Arkansas poised to finish strong

Hawgs Illustrated recruiting editor Dudley E. Dawson talks about Ernest Mitchell's commitment to the football Razorbacks and Arkansas' shot at Marc Winston and Fred Bledsoe in his weekly column for HI and The Morning News. Check out the link inside to win an all-expenses paid trip to watch the Hogs play Kentucky's Wildcats in basketball.

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Dudley E. Dawson's Commentary:

With the addition of highly-regarded Georgia prep defensive tackle Ernest Mitchell on Tuesday, the University of Arkansas football program is all poised to do what every successful program needs to do in the end.

That is finish strong.

Certainly recruiting classes have to be looked at as a whole instead of a snapshot, but far too many times the perception is driven with what happens on those last few prospects.

Have a kid pick your program over Florida State? That's great for the perception.

If he had chosen the Razorbacks over McNeese State - and no offense to McNeese State - that's not so thrilling.

It is now exactly one week from national signing date, a glorious day for the athletes, the coaches and the recruiting writers who call the kids so many times it's ridiculous - albeit necessary with competition the way it is.

Mitchell's commitment gave Arkansas 28 verbal pledges, some that they know are going to come and get with it early on, some that will be heard from down the line and others who will be signed and placed.

Mitchell is certainly a great get. He is a 6-1, 285-pound hoss from Newnan, Ga., who has worked in his family's concrete business and has the strength which comes from doing hard labor.

He's a tough guy, one that gets in done in the trenches and one who has a chance to certainly see some time next season although there are guys already here who have already staked their claim inside and will do so again in spring practice.

It also speaks volumes to those looking in nationally about Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt and assistant Tracy Rocker going straight up and taking one away from Florida State's Bobby Bowden and his staff.

"Arkansas is just a great place with a great program," Mitchell said. "I think Coach Rocker could take me and make me a better player. He's been there and know what it takes to do it in a big way on the next level."

In the next few days Arkansas could hear good things from McGregor (Texas) High cornerback David Haynes, Jr. - currently committed to SMU - and Little Rock Central linebacker Fred Fairchild - both who have said they make their decisions final by Friday.

Then attention will turn to Little Rock, where two young men who have not hid their love for the Razorbacks are poised to make decisions.

The first one likely to make a pledge is Little Rock Parkview tight end Marc Winston (6-5, 235), who is a star for the Patriots on both the football field and the basketball court.

This is a very polite, well-mannered young man who stays that way until he hits the field and then becomes the aggressor that you have to rise to in order to become a top-notch star on the gridiron.

His choice is down to Arkansas and Florida. Gators assistant Dwayne Dixon will be in his home tonight and Razorback assistant Danny Nutt and other UA coaches on Saturday.

Winston, whose uncles and dad played for the Razorbacks, was here last weekend for his official visit after previously visiting Duke and Florida and flirting with Tennessee and Stanford.

In other words, the kid - who has been to Fayetteville on numerous occasions as a a fan over the years - has his heart set on either a big-time football program, a big-time academic school or the mixture of both.

"It was a great visit and I got to see some things that even I haven't seen before on all my trips," Winston said. "It was a lot of academic stuff and some athletic stuff as well. Just a great visit."

He knows how much Arkansas fans and coaches want him.

"Oh, yes, there's no doubt about that and I am very appreciative of how much people care about me and want me to be a Razorback," Winston said. "I have always followed the Razorbacks and I love the coaches, players and staff up there."

Arkansas or Florida?

"A guy just can't go wrong there," Winston said. "Two great schools, two great programs, two places I see playing time is available right away."

At first, Winston had planned to make a decision and then announce it on Feb. 2 - next Monday and two days before national signing.

But it's clear that decision is likely coming quicker now.

"That was what I thought I would do, but I think now I am looking at making it sooner," Winston said. "It's going to be good to get it all settled, over and done with."

That will then leave Bledsoe, the monster defensive lineman who led his team to a 14-0 season this year, left and all set to make his pledge and sign all on signing day at 4 p.m.

Big Fred is one of those loveable big guys, always with a smile on his face - off the field.

Fresh off a visit to Fayetteville this past weekend, he will be the last one to make a decision and plans to add some drama.

As of right now, Fred is planning to show up with a bunch of clothes on that day.

He'll start taking shirts off until he has just one left on and that will be where he is headed.

The shirts will have Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma State on them.

"I have really enjoyed the recruiting process for the most part," Bledsoe said. "There are some great schools that have shown interest in me and I have been very honored by their attention and their faith in me.

"I know there are a lot of people wondering what I am going to do," Bledsoe said. "I have had three great visits to three great schools and now it's just time to sit and think it over, break the schools down with my likes and dislikes and come up with an answer."

For Razorback fans hoping that the Arkansas shirt is the last one, here's something to cling, too.

"Arkansas has done a great job with this recruiting class," Bledsoe said. "To me it is a top 15 or top 10 one and I know they fill good about it. I know if the momentum keeps going with some of the last few guys they are looking at like me, it's is just going to be a phenomenal class. Maybe then you build off that and maybe the next year have a top five one and then a top two one and so on."

Certainly his visit did nothing to change his mind about Arkansas' future.

"I had a great time and perhaps the best part was finding out just how much they stress academics and being the total man, not just a football player," Bledsoe said. "They've got things going on up there on the field and off and the future is big-time."

He was quick to point out a few guys like Conway fullback Peyton Hillis and Georgia prep quarterback Alex Mortensen as big-time guys Arkansas has already landed and who are calling him and wanting him to come aboard.

"It's just a great group of guys, some great players," Bledsoe said. "I think it's great they are calling me and telling me come join the fun."

If Arkansas drops Florida State, Florida and Tennessee for these last three highly-ranked prospect, that's going to be quite feat.

As Oaklawn track announcer Terry Wallace says "down the stretch they come" with just seven days left.

It looks like quite a few thoroughbreds coming to the finish line from this vantage point.

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