Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Manuel sees Pittman’s draft successes
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman speaks to the crowd during a basketball game between Arkansas and Tulsa on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Arnaudville (La.) Beau Chene junior offensive lineman Devon Manuel (6-8, 310 pounds) was watching the NFL Draft two weeks ago when he noticed something that really made an impression.
Georgia offensive linemen Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, who had been coached by former Bulldogs offensive line coach and new Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman, were both taken in the first round.
“It made me think if I want to get there, I need to be coached by him,” Manuel said. “He had three offensive linemen taken in the draft overall and that’s very impressive.”
Pittman has had seven offensive linemen taken in the first round of the NFL draft and 14 overall since 2013, including Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow.
He brought in former Missouri offensive line coach Brad Davis soon after his hiring on Dec. 8 and the pair form a powerful duo per Manuel.
Manuel, whose school is about an hour away from New Orleans, has offers from Arkansas, Iowa State, Kansas, Houston, Tulane, Louisiana Tech and others.
“I know that both of them have done a great job of developing offensive linemen in the past and they have told me they are trying hard to build a relationship with me because they want me to be one of those guys,” Manuel said. “It feels good to know they want me as part of that rebuild and feel like I can be a big part of that.”
The Arkansas 2021 offensive line class is off to a solid start with pledges from Wynne’s Terry Wells (6-5, 290), the state’s top offensive lineman, and one of Texas’ best in Bogata Rivercrest’s Cole Carson (6-5, 285).
“I know that Coach Pittman and Coach Davis are going to get the best out of me,” said Wells, who was named the top offensive lineman at the US Army All- American combined in January at San Antonio. “I will be ready to come in, work hard and be ready to be coached.”
Two other offensive linemen that Pittman and Davis seem to be focused on in the 2021 class are Sugarland, Texas’ Remington Strickland (6-4, 295) and Rayshaun Benny (6-5, 275) of Oak Park, Mich.
Benny is a four-star prospect and the 192nd-best player overall with offers from Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Auburn.
Strickland, a center, is a 3-star prospect with offers from Arkansas, Boise State, Houston, SMU, Purdue, Yale, Princeton and others.
“I was definitely excited to see Coach Pittman come in and think he has a great plan to turn the program around,” Strickland said. “There are definitely two great O-line coaches at Arkansas now and that is a great thing to see.”
Pittman made no secret of his desire to rebuild the offensive line upon his hire in December. He has a specific type of offensive lineman he is looking for in recruiting.
“He has to be big, first of all,” Pittman said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean tall. He has to be able to knock somebody off the ball, i.e., explosion. He has to have those two things. Obviously if he’s great with his hands that would be something that would help him. You have to have good feet, you have to be explosive.
“The first thing we look at: Is this guy going to be big enough to help us in the SEC? And if he has all three of those things we feel like he has a chance to help us.”
He and Davis went right to work, landing a trio of standouts in the 2020 class. They signed Memphis White Station star Ray Curry (6-6, 315) in the early period and inked Memphis University School standout Marcus Henderson (6-5,
300) and St. Louis Trinity Catholic’s Jalen St. John (6-4, 300) in February.
Pittman and Davis bested schools such as LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri and Mississippi State for Curry. They were able to wrest away Henderson from Florida, Ole Miss, Missouri, and St. John from Florida State, Missouri and Auburn.
Curry and St. John were both Missouri commits when Davis was there. He recruited Henderson at his previous stop.
“I think the biggest piece of it all was getting all three of those guys here on campus,” Davis said soon after the entire signing class was announced in February. “Allowing them to feel the energy of this place, the hunger and desire that the fans have and the plan that Coach Pittman has. And those guys wanted that and believed in us.
“Everyone we recruited against and recruited head-up were trying to sell a different narrative about this job and this school. We got the kids’ boots on the ground here to see and feel it. It was an easy sell. Why it’s big because we believe great players will attract other great players and that is what we anticipate going forward.”
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