Helena-West Helena Central cornerback Darius Winston, the highest-ranked 2009 football prospect in the state, ended a lot of speculation on Friday.
That's when Winston (6-1, 180, 4.38), a 5-star cornerback according to Scout.com who has over 30 scholarship offers, re-committed to the University of Arkansas over co-finalist Ole Miss.
"The biggest factor was me reaching my full potential," Winston said. "I didn't want to go to a school and be a good corner. I want to be the best that I can possibly be and I think that is at Arkansas."
His announcement was greeted with cheers by his family, who then started a calling of the Hogs inside the Helena-West Helena administration building, where the event was held and carried on statewide television.
"That was one of the most important factors to me," said Winston, now one of 13 verbal pledges in the 2009 class for the Razorbacks. "I knew that if I played at Arkansas I would have a whole lot of people backing me up."
Of course, commitments are non-binding until you sign a national letter-of-intent in February, but Winston said Razorback fans need not worry.
"My decision is final," Winston stressed.
Clearly University of Arkansas defensive backs coach Lorenzo Ward, who has 13 of his former players currently in the NFL, played a big part in the decision of Winston, who joins Turell Williams (6-2, 215) as West Helena players who have committed to the Razorback.
"Coach Ward has coached people like DeAngelo Hall and Jimmy Williams and he has coached a bunch of great cornerbacks at Virginia Tech and I feel like he has a great resume," Winston said. "I feel like with him – and from being at the Arkansas camp earlier this summer – that he is the coach for me. He fits my style of play."
Williams, who could play either running back or safety for Arkansas, let Winston know where he wanted him to go without a hard sell.
"He joked a lot about it, but he said he would support me wherever I decided to go," Winston said. "He told me just do whatever is the best for you."
Winston, who took an official visit to Ole Miss last weekend, admitted that it was a tough call for him seeing as how current Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt had been the head coach at Arkansas for the past 10 years.
"Arkansas is the state school that everybody loves, but Ole Miss had the coaches that I have been cheering for for the last 10 years," Winston said. "But to me at the end, Coach Nutt was wearing the wrong shade of red to me."
Both programs can use a few good cornerbacks in the 2009 recruiting class.
"The cornerback situation down there would have been great for me if I had decided to go there and they seem very motivated playing down there for Houston Nutt," Winston said. "That is the old Arkansas staff and I was very excited about the visit, but in the end I felt more comfortable about Arkansas."
Winston said he made up his mind on August 17 – with one moment of weakness.
"I made up my mind about three weeks ago," Winston said. "But really it came down to after my official visit to make sure that I didn't want to go to Ole Miss. I actually was real close to committing to Ole Miss on my visit this past weekend.
"But I wanted to stay true to making my decision on the field," Winston added. "I thought long and hard about it and Arkansas ended up coming out on top."
Arkansas now has a couple of commitments from cornerbacks in Winston and Tulsa standout David Gordon and is also after Louisiana prep star Jerry Mitchell, Jr., and Jenks star Gabe Lynn, another of the nation's top-ranked defensive backs.
"Me and Gabe text on the phone a lot and he sounds like he is very excited about Arkansas," Winston said. "I feel like the Hogs have a great chance there."
Central will host Pulaski Academy Friday night in its season opener. The Bruins feature wideout Neal Barlow (6-7, 200), a Kansas commit and Winston buddy who is taking another look at Arkansas.
"I am going to go to work on him right now," Winston said.
Winston said now that his decision is out of the way, he has a few simple things to take care of.
"The goal is just for us to take it one game at a time and basically beat everyone we can beat, get eligible on time and enroll in school," Winston said.
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