Even before the 2014 recruiting class was announced on Wednesday, Arkansas was already in pursuit of the next few classes.
“Not only these last couple of weeks, but to be honest with you, it (2015 recruiting) started last year at this time,” Razorback assistant Barry Lunney said. “We are already moving forward to 2016 and I am even starting to compile a list of 2017 names. That is just the nature of the beast. It's not anything that is profound to any other program. You have got to move forward. You always have got to be taking that next step.”
The Razorbacks are already off to arguably the best start of a recruiting class in school history with five prospects already pledged to sign – including four that are 4-star prospects.
How great a start is that? Well, by comparison wise, the 2014 class that Arkansas just signed had a total of five 4-star prospects and that is a high number historically for a program that has made it's living off of coaching up a wealth of 3-star prospects.
The class is regarded as top 10 nationally by the major recruiting services.
What gives the Razorback staff a chance to have a monster and game-changing class in 2015 is the amount of talented juniors inside the state of Arkansas – five of which Arkansas has already and many more expected to be.
“As anybody who has followed this program for any length of time knows, it's the source, it's the heartbeat of your program,” Lunney said. “What's critical here – always has been and always will be – is the ones that you've identified, that you think are good enough to help you, you better hit a really high percentage of them.”
Consider that this staff offered just seven kids in-state this season – El Dorado defensive lineman Bijhon Jackson (6-2, 320), North Little Rock tailback Juan Day (6-1, 210), Bentonville tight end Jack Kraus (6-5, 250), Springdale Har-Ber defensive end Jake Hall (6-5, 250), Pine Bluff Dollarway safety Josh Liddell (6-1, 198), Springdale Har-Ber defensive tackle Josh Frazier (6-4, 310) and Rogers linebacker Zack Wary (6-4, 215).
Five of those signed with Arkansas, including Kraus. Both Bielema and Lunney joked on signing day about Kraus, Lunney's next door neighbor in Bentonville and someone he coached before being offered an assistant's job at Arkansas.
“You find out in a hurry what a guy thinks about you,” said Lunney while smiling. “You certainly don't think you are going to put yourself in that situation. The odds are pretty small that something like that would ever happen, the same guy you coached in high school, and you coach his position (at Arkansas), all that stuff.
“The (other Arkansas coaches) used to give me a pretty hard time – 'what's the deal here? What are we waiting on? Why hasn't he pulled the trigger. You drive by his house everyday on the way to work.' I'm really happy for him. I think he is very deserving of the offer."
All but Frazier (Alabama) and Wary (Wake Forest) ended up signing with the Razorbacks.
“We were thrilled with what we got this year,” Lunney said. “It was just one of those years where it might have been just a little bit down. There were a handful of players that were probably on the bubble for us that we didn't move forward with that will go on and have good career at other places I think.”
Lunney noted that all of the ones that signed with Arkansas grew up wanting to be Razorbacks.
“We have guys, just to be honest with you, all five of them jumped at the chance to be Razorbacks,” Lunney said. “I think it was refreshing to us, knowing they all wanted to be here. We think they all have the ability to help us, probably on different timetables. Each one is an individual case.
“Like Coach (Bielema) said, next year is probably going to be one of those years that spikes a bit higher and it will be really critical that we that we have a great year in-state,” Lunney added.
Lunney notes the number of Arkansas offers to in-state kids in the 2015 class could be as many as 12 – with several already out there.
The Razorbacks already have in-state commits from Charleston quarterback Ty Storey (6-3, 222), Junction City defensive end Jamario Bell (6-6, 230) and Conway offensive lineman Colton Jackson (6-6, 290) to go along with one out of state guy in Texas prep center Zach Rogers (6-3, 295) and one out of country pledge in Denmark defensive end Hjalte Froholdt (6-5, 275), a top 50 player nationally that played his sophomore year in the United States.
Arkansas has also offered North Little Rock wide receiver K.J. Hill (6-1, 180), Pine Bluff tight end Will Gragg (6-4, 245), Fort Smith Northside defensive lineman Daytreion Dean (6-3, 260) while Nashville wide receiver LaMichael Pettway (6-3, 190) – all with other SEC offers – is close to being offered along with several more in-state prospects such as Fayetteville tight end C.J. O'Grady (6-5, 230).
“We are really excited about the numbers (for 2015),” Lunney said. “I was on the internet last night doing some research and kind of reflecting back. You take the 2008 signing class from Arkansas – which was (former Arkansas head) Coach (Bobby) Petrino's first one and there were 10 kids from Arkansas that they offered and they went 10 for 10.
“Then three years later they had 10 wins and they were doing it with a bulk of kids from the state of Arkansas – Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Tyler Wilson, Ryan Mallett, Dennis Johnson ,” Lunney added. “We all know the story. If you look back at that, that was really critical to their success.
“If they had lost Joe Adams, it could have changed the season by a game or two,” Lunney added.
As for just how many instate kids Arkansas will offer, that will likely be determined by who comes to Arkansas' summer camps and gives the Razorback a staff to see them up close for several days.
“Camp will probably dictate that to a certain degree,” Lunney said. “But we are really excited about what that class holds and I think we have a good feel for what is in the class now. We are still evaluating some of that class and like I said inevitably there will be a guy or two that comes to camp that will get on like Josh Liddell did this year.”
With signing just one tight end in the 2014 class, Arkansas will be looking to sign at least two and maybe more in the 2015 class according to Lunney.
“I would think the way we play it will be a multiple number,” Lunney said. “We will probably try to sign a few. What that is, it's too early to tell, but there are some good ones out there.”
Arkansas on-campus recruiting coordinator Chris Hauser – who said the Razorbacks staff will offer anywhere from 20 to 50 players nationally in the 2015 class in the near future - said that Arkansas approaches in-state kids with the knowledge that if the Razorbacks offer you it is a binding deal that will never be looked back on.
That's why they don't just throw offers out early to in-state kids.
“An offer here is probably a lot more meaningful than a lot of other places because when Coach offers a player, he is ready to take that commitment immediately,” Hauser said. “We have a handful of offers out there and still kids that we we want committed that are not committed to anybody else. We are going to focus our attention on trying to get those kids committed so we can build momentum and offer kids down the line that we really want to offer.”
Lunney noted that Arkansa' quest is to put the virtual fence around Arkansas when it comes to recruiting.
“We want to hit 100 percent every year,” Lunney said. “Thats our goal. When we identify one, we want to keep them, we want to keep them. I can promise when we lose one – if we do – it's not going to be from lack of trying or resources or energy."