Otis Kirk's Recruiting 360: Petrino Has Shown Keen Eye For Talent Evaluation

by Otis Kirk, HawgSports.com Recruiting Analyst  on Thursday, Jun. 30, 2011 9:02 am  

Wide receiver Cobi Hamilton is one of the three-star recruits that has developed under Bobby Petrino. (Photo by Mark Wagner)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

Arkansas was one of the elite teams in the SEC last year and most figure them to be one of the top teams this fall as well.

All this comes with none of Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino's classes being rated in the Top-10 nationally. In fact, Arkansas is usually rated near the lower-third of the SEC when it comes to recruiting rankings. Among other things, the success of the football team last year and predicted success this fall proves that Arkansas' recruits are generally underrated in many cases and Petrino is among the elite coaches, not just in the SEC, but in the nation.

The Razorbacks currently have seven commitments in Petrino's fifth class at Arkansas. While most of the 4-5 star recruits signed by Petrino and his staff have turned out or appear they will, Petrino has also shown a keen eye for talent that his staff liked, but the recruiting services didn't feel as strongly about them.

At wide receiver, junior Cobi Hamilton and senior Greg Childs are both perfect examples of playing better than their three-star ranking. Hamilton is from Texas High in Texarkana (Texas) and chose Arkansas over a late offer from Texas, Oklahoma State and some others. The Longhorns came in the last week of recruiting and got the last official visit from him, but Hamilton stayed strong with his commitment to Arkansas. Petrino and his staff are elated he did. Childs committed to Arkansas' former staff and then, like Hamilton, stayed strong to the Razorbacks despite offers from many of the top schools.

Arkansas' nice finds at receiver don't stop with Childs and Hamilton either. Former Jacksonville (Fla.) The Bolles' Javontee Herndon and Norcross (Ga.) Greater Atlanta Christian's Jullian Horton appear to be nice finds for Arkansas. Herndon literally went to class on National Signing Day in 2010 not expecting to sign with anyone and was a truly last-second offer by Arkansas. Petrino had an advantage with Horton since his son had played on the same team with Horton when Petrino was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Petrino offered Horton very early and once he got him on campus for an official visit Horton gave Arkansas a verbal pledge. Both will be sophomores this fall.

At running back, Dennis Johnson is an athlete that wasn't that heavily recruited by Arkansas before Petrino's arrival. Johnson, who will be a junior, has proven his worth many times over and is considered one of the best kick returners in the nation. He also has been a very dependable running back when needed there. Johnson is from Arkansas High in Texarkana.

Warren tight end Chris Gragg is a junior who should be the key replacement for departed D.J. Williams, last year's Mackey Award winner. Williams is now headed to the NFL and the Green Bay Packers. Gragg, like Childs, had committed to Arkansas prior to Petrino's arrival and stayed with the Razorbacks after the coaching change. Former UA assistant David Lee found Gragg and convinced former Coach Houston Nutt to offer him a scholarship. Gragg, for some reason, was somewhat overlooked in high school, but should be among the best tight ends in the SEC this fall.

A couple of redshirt freshmen last year were named to a few Freshmen All-American teams for their play on the offensive line at the UA. Former Broken Arrow (Okla.) offensive guard Alvin Bailey and Kingwood (Texas) center Travis Swanson should be four-year starters at Arkansas. Both were three-star recruits in high school. While the offensive tackles are somewhat of a question mark for this fall's team, the interior portion of Arkansas' offensive line is anything but a question mark thanks in large part to these two athletes.

On the defensive line, possibly the nation's most underrated recruit coming out of Catholic High in Little Rock is senior defensive end Jake Bequette. The former three-star recruit wasn't touted as a can't-miss recruit out of high school, but figures to anchor Arkansas' strongest unit on defense. Many times the defensive line was considered a weakness at Arkansas, but not this fall. The Razorbacks are at least two deep and maybe three deep heading into the 2011 season. Bequette is possibly the SEC's best at his position.

Among the other former three-star recruits on the defensive line are former Camden Fairview tackle Lavunce Askew, Coffeyville (Kan.) and Muskogee (Okla.) tackle Robert Thomas and Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven end Tenarius Wright. Thomas signed with Arkansas in January and was among the top players in the spring drills. He will be a sophomore this fall while Askew will be a senior and Wright a junior. Wright came to Arkansas as a linebacker, but has found his position at rush end.

Junior Terrell Williams played his senior season at Tulsa (Okla.) Union. He came to Arkansas not knowing if he would play safety or linebacker, but filled in well for Anthony Leon last year when the senior was suspended for the first half of the LSU game. Williams should be a strength for Arkansas the next two seasons at a position that needs to develop more depth.

Winnie (Texas) East Chambers safety Tramain Thomas, who will be a senior, would challenge Bequette as the most underrated recruit on the team. Thomas has had a brilliant career at Arkansas. Thomas was a recruit Petrino and his staff won over in the first recruiting class at Arkansas. Few knew at the time the impact Thomas would have on the Razorbacks, but he will be among the hardest to replace when he graduates.
Tulsa (Okla.) Washington's Eric Bennett was a three-star in high school, but came in and earned significant playing time at cornerback as a true freshman. Bennett moved to safety in the spring, but is capable of also playing cornerback or wide receiver if needed.

At kicker, Arkansas only signed Russellville's Zach Hocker after losing kickers to Ole Miss and Texas, but the Razorbacks couldn't be any happier now with their choice. Hocker was extremely accurate as a true freshman. Hocker has an extremely strong leg and provided Arkansas with a nice option last year if the offense stalled for any reason.


Otis Kirk is the dean of Arkansas recruiting writers and has covered high school recruiting for more than 30 years. His "Recruiting 360" column appears online at ArkansasSports360.com every Thursday, and his features and message board posts regularly can be found at the premium website Hawgsports.com, a member of the Rivals.com network.



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