Four Of 'Springdale Five' Officially Hogs

SPRINGDALE -- In early January, it appeared four of the "Springdale Five" would likely be leaving the state.

Tight end Ben Cleveland and receiver Damian Williams were committed to Florida, quarterback Mitch Mustain was weighing leaving the state for Notre Dame, Alabama or Tennessee, and offensive lineman Bartley Webb remained solidly committed to Notre Dame. Only wide receiver Andrew Norman was a sure bet to wear a Razorbacks jersey,

But Wednesday when the five --plus running back Matt Clinkscales --walked out onto the stage inside Springdale's indoor practice facility, there was a lot of cardinal in the room.

Since the first of the year, Cleveland and Williams had changed their commitments from Florida to Arkansas and Mustain decided to remain with his initial choice and play for Arkansas. Only Webb decided to leave the area for college.

Clinkscales had a chance to play Division I-A football, but turned down a scholarship offer from Arkansas State to sign with Division I-AA Central Arkansas.

When the players took the stage in front of a large gathering of media, teammates, parents, teachers, students and fans Wednesday afternoon, four of them took seats behind Springdale and Arkansas helmets.

Although the players had long since faxed their national letters of intent in to Arkansas, the signing ceremony gave the players a cap to a year which included numerous honors, a state championship and now, five players signing to play at college football's top level.

"It's kind of sad," Mustain said. "We've got two high schools now. I'd like to tear that other one down. It's kind of tough but I'm glad I'm going where I am. We've had a great year this year; couldn't ask for anything better.

"It was better than what I thought it would be, what I dreamed it would be, so I think it does kind of close the door on that one."

For the first time Wednesday, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was able to talk about Mustain's commitment and then his decision to re-explore his options after finishing his senior season.

"It was heartbreaking," Nutt said. "That was just a downer because we'd just lost (Myron) McKinney the week before. ... I was really counting on the exposure of (Mustain) going up to New York, using that as really a springboard to help us start gathering some guys in, so that was a real difficult time when he de-committed and said he's got to open it up, there's some questions that he has.

"I understood it, but boy it really hurt."

But once Mustain reopened his recruitment, the Razorbacks coaches did everything they could to convince him he's made the right choice all along.

"You've got to pull out all the stops to get him," said Arkansas recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn. "Write every day, call every waking time that you can call. You've got to do everything to get a player like that in."

Mustain's decision to remain with his original choice, though, quickly erased any concerns.

"When he jumped back in, there was a domino effect that Mitch created. ... You got on a roll right there," Nutt said.

One of those dominos was Williams, who announced his change of heart Monday.

"I wish each one of them great success in their careers --especially the ones playing for my team." Williams said of his five teammates who signed.

Cleveland was another.

The crowd of hundreds who looked on made Cleveland feel even more comfortable with his decision to stay close to home.

"It's just a great opportunity to stay home, stay with family," Cleveland said. "You've got people like this coming out here just for signing day. It's a great experience and hopefully they can come down and watch us."

One person who wasn't there who was instrumental in all six players' development was former Springdale coach and new Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn couldn't attend the ceremony because of NCAA regulations, so new Springdale coach Kevin Johnson introduced each player before that players' position coach spoke and then the players each had time to address the crowd.

"I'd like to be there if you could," Malzahn said. "I've heard it was a great atmosphere with a lot of people there and those guys really deserve it."

Now, the players are just eager to get on with their lives.

"I'd much rather break my arm than go through this recruiting thing again," Mustain said during his brief speech. "Hope you all stick around for a few more years while we bring home the SEC title."

Although he doesn't mind redshirting, Mustain said he would go in trying to compete for a job right away.

There are factors weighing in favor of both Mustain and incumbent starter Casey Dick.

"He's got a leg up," Mustain said. "He's used to the speed of the game; he's been there; he's played in SEC games.

"Then I've got an advantage in knowing the system in and out. I know every bit of it."

The players were relieved to finally get the signing out of the way. Norman, for one, though, marveled at what had transpired at Springdale since the end of the 2004 season.

"It's amazing," Norman said. "I still don't think we all know how big this has been, how special it was.

"When we come back for our 10-year reunion, I'm sure we'll know."

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