Arkansas fans are already familiar with Pulaski Robinson High School.
The school in Little Rock produced four-star athlete T.J. Hammonds, who signed with the Razorbacks earlier this month and could contribute as a freshman this season.
If Robinson head coach Todd Eskola achieves his goal, the school will become as well known to Arkansas fans as any other high school in the state.
“We set out with a goal a couple of years ago and basically changed our mission statement to one of the things we want to do is we want to lead Arkansas is the number of Division I recruits,” Eskola said.
“We've made a very genuine effort to start with our young kids and let them know we're going to do everything possible to help in their development and try to put them on the road to achieve that goal if that's what they want to do.”
Eskola said he has taken several steps to accomplish that goal.
Like many schools across Arkansas and across the country, he has tried instilling work ethic in his players, encouraging them to put in extra time in the weight room.
He also encourages his players to be multi-sport athletes, which isn’t always the case at big-time high school football programs.
The most unique aspect of the Robinson program, though, is that Eskola assigned one of his assistants – linebackers/strength and conditioning coach Brian Maupin – to be in charge of all things recruiting.
“To my knowledge, we’re the only high school that has named one of our assistants as our college recruiting coordinator and that’s one of his full-time duties,” Eskola said. “He spends time helping these kids not only make sure they’re eligible and make sure they meet the requirements, but also do the extra work to get exposed to all those things that come into play in the recruiting process.”
Despite the departure of Hammonds, Robinson is in good shape for the 2016 season.
Eskola feels as though he has at least five more Division I-type players on his roster in running back Myles Fells, offensive lineman Sanderson Hines, wide receiver Koilan Jackson, defensive back Nathan Page and defensive end David Porter. All are class of 2017 prospects except Page, who is a 2018.
Hammonds’ departure directly affects Fells, who plays the same position as the versatile Arkansas signee.
With limited snaps and still recovering from a torn ACL suffered at the end of his sophomore season, Fells rushed for 348 yards and eight touchdowns on 42 carries and caught nine passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns in 2015.
He also played defense, racking up 46 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks, one fumble recovery and one interception, which he returned 64 yards. On special teams, he returned four kickoffs for 55 yards and converted a pair of two-point tries – one rushing and one receiving.
More than those numbers, though, Eskola said Fells has been vital for his team off the field.
“I’ve been coaching 21 years and he is at the top of the list as far as character,” Eskola said. “He’s an incredible athlete and as good a leader as you’d ever want in your locker room.”
The team begins its 6 a.m. workouts next week, but Fells organized a player-led morning workout program that began three weeks ago.
It is similar to the workouts Hammonds did to evolve into a four-star prospect, with one key difference.
“Coach Maupin had to drag T.J. out of bed to get him to come up here,” Eskola said. “Myles is the one making phone calls to get his teammates out of bed and to come up and do it. That’s the difference in the two kids.”
One of the players up front blocking for Hammonds and Fells is Hines (6-3, 310).
He will be a fourth-year starter this fall and was named the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s first-team all-Arkansas center as a junior. He joined the Robinson wrestling team this year, which improved his quickness and his hands.
“He is extremely football smart,” Eskola said. “He makes all of our calls up front with our blocking schemes. He’s also one of those big bodies that can move people. Linemen need a little mean and mass, and he’s definitely that.”
Jackson, the son of former NFL Pro Bowler Keith Jackson and brother of 2016 Illinois signee Kenyon Jackson, is new to Robinson High, transferring from Little Rock Parkview at the beginning of this semester.
Because he lives in Robinson’s district, he’ll be eligible immediately, which is music to Eskola’s ears, as he “runs like a deer” and “jumps out of the gym.”
At Parkview, Jackson played all over the field, including quarterback and wide receiver. He’ll focus on receiver at Robinson because that’s where his coaches project him playing in college.
“I think moving in with some kids that can play and being able to showcase his talents a little bit, I think he’s going to blow up similar with T.J.,” Eskola said. “When one or two Division I schools found (Hammonds), then everybody started looking at his film.
“I think the same thing is going to happen to Koilan.”
Visits to Louisville, Alabama and Louisiana Tech are in Jackson’s future and Eskola said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Crimson Tide extend an offer.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Senators are led by Porter, who already has offers from Kansas State and Louisiana Tech.
Eskola said he expects several more Division I schools to offer Porter (6-3, 230) before next year’s National Signing Day.
As a junior, he had 84 tackles, including 17 tackles for loss and eighth sacks. He also deflected a pass, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and blocked two field goals.
“That’s the thing on his film that all the coaches are seeing, is his get-off the ball is really good,” Eskola said. “He’s a big kid with a big upside. He’s going to be a late developer.”
Finally, the only 2018 prospect of the five is Page.
Playing as a sophomore, Page was an all-around weapon for Robinson. He accounted for 1,393 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns.
He had eight touchdown receptions, a kickoff returned for a touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown. In all, he intercepted six passes at defensive back and caught 44 passes for 731 yards at wide receiver.
Eskola said he was recently told Page was projected to be a five-star prospect. You don’t have to look very hard to find out why.
“If people haven’t watched his highlight film, it’ll take about two minutes of sitting there watching video to answer that question,” Eskola said. “He has incredible speed.
“He knocks peoples’ heads off playing safety. His instincts with the ball are incredible.”
With such a wealth of talent on his roster, Eskola said he has gotten to know Arkansas’ coaches very well.
“(Tight ends coach Barry) Lunney and I have known each other for several years,” Eskola said. “He and I have a great relationship.
“(Head coach Bret) Bielema was down earlier this spring visiting with our teachers and our faculty when he was checking on T.J. one day. He’s just a very genuine guy.”
While Eskola would love for all of his players to stay in Arkansas and play for the Razorbacks, he understands that may not always be the case.
“We would love to see all of our kids go be Razorbacks, but at the end of the day, whatever is best for these kids is exactly what we want,” Eskola said. “Every kid is different, so we're going to try to put them in a position where they have options.”