FOOTBALL: More Recruits Flip To Arkansas Than

FAYETTEVILLE — Heck of a life-altering dilemma the 17- and 18-year-olds faced. When former coach Houston Nutt left Arkansas for Ole Miss, the 18 players who already had committed to the Razorbacks encountered an unexpected situation. They first had to sit back and wait for Arkansas to name Nutt's successor.

When Bobby Petrino was announced on Dec. 11, they then had to weigh their options. They could either honor the commitment they made to Arkansas, they could follow Nutt to Oxford or they could go in an entirely different direction.

The process strained everyone involved.

"I changed my mind 10 times in the last 24 hours, going back and forth between the coaches I committed to and the school I committed to," said Georgia safety Khiry Battle, who signed with the Hogs on Wednesday. "The last three nights I went to bed and woke up with it being Arkansas each time. I think that was a sign."

Battle decided not to join Nutt at Ole Miss, but three previous Arkansas commitments did Wednesday — tight end E.J. Epperson, defensive lineman Justin Smith and offensive lineman Josh Tatum. Two other Arkansas commitments, cornerbacks Junior Okpara (Boston College) and Marcal Robinson (Southern Mississippi), signed with other schools instead of the Hogs.

Arkansas, however, was able to flip more commitments than it lost. Eight players, including receiver Joe Adams of Central Arkansas Christian (USC) and quarterback Tyler Wilson of Greenwood High (Tulsa) and Tramaine Thomas (Arizona), signed with Arkansas after committing elsewhere.

The increasing practice of going back on oral commitments frustrates Tim Horton, Arkansas' recruiting coordinator.

"To me, you don't get engaged and still date," Horton said. "That's what it has gotten to."

Realizing that, Petrino and Horton quickly devised a strategy to see as many recruits as they could after Petrino's hiring. They had just three days before a monthlong recruiting dead period would prevent the coaches from contacting players.

They couldn't see everyone, couldn't visit all 18 of Arkansas' oral commitments at the time, so they prioritized. They ended up visiting with 14 players in a 72-hour span, jetting to places such as Camden, Warren, Fort Smith, Little Rock, Russellville, Texarkana and Memphis.

"There was so much room to make up," Horton said. "We had so much ground to make up. Recruiting is so much about relationships, and we were just trying to get Coach into those homes."

The decision may explain why Arkansas lost out on some commitments who Petrino and Horton weren't able to get to during that three-day span. But Horton said the Razorbacks canceled those losses out by gaining "6 or 8 kids in state that we might have lost."

Petrino said the fact that Ole Miss was recruiting the players who committed to Nutt "presented some interesting challenges."

"That's one thing we had to fight through," Petrino said. "Relationships were already built."

And as the process moved along, other schools tried to swoop in and steal those players, as well. Horton said Razorback coaches simply "took the high road" and chose to market Arkansas' positives rather than speak about Ole Miss or any other competitors.

In the end, Petrino and Horton weren't entirely upset with losing several commitments. They achieved their main goal of dominating the state of Arkansas, signing the top 10 in-state recruits, according to Hawgs Illustrated.

"I've always felt at Arkansas, the only chance we're going to have to win a national championship and SEC championships is to get it where we keep the best players in Arkansas," Horton said. "They're not going to Auburn and Southern Cal and wherever else. Really, that's happened the last few years. We're just real pleased we were able to put a stop to that."

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