Arkansas: New staff signals big shift in recruiting strategy

Arkansas: New staff signals big shift in recruiting strategy

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen Bret Bielema made the jump from Wisconsin to Arkansas, one of his first orders of business was to map out his new staff’s recruiting plan.

Cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson, who joined the Arkansas staff in Jan. 2012, is recruiting almost exclusively in the state of Georgia.

Cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson is recruiting almost exclusively in Georgia.

A big part of that included researching where Arkansas and the rest of the SEC had past recruiting success. What Bielema found was that there were more players from Georgia on SEC rosters than any other state.

“It was kind of amazing to me,” he said in a recent interview with Michael Carvell of the AJC. “The part that jumped out, everybody talks about Florida, Texas and Ohio for signing kids, pure numbers-wise. But the SEC had a very, very strong representation from the entire state of Georgia overall.”

Bielema assigned assistant Taver Johnson to recruit the Georgia “almost full-time exclusively,” and the Razorbacks will have “a couple of other coaches that will touch in there geographically during the spring, as well during the fall.”

Along with Georgia, Bielema has said that Florida will be a focal point. Ace recruiters Charlie Partridge and Randy Shannon had success there in the abbreviated 2013 class, signing four Sunshine State players — the most from any state besides Arkansas.

A look at Arkansas’ 2014 out-of-state scholarship offers illustrates this strategy shift.

To date, Arkansas has offered more prospects in Florida (23) and Georgia (22) than any other states. On the flip side, Arkansas has only extended 13 scholarship offers to prospects in Texas, traditionally a very important recruiting area for the Razorbacks.

By contrast, Arkansas’ spring roster features 16 players from Texas, five from Georgia and just one from Florida.

The Razorbacks have four verbal commitments for the 2014 class, and just one of those is an out-of-starer — 4-star quarterback Rafe Peavey — and he’s from neighboring Missouri. But it’s just a matter of time before the focus on Florida and Georgia pays dividends.

As his staff tries to make inroads in new territories, Bielema said their most important selling point his team’s “style.” Much has been made of the SEC’s domination of the recent NFL Draft, but Bielema’s Wisconsin teams had plenty of success getting players to the next level. His pro-style offense is one key point of uniqueness.

“We’ve had quite a few players drafted during my tenure (at Wisconsin), especially on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “I saw a stat the other day that over the last three or four years, we’ve had more players drafted offensively than anybody in the country. The kids take notice in that.

“You know, it’s not like you’re running the spread. You’re not butt-blocking anybody on offense. You’re putting your hands on people and making them move, and that carries a lot of weight.”

So far, Bielema hasn’t noticed a lot of difference recruiting in the SEC vs. the Big Ten. He says the key, as is it is everywhere, is finding the right players to fit his system.

“I make it a point to tell our staff that I don’t care who is recruiting them,” Bielema said. “We’ve had kids who have gone on and accomplished great things that were recruited by everybody. We’ve had players that have gone on to be Big Ten players of the year that were never recruited by anybody else. We’ve got to find the ones that fit us and not worry about what everybody else thinks.

“The emphasis on recruiting stars and preseason rankings – those are all good and pleasant things to talk about but — people win and lose championships, people keep or lose their jobs based on win-loss records.

“So we’re a little bit more into the postseason rankings than the preseason rankings.”

Photo credit: Michael Woods / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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