State of the Hogs: Texas Recruiting

Bret Bielema knows that Texas recruiting will be a premium as Hogs move forward. And the new coach likes the way nutrition has changed at training table.

There have been calls and texts to my phone the last several weeks about a perceived lack of Texas recruiting by Bret Bielema's new staff.

Have these coaches really decided not to mess with Texas? Don't they know that Arkansas football has always had a heavy Texas flavor?

When Alex Collins comes aboard, that will give Florida a 4-3 edge over Texas in the current class. But it's clear that Bielema knows Dallas to Fayetteville is a short trip.

The first hint Wednesday of Bielema's thoughts on Texas came as he described Newton cornerback D. J. Dean. Newton has a talented junior already on his radar. Bielema noted that, then added, "Moving forward we will be able to establish Arkansas football in the state of Texas."

That would have been enough to calm the restless UA alums in Texas, but there was more a little bit later in Bielema's media briefing on the new signing class.

"We'll be strong in North Texas, Dallas and Houston," Bielema said. "I think Texas is a premium state."

There just wasn't time for the Hogs to do much in Texas with the late start this season, especially since the best Texas recruiters on the staff (Michael Smith and Joel Thomas) were the last added because of bowl games. For this year, it was more about relationships between the new coaches and where they knew high school coaches.

"As a head coach, I always put a premium on relationships," Bielema said. "Coaches are going to come from certain geographic locations. They may have recruited somewhere in the past. I think I hired a group of nine coaches that really can recruit anywhere.

"I'm going to have certain coaches recruit certain areas, but if you are a dynamic coach, you can go out and recruit anywhere. It would be natural for me to keep Coach (Randy) Shannon and Coach (Charlie) Partridge in Florida. They are well versed in that area.

"Coach (Sam) Pittman is from Oklahoma. Coach (Barry) Lunney is from here and played in the state. He'll be here in the state. Coach (Joel) Thomas has been in Texas. Coach (Michael) Smith has been in Texas. We'll work ourselves through that over the next couple of weeks."

Bielema promises the Hogs will work the south, too. And, they'll go to places where there might be some relationships with current coaches that might not be traditional Arkansas spots. It's a matter of working a school on a consistent basis, too.

"What I think is a premium," Bielema said, "and in today's world especially, is a coach that, while you are recruiting this kid, is going to tell you that he has a sophomore to keep an eye on, or a freshman, and begin to cultivate that relationship. That's paramount in recruiting, and that's something that we'll build on continually. I'm also excited about recruiting traditional SEC areas."

Some recruiting targets are obvious.

"Any state bordering us is going to be a priority because you have people that live just across the state line that are from Arkansas," Bielema said, "or if they don't they have relatives in Arkansas. And if you live in Arkansas, chances are you are a Razorback.

"We'll also go after some non-traditional areas, some areas where I have had success in the past. We'll go into Wisconsin and try and get the best players in Wisconsin. I've got a lot of great relationships with coaches up there.

"I think it's going to be important for us to go into Chicago. We popped in there and did some junior recruiting. And the reception was unbelievable. We'll go into Cincinnati, we'll go into New Jersey. We'll go into some areas in Seattle and up on the west coast where Coach (Joel) Thomas has had some success."

Bielema has seen what the SEC brand means across the country.

"It's very apparent to me early in this job that people like the SEC," he said. "If you are a competitive football player, and you want to play at the highest level, you are interested in Arkansas for one reason, and that's the SEC."

It could be that the Hogs use all 25 scholarships in the current class. Collins would make 23, with some thoughts on committed players that did not sign with SEC rivals because they were over the limit. Bielema's staff already knows those names and whether or not they fit or meet needs.

But don't be surprised if he saves a scholarship as a carrot for a walk-on. And, he knows there is likely going to be attrition and those scholarships could go to walk-ons. Remember, Bielema was a former walk-on who blossomed into a team captain at Iowa.

"There were some kids that were walk-ons or non-scholarship players that look like they can help us and contribute," he said. "We are wanting to keep some things open there and I am sure just over the next couple months we will have some subtraction. Some people will not want to buy into exactly what is going on."

It's clear that most are buying in to Bielema's program. He thinks strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert has made an impact in a short time, especially in nutrition, a clear point of emphasis in Bielema's overall plans.

"I've seen players change right in front of my eyes, guys that have been with (strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert) for about four weeks," Bielema said. "I'm sitting at a recruiting dinner and Kiero Small is telling me about how he's changed his life, how he's eating in the last three weeks.

"They put a piece of cheesecake that I could have eaten three of, and he passed on it to the end. He's got better discipline than I do. Hearing him talk said a lot to me. You hear that players at training table come down and make great decisions on what they are eating.

"The part that we have to keep harping on them is that it's not just what they do, it's how they recover. It's how they handle their nutrition." Bielema took a chance with the returning players and turned them loose with recruits in one of his favorite forums, the player's panel when coaches and administrators leave the room so recruits and their families can dig for the truth in the program from a player's perspective.

"To hear our recruits and their parents talk about the way our kids talked in the player panel about Coach Herbert and the changes we've made, that part's exciting," he said. "A couple of our coaches have been able to have some one-on-one meetings with our guys about what's going on, and it's all been very upbeat and positive. I can't wait for spring ball to get here so we can get our hands on them and start working with them and find out what it's all about."

That's exciting stuff, along with the thought that the Hogs are still going to mess with Texas.

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