Hogs Haul In 24

FAYETTEVILLE -- Nothing said during Wednesday's signing day news conference at Arkansas means much.

The Razorbacks signed 24 prospects, but no one will know for months -- maybe years -- the impact the 2005 class will have on the Arkansas football program.

Sure, the Hogs appeared to fill needs at running back, linebacker and on the offensive line, but no recruiting ranking or expert can judge exactly how good any of the prospects will be on a college football field based on their high school production.

"We feel like this is going to be one of our best back-to-back (classes)," said eighth-year Hogs coach Houston Nutt. "But we won't know for a couple of years."

Asked if any were physically equipped to contribute next fall and Nutt, wearing a golden Razorback pin on his navy blue lapel and a Razorback red tie, answered the only way he could.

"You don't know," Nutt said. "We tell them all to come on the bus and they all think they can play, but they get up here and it's a different world in the (Southeastern Conference)."

Of course, the coaches have the best idea, or at least hope they do, about each prospect's potential as they weigh data from various sources. They watch games in person, study countless hours of film and spend as much time as the NCAA allows talking with the recruits, coaches, parents, teachers and counselors.

But no matter how much the coaches invest, it still boils down to a guessing game of sorts as high school superstars can quickly fall into the college flop category.

"You've got to do your homework," said UA recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn. "We're trying to get young men to come into our family, not just our football team."

That said, Arkansas did sign what recruiting services rank as a top 25 class. It includes several promising prospects such as Allen, Texas, defensive end Marcus Shavers and Pulaski Oak Grove running back Darren McFadden, a pair of prep All-Americans. McFadden, who Nutt said may be a step faster than former Razorback Cedric Cobbs, was the first to commit in the class.

"If he hadn't been such a solid, solid, solid commitment, we would have all been nervous about thinking Darren McFadden could leave our state," Nutt said. "We've been to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas this year and very few can compare athletically to Darren McFadden."

The big news was the signing of Tulsa Washington running back Felix Jones, who chose Arkansas over Tennessee late Tuesday, but did not make his intentions known until Wednesday afternoon.

"He's thicker than most of the backs we signed but he doesn't look it," Nutt said. "He's an explosive guy. Tremendous cut-back ability and I'm excited about him."

Jones joins McFadden, Texarkana's Brandon Barnett and Tallahassee (Fla.) Rickards' Michael Smith in one of the most talented running back classes the Hogs have signed in Nutt's tenure.

Signing a prospect of Jones' status is impressive considering Hogs assistant Bobby Allen didn't take over his recruitment until after defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was fired in December. He's the second straight Oklahoma Player of the Year the Hogs signed out of Tulsa Washington after they landed defensive end Michael Tate last February.

"We had been on Felix with coach Wommack," Vaughn said. "But it was a situation where he had to get to know a new recruiter and coach Allen did a tremendous job of going in there and getting Felix to trust him."

This is the last class affected by NCAA sanctions and the Hogs will be able to sign 25 prospects in 2006. One of Wednesday's signees, Sylvan Hills linebacker Kevin Hubbard, will be placed at junior college or prep school. Barnett, who has breakaway speed, is another possible academic casualty.

One player most everyone says to watch on the field is Reggie Fish, a dynamic 5-foot-7, 140-pound athlete from Mesquite, Texas.

"Reggie Fish can be our (Kansas City Chiefs playmaker) Donte Hall," Nutt said. "He can catch a punt, he can catch a kickoff and he can make that first guy miss."We'll move him around."

With several offensive linemen on campus in the upper class, the Hogs restocked with four tall and lean blockers who should have no problems gaining leverage on defenders as they range from 6-foot-4, 270-pounds to 6-6, 305.

The longest are 6-6, 305-pounders Michael Aguirre an Jose Valdez, who are from Florida and Wisconsin, respectively, as well as Russellville's Joey Crossland (6-5, 295). However, the coaches sound equally excited about Richardson (Texas) Pearce's Colin Tucker (6-2, 270), an early commitment for the class.

New defensive coordinator Reggie Herring gave the Razorbacks a spark as the 2005 class, which featured 13 defensive prospects and 11 for offense.

"He was a big assist," Nutt said. "When you hear Reggie talk about our new scheme, our new package, it's exciting. And when you talk about the NFL, that's what every 18-, 19-year-old has a boyhood dream of going to the next level, well he's had that experience and when you present that, he made an impact."

Depth and size at defensive back will be bolstered by five signees, three safeties and two cornerbacks, none shorter than 6-0. Little Rock Central, Nutt's alma mater, is home to three defensive signees including safety Kevin Thornton, defensive end Antwain Robinson and linebacker Freddie Fairchild.

Other athletes from in-state are Mills' Elston Forte, North Little Rock's Jamar Love and Camden Fairview's Rod Coleman. There's also Wynne defensive lineman Cord Gray, who the Razorbacks have been watching in camp the past three summers.


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