Signing Day Surprises

Bret Bielema

Arkansas gets great news Wednesday morning when it lands both Miami (FL) Booker T. Washington offensive lineman Denver Kirkland (6-5, 335) and New Jersey prep QB Damon Mitchell (6-3, 205) for it's 23-man class while also apparently surviving some last-minute drama with five-star Plantation (FL) South Plantation TB Alex Collins (5-11, 207) and his mom.

Early Wednesday morning new Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema talked about how you are never comfortable until a recruit's letter of intent is actually faxed.

It turned out that was a bit of foreshadowing.

It has been a great day for the Razorbacks. They landed both Miami (FL) Booker T. Washington offensive line Denver Kirkland (6-5, 335) and Egg Harbor Creek (NJ) Cedar Creek quarterback Damon Mitchell (6-3, 205).

But the Razorbacks are still waiting on the LOI of the lone five-star commit in the class – Miami (FL) South Plantation tailback Alex Collins (5-11, 207), who called off his signing day ceremony when his mom reportedly took his Arkansas letter of intent and left school.

"Until that fax comes across, you never really know," Bielema said. "I know there were horror stories of 40 years ago, 20 years ago of some of the coaches that came before me talking about how they use to fly guys around all night in an airplane and land them at six in the morning and sign them in a hanger.

"We don't have that going on, but you never really know until it finally gets here."

ESPN reports that Collins' mother took his Arkansas letter-of-intent and left the school. CBS Sports indicates that Collins is still expected to sign with the Razorbacks later today.

The Razorbacks had received 22 letters-of-intent by 1 p.m.

Arkansas' recruiting class has jumped from 55th to 33rd this week in the rankings in large part due to the additions of Collins, Kirkland and Mitchell.

The haul is ranked as high as 22nd by one recruiting service, 26th by another and 31 by yet another.

Bielema raved about the job his assistants have done in the short period of time.

"I am blown away," Bielema said. "I knew a lot of the coaches previously through the business and as I have gotten older in my profession. You get to know them at work and it has been very warming to me – especially with my coordinators Chris Ash and Jim Chaney and how they love to recruit, being guys from different backgrounds.

"I've got Randy Shannon with head coaching experience and I have been with (defensive line) Coach (Charlie) Partridge and Coach Ash so I knew a lot about them," Bielema added. "There's Taver Johnson – I've competed against him when he was at Ohio State. And our offensive side I have worked with (wide receiver) Michael Smith and knew what he was capable of. I brought him here the last two weeks and he has been a great addition.

"(Running backs coach) Joel Thomas not only did a great job recruiting but just added the newest Razorback with his son being born two days ago – Nico Xavier Thomas," Bielema continued. "It is fun to watch this staff go every day."

He noted that he has four things he looks for when recruiting a prospect.

"I think there are four qualifying characteristics," Bielema said. "First, they have got to understand what a family unit is. It is hard to bring in a kid and talk about being a family if he has never experienced it. I realize families come in a lot of different sizes and shapes – single-parent home, two-parent home, no-parent home, God-parent home, cousin-home.

"…The second thing is that have got to love football," Bielema added. "The way we practice, the way we grind, the way we go about our business – if they don't like football they are not going to make it here and I think that is important.

"I want them to have a belief that winning is important. If you come from a program or a background where losing is accepted, it is hard to break that habit. So not that we won't take a kid with a championship record, but we really, really look at that and put a premium on it.

"And last thing is they just have to have an undying characteristic that they want to be part of something special. That's very important to us."

Bielema notes it's been a wild and fast ride.

"I got in on December 2, I believe it was, talked to the staff that was here and it was very unusual because they had been on the road a little bit and I had to make some tough decisions with some kids that were currently committed to us and what direction we were going," Bielema said. "But I am really glad we had those three weeks in December to get our composure, have a game plan and pretty much knowing at the beginning of the year who my staff was going to be and where we were going to recruit.

"But this has been one like no other and hopeful it is one we don't have to repeat again."

Arkansas signed eight players from in state.

"We made that a big emphasis early on and there were a lot of players that were currently committed to us and some others that we have added since," Bielema said. "It's not just this year. It is going to be every year it is priority number one. Even our 2014 class is building already and started in the state and we are going to keep it that way."

He joked about the fashion challenge of adding 6-10, 295-pound offensive lineman Dan Skipper of Arvada (CO) Ralston Valley – land in large part by Vol coaches turned Razorback ones in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman.

"When you see on a piece of paper 6-10, it says 6-10, but he is probably 6-8," Bielema said. "But he is 6-10 and we are going to have to break the mold on length of pants and shirt sleeves to get Dan fitted up. He is a big kid that was previously committed with Coach Pittman and Coach Chaney at Tennessee. He became interested in us and just kind of what we had done in the past offensive line wise."

"He left our place and went to Ohio State and went from there to Ole Miss – kind of made some tours around," Bielema said, "but eventually came back to Arkansas and we are very excited to have him with us."

Signees (22):


Tiquention Coleman, 5-11, 190, Georgia Military College

John McClure, OL, 6-4, 310, Butler County (KA) CC

Myke Tavarres, LB, 6-2, 223, Weed (CA) College of the Siskiyous

Carroll Washington, CB, 6-0, 170, Hartnell (CA) CC


Austin Allen, QB, 6-2, 217, Fayetteville

Tevin Beanum, DE, 6-4, 235, Forrest City

Alex Brignoni, S, 6-2, 195, Fayetteville

De'Andre Coley, S, 6-1, 185, Miami (FL) Northwestern

D.J. Dean, CB, 5-11, 180, Newton, Texas

Brooks Ellis, LB, 6-3, 215, Fayetteville

Denzell Evans, RB, 6-1, 205, Houston (Texas) Bellaire

Melvinson Hartfield, WR, 5-11, 180, Dallas South Oak Cliff

Hunter Henry, TE, 6-6, 240, Pulaski Academy

Sam Irwin Hill, P, 6-5, 210, City of San Francisco CC

• Denver Kirkland, OL, 6-5, 335, Miami (FL) Booker T. Washington

Reeve Koehler, OL, 6-3, 330, Honolulu (HI) St. Louis

Ke'Tyrus Marks, DT, 6-2, 265, West Palm Beach (FL) Suncoast

Korliss Marshall, ATH, 6-0, 185, Osceola

Drew Morgan, WR, 6-0, 180, Greenwood

• Damon Mitchell, QB, 6-3, 205, Egg Harbor Creek (NJ) Cedar Creek

Dan Skipper, OT, 6-10, 295, Arvada (CO) Ralston Valley

Martrell Spaight, LB, 6-0, 220, Coffeyville (KA) Community College Recommended Stories

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