LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas and Arkansas State finally got together at War Memorial Stadium on Sunday night, but it wasn’t likely in the manner that many Red Wolves would like to see happen.
Instead of playing a football game in the fall, Arkansas State and Arkansas got together with all but one of the other football-playing colleges in the state to put on the All-Arkansas Camp.
The Red Wolves and head coach Blake Anderson hosted the event, which drew 616 participants and had a group of coaches that included Razorback head coach Bret Bielema, his entire staff and others from around the state looking on.
“You know what, I think it's going to be a little bit different for every school,” Bielema said of what the schools would get out of the camp. “…Obviously when we agreed to do this I knew the prospects we were going to have our eyes on were going to be a limited number.
“It does give us a different area, a different location to come over and see some kids that could have a hard time getting to Northwest Arkansas. I think there'll be some underclassmen involved.
“We're just spreading the good word obviously of college football. And I don't know of another state that's doing it like this.
“I knew I was going to catch some heat from certain people in regards to this, but Coach Anderson and I share an appointment on a rules committee that we kind of just sat down and visited a little bit and thought it would be a great thing and obviously as you see here it is.”
He admitted that when he arrived he had no idea about the relationship between the two schools.
“I mean when I first came here to Arkansas I obviously was educated about the whole Arkansas State deal,” Bielema said. “I don't feel a lot of pressure. We don't compete against each other all that much in recruiting other than maybe an occasional in-state kid.
“I had to beat out a father-son relationship for Dre Greenlaw, which is unusual, but I think that's just kind of a situational thing.
“But I think the world of all the coaches here. We've had a lot of these coaches on our campus that come during spring or fall camp. So I've built relationships with a lot of them. A lot of these coaches know some of my coaches, so it's been a good experience."
He believes that the camp is good for the state, but also realizes why former Arkansas coach and athletic director Frank Broyles adopted a policy of not playing other schools in the state.
“Absolutely,” Bielema said. “I think one hand feeds the other. I think, to me, it gives a great indication of how smart Coach Broyles was so many years ago when he decided that the two teams wouldn't play and it allows the state to kind of stay unified, you know, in the fact that there wasn't that direct competition.
“I've been in four different states now where there was a divide. Iowa-Iowa State was the first thing I saw. I went to Kansas and it was Kansas-Kansas State. As you go through time you realize how smart that decision was all those years ago."
Bielema got some heat for the decision from some above him to join forces for the camp.
“Yeah, I think when it first came out and got released and the powers that be sounded off a little bit,” Bielema said. “And then I'd run into certain media people or people who have been around a long time and they couldn't believe that conceptually it could happen. It is what it is. I think it'll be a great day and hopefully we'll get a lot out of it.”
Bielema noted that he had spent some time in Jonesboro.
“When Coach Bryan Harsin was here I came over and did a joint event with him and he had I have known each other for about 10 years,” Bielema said. “People that night saw us in Jonesboro together and they were like ‘Holy Cow, this never happens.’
“I didn’t know any different not to. He was just another guy.
“I didn’t know Coach Anderson, but like I said earlier we were on a committee together and ended up sitting right by each other and the coach from Ouachita Baptist and we just got started shooting the breeze and the whole satellite camp thing was coming up.
“I had already kind of researched about doing one over here and I thought it would be something to kind of throw in together.
“UCA is not here because they are playing A-State and I understand that. If we were playing one of these schools, I know that I wouldn’t be joining forces.
“But to promote the game of football, to promote War Memorial, to promote Arkansas, those are all positives."
The camp was at first expected to have about 300 prospects, but there were 500-plus players that enrolled early and then over 100 walk ups on Sunday.
“I think it's everything about Arkansas,” Bielema said. “ It's truly awesome. I'm really not surprised. I know they originally said 300 to 500. I kind of laughed myself and thought it would be bigger than that. That's kind of what panned out.
“I originally just kind of wanted it to be for seniors, just because I thought the number could stay compatible then. I understand why the other schools would want to bring in underclassmen and that's fine by me.”