCAA rule that allows a fudge on the 25-limit. It's known as blue-shirting.
Not one in the O-line quartet is rated higher than a consensus 3-star by the national recruiting services. That's why Bielema said some might not consider them sexy. Don't count me among those discounting their appeal.
Bielema said the Hogs have signed some with that “sexiness” of a high rating in the recent past. All that got them is a dire situation where a nose tackle (Hjalte Froholdt) and a walk-on (Johnny Gibson) were starting in the rebuilt 2016 offensive line.
I am most interested in Wagner, listed at 6-9 and 315 by the official UA signing day release. He enrolled in January – just like Adcock and Clenin – as an early graduate from high school. Wagner hails from Spring Grove, Ill., and was considered the No. 1 tackle in his home state by at least one of the national services.
It's Wagner that seems to fascinate the recruitniks the most. I define a recruitnik as someone who will pay for at least one of the national recruiting services, if not all of them. It's his massive nature that produces the most questions.
So when Bielema casually mentioned Wednesday that Wagner now weighed 269 pounds, it was worth follow up questions. Really, 369? It says 315 in the release.
“That's maybe a typo,” Bielema said. “He's bigger than that. I think he's pretty big.”
Well, that brought a response from Dudley Dawson, our recruiting guru at Hawgs Illustrated. He said he'd talked to Wagner just before classes started.
“He told me 339 two weeks ago,” Dawson said. “And he says he's 330 now.”
Bielema quickly said, “Maybe, but I think he will play bigger than that. Maybe 350.” There was confirmation later in the day from Bielema. It is 330.
Whatever the weight, he might play in a hurry. The Hogs are replacing a left tackle, the 6-10 Dan Skipper. Wagner has a chance to be much heavier than Skipper, who rolled between 315 and 330 pounds.
It's clear that Bielema likes what the Hogs signed in this O-line class. He said it was a different type of player that Anderson sought.
“It was a certain type,” he said. “It was the kind of player I was used to before (at Wisconsin). Maybe we had gone after a sexy type the last couple of years and that definitely didn't get it done.”
Bielema told a story about getting by campus early a few days ago after an early appointment at the dentist. He was rolling over the hill above the athletic center with students rolling to early classes.
“It was cold, real cold,” he said. “You could steam the breath of the kids as they hiked to classes. I saw a group go by and they were all bundled up, then here comes Dalton. He's got a hooded sweatshirt, with the hood down. He had on shorts and sneakers.
“I think he's pretty used to the cold and thinks he's in the Bahamas here. It was something to see.”
It's going to be something to see in the spring. The Hogs finally have the right numbers in the offensive line. Bielema likes what he's seen of his three early arrivals.
“Wagner, he's definitely a tackle,” he said. “I think Kirby has the ability to play inside and outside. Clenin reminds of us of what we thought about Frank (Ragnow) when he got here, but bigger. We think he can play all five positions. Not real common and a quick learner.”
That's sweet music.
The defensive fixes and the addition of speed in all areas on that side of the ball should not be minimized. I like the defensive end and linebacker prospects in the class, as much as the seven slated to join the defensive secondary.
David Porter from Pulaski Robinson might be one of the most unheralded in the class and one of the last additions. Bielema said Porter's athleticism is fantastic. It was just a matter of confirming that he could make his grades that caused the Hogs to pause. He's still got work to do, but should qualify.
At 6-3 and 240, Porter doesn't look like an SEC end just yet, but he's probably going to fill out and can run. He was all over the field for Robinson the last couple of seasons.
Hayden Henry is another late get. The younger brother of former UA star tight end Hunter Henry, Hayden produced big-time numbers at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock. He's an outside linebacker type at 6-3, 215.
Kyrei Fisher is another outside linebacker type. A star at Tulsa Union, Fisher made a big jump between his junior and senior season. He flipped from a commitment to Minnesota in December and already is in school at Arkansas. I saw him walking to lunch Wednesday. He looks the part.
The Hogs got some defensive line playmakers from the junior college ranks, too. Gabe Richardson and Melvin Johnson are long and lean. They won't be on campus until the summer, but they can help quickly.
Then there is my type of linebacker: New Orleans, La., Archbishop Rummel's 5-11, 195-pound Derrick Munson. I'll call him a big Sam Olajubutu. He made 440 tackles the last four seasons for one of Louisiana's best teams. He was rated as the Catholic League's most valuable defensive player last season.
Bielema said he offered Munson in the spring of his sophomore year when he went to Rummel to watch Briston Guidry. Munson recorded 15 tackles in the early portion of practice and Bielema offered right away.
The Hogs need playmakers in the front. It's what they lacked as much as anything last season.
But I love the big uglies in the offensive line. It's still about blocking and tackling. Maybe the Hogs got better in both places Wednesday. It was a good day for Arkansas football.
“It's our best recruiting class here,” Bielema said.
Why? Bielema said it's because needs were filled. It's hard to disagree.
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