Stepp takes team in right direction

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, September 10, 2020
Justin Stepp, Arkansas wide receivers coach, huddles with players in a timeout Saturday, April 6, 2019, during the Arkansas Red-White game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Photo by Ben Goff
Justin Stepp, Arkansas wide receivers coach, huddles with players in a timeout Saturday, April 6, 2019, during the Arkansas Red-White game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

— If early recruiting returns are any indication, Arkansas head football Coach Sam Pittman’s decision to keep a lone holdover from the former staff looks to have been a brilliant move.

Arkansas wide receivers coach Justin Stepp has been the key recruiter in adding the pledges of four big-time pass catchers in the 2021 class to go along with a nice haul of talent that he already has on campus.

Royse City, Texas standout Ketron Jackson (6-2, 186 pounds), a four-star prospect and the nation’s 150th-best player, per ESPN, became the latest and most highly-ranked target to commit to Arkansas last week when he announced his decision.

“I have a great relationship with Coach Stepp,” Jackson said. “He treats me like I’m his son, or one of his own. He is a great coach just not only on the field, but off the field he treats you like one his. He will treat you as his son and or a close family member. He will give you that love that most people need or probably don’t have.

“Then when you on the field, he will treat you like a coach. He gives me the best of both worlds.”

Jackson chose Arkansas over a list of notable such as Alabama, Texas, Texas A&M and TCU among others.

Royse City head coach David Petroff noted Stepp was a major factor in that decision.

“Coach Stepp has got a great personality, one that the kids can relate to,” Petroff said. “He was honest and up front with him and spoke to him on his level. He was just real open with him, showed him how much he liked him, how much Arkansas wanted and needed him and how could help them right away. Ketron liked that.”

Jackson narrowed his choice down to the Razorbacks and Longhorns, then gave Arkansas fans a reason to crow about landing a wide receiver that its old Southwest Conference rival thought would be heading to Austin.

Petroff joked that Stepp, who was a wide receiver and punt returner at Furman from 2003-06, would take Jackson now if he could.

“I’ve got to be honest,” Petroff said. “ Once he actually saw Ketron and how big he was, I thought he was going to kidnap him and take him back to help Arkansas this year.

“But I said, ‘Woah, he has another year to play for me. You can’t have him just yet.’”

Jackson joins Desoto standout Jadeon Wilson (6-3, 175), Rockledge, Fla., star Raheim “Rocket” Sanders (6-2, 210) and Oklahoma City John Marshall speedster Bryce Stephens (6-0, 170) as receivers on the Razorback 2021 pledge list.

Sanders chose Arkansas over Auburn, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Florida State, Miami, Duke Louisville and others, while Stephens tabbed the Razorbacks over Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Baylor, Arizona and Texas A&M.

The two Texas prep wideouts are both still awaiting the start of covid-19-delayed senior seasons in the Lone Star State.

Wilson, who had 28 passes for 520 yards and six touchdowns last season, chose Arkansas over UCLA, Nebraska, Missouri, Utah, California, Louisville, Kansas, Indiana and Oregon State.

Desoto head coach Claud Mathis is also a big fan of Stepp, who started his college coaching career was a graduate assistant at Clemson and moved on to Appalachian State and SMU before landing at Arkansas with the hiring of Chad Morris.

“Me and Coach Stepp go way back,” Mathis said, “so I know what kind of guy Coach Stepp is. He is one of the best pure coaches in the country in my eyes. He loves kids and he gets kids ready for the next level. Coach Stepp is simply a great guy that can really develop kids.”

Stepp was the chief recruiter for junior Mike Woods and sophomores Treylon Burks and Trey Knox, all three of whom are considered likely NFL draft picks. He has also signed freshmen Shamar Nash and Darin Turner.

Stepp has two of his former wide receivers in the NFL right now in Courtland Sutton (Denver Broncos) and Trey Quinn (Jacksonville Jaguars).

“He knows how to get kids prepared to play in college and develop them to get them to the NFL,” Mathis said. “I think he’s got some more there and some more coming that he is going to be sending to the league as well.”

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