BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
While the transfer portal certainly allows college football teams to add immediate contributors, Arkansas head football coach Sam Pittman still believes that high school signees are the foundation of a program.
Pittman and his staff added 19 high school signees and four portal transfers on Wednesday in a class that was ranked 18th by Rivals and 21st per ESPN 247 rankings on high school recruits alone.
“We had 13 on offense, 10 on defense, six defensive backs, four D-lineman, four offensive linemen, three linebackers, two quarterbacks, two wide receivers, a running back and a tight end,” Pittman said. “We signed guys from 10 different states. Three from the state of Arkansas in Jacolby Criswell, Quincy Rhodes and Joey Su’a. Sixteen of the 23 December signees are coming in early, so they’ll be here in January.
“…I’m really excited about the guys we have coming in. We still have another guy or two that we’re on in high school, and the rest of our scholarships will be used in the transfer portal.”
One of the key high school additions was Kennesaw (Ga.) North Cobb four-star quarterback Malachi Singleton, who signed with Arkansas despite constant attention from other schools after he committed to Razorbacks on April 25.
Singleton (6-2, 220), who drew heavy attention from UCF head coach Gus Malzahn, passed for 3,967 yards and 39 touchdowns as a sophomore and junior and added 2,128 rushing yards and 42 touchdown more scores.
He suffered a season-ending foot injury in the second game of his senior season.
“I really liked him,” Pittman said. “We had it down to about three quarterbacks and I like him. I thought he fit us well. I think he was the best running back that they had on their team when he took the ball, but it was about toughness. He went out to some camp and finished in the top ten or somewhere around there as a quarterback, he can throw it.
Singleton is in the same mold of current Arkansas starter KJ Jefferson and joins North Carolina quarterback transfer and former Morrilton star Jacolby Criswell (6-2, 220) in adding depth to the signal caller position.
“I just liked him because of his competitiveness and his toughness,” Pittman added. “He got hurt, he got a foot injury in high school this past season, but you go over and some of the teams he’s playing, against Buford and all that, they’re rocking him. They’re knocking the heck out of him.
“He’s getting up and doing the same to them. I thought with what we’re doing with Kendal Briles’ offense, I thought he was going to be perfect for what we did. He’ll be a good player here for us.”
The same is expected of Arkansas tight end signee Luke Hasz, whose brother and safety Dylan Hasz also inked his letter of intent with the Razorbacks on Wednesday.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban visited the Hasz household earlier this month in an attempt to flip the four-star tight end, but was unsuccessful.
While Hasz held true, Eudora (Kan.) four-star tight end Jaden Hamm flipped from Arkansas to nearby Kansas while Ashdown four-star tight end and Razorback pledge Shamar Easter took a visit to South Carolina last weekend and has decided to wait until after his Jan. 15 official visit to make a final decision.
Tulsa Booker T. Washington wide receiver and Arkansas commit Micah Tease chose to sign with Texas A&M instead and defensive lineman tackle Stephen Johnson decided to ink with Auburn.
“I wish the guys that decided to go somewhere else the best and all that kind of stuff, but I’m awful happy with the ones that decided to come and stay with us,” Pittman said. “The Hasz brothers was a good thing. That Luke and those guys stayed with us. They had the best teams in the country coming after them and they decided … I want to thank their parents. I mean, their parents had a lot to do with that. The held it together.”
Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom took the head coaching job at UNLV while Razorback tight ends coach Dowell Loggains was hired as the new offensive coordinator at South Carolina, which got a commitment earlier this week from former Hog starting tight end Trey Knox.
“We lost Dowell and those things, and I’m sure they were trying to recruit them over at South Carolina once he got the job and all those type things,” Pittman said. “…Those are hard situations for kids to be in.”
rkansas needed an influx of defensive back signees and got that on Wednesday with five – Jaylon Braxton, TJ Metcalf, RJ Johnson, Christian Ford and Dallas Young.
“You know we did 23 visits and a 5 1/2-day — that’s a lot of homes, lot of eatin’, lot of carin’, lot of great people. But I think we did it the right way, too.
…Going, you know, trying to get to 23 home visits, we held on to most all of them, and then go in the portal for the other weeks.”
Pittman marvels at the athleticism of Arkansas defensive end signee Ian Geffard (6-5, 370) of Mableton (Ga.) Whitefield Academy.
“We do want to continue go into the state of Georgia,” Pittman said. “A lot of players there. Obviously Ian [Geffrard], a big nose guard from over there…He did a handstand and walked around on his hands at about 370. I go, ‘OK, I don’t know if he’s going to cost me two scholarships, but I want him. A big man that was just moving around. I don’t know what he was doing, but that was really exciting.’”
New defensive coordinator Travis Williams will have Arkansas expanding its recruiting efforts in Florida.
“I will tell you this, getting Travis Williams, we’re going to make a little bit more of an effort into Florida as well since he was at UCF and knows a little bit more about that region than a lot of our coaches do. We will never leave Georgia, because it’s been good to us, but we may expand a little bit more into Florida.”
Pittman notes his staff will be looking to see what happened with other programs that had coaches leave for other jobs and thus recruits choose not to sign early.
“We certainly would take a high school guy that — probably more of the norm now would be something similar that happened to ours. In other words, the coach that was recruiting him left, didn’t feel, possibly, that he had enough time for a relationship with the new (coach).
“There’s nothing wrong with that. Just wait and sign the next time. You have 20 days, basically, to go on campus once a week. You can go see them and all those things.”