FAYETTEVILLE - Even if he had more time to recruit them, the eight players he added with Wednesday’s start of the February signing period and the eight he signed in the Dec. 20 early signing period would be a recruiting class he wanted to sign, new Arkansas Razorbacks Football Coach Chad Morris said Wednesday.
Former SMU Coach Morris had been on the Arkansas job succeeding Bret Bielema just 14 days when on Dec. 20 he and a still being put together staff signed four instate recruits, offensive lineman Isaiah Nichols, Springdale; quarterback Connor Noland, Greenwood; defensive back Ladarius Bishop, Ashdown; and defensive lineman Billy Ferrell, Fordyce, and from Texas offensive lineman Silas Robinson, Yoakum; linebacker Bumper Pool, Lucas; and receiver Michael Woods, Magnolia, Texas; and on Dec. 22 defensive lineman Nick Fulwider, Tyrone, Ga.
He had just weeks ago completed his staff and been on the job 61 days when the Razorbacks Wednesday inked defensive back Joseph Foucha of McDonogh High School in New Orleans coming down to the recruiting wire between Arkansas and Ole Miss; linebacker Andrew Parker, of Sophie B. Wright High School in New Orleans coming down to the wire between Arkansas and Texas, and six never wavering from verbal commitments to Arkansas including incoming freshmen Noah Gatlin, offensive lineman, Jonesboro; John Stephen Jones, quarterback, Dallas Highland Park; defensive back Myles Mason, Trussville, Ala.; offensive lineman Ryan Winkel, Christian Brothers High School in Memphis; and defensive linemen Courtre’ Alexander, Owasso, Okla. and junior college running back Rakeem Boyd, a Stratford, Texas native who will transfer this summer from Independence (Kan.) Community College.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Morris said if he would have signed all 16 had he a full year to recruit this newcomers class of 2018. “These 16 guys right here are valuable to the success of our program moving forward. When we reflect back on this class over the next two to three years, I think you'll really realize the impact of what these young men have made to this university and this football program. I’m excited. I would take these guys all day long.”
In part because Morris chose only to sign 16, though noting “We're not done yet. We'll potentially have a few more,” and because lone 4-star recruits Noland and Pool were signed in December, the Razorbacks Wednesday didn’t create a national or even SEC recruiting buzz.
Recruiting services consistently ranked Arkansas’ recruiting 14th among the SEC’s 14 teams.
Morris maintained he’s unfazed whether his recruiting ranks high or low with the recruiting services and those putting the number of recruiting stars by which they rate prospects.
“Zero,” Morris replied to a question if he relied on number of recruiting stars associated with a recruit. “Absolutely none. I don't care what other people think of other programs. I care about our program. What excites me is the fact that what we can do as we build this program up. Are we a better football program right now than we were 61 days ago? And the answer to that is yes. And that's the only thing that matters to me is, 'Are we going to get better today?' And we are. We signed eight guys that are going to make a contribution to this football program added to the eight in December and those 16 guys are going to come in and they’re going to make people uncomfortable.” They're going to push people that maybe have gotten comfortable on this roster. When you get that, you've created some competition.”
Boyd, 6-0, 200 and the only junior college transfer that Morris signed, was rated the No. 3 JC transfer running back by Arkansas 247 and has three seasons eligibility, transferring to Independence Community College after redshirting his freshman year at Texas A&M.
Morris called Boyd “a dynamic” addition to a running backs stable returning Devwah Whaley, Chase Hayden and T.J. Hammonds.
Jones, the son of former Razorback and Dallas Cowboys executive Stephen Jones and grandson of Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner and offensive guard for Frank Broyles’ 1964 national champion Razorbacks, stands only 5-11 but loomed large to Morris quarterbacking Highland Park to consecutive Texas state high school championship and completing 37 of 58 passes for a Texas state championship record 564 yards with four touchdowns.
“The thing that really intrigued me about John Stephen is the guy is a winner,” Morris, who coached high schools in Texas for 16 years, said. “When you are playing in that league and at that level and you put the numbers up that you put up and you are able not just to compete but to win back to back state championships, that says enough.”
Adding Jones and Noland gives Arkansas five scholarship quarterbacks returning junior Ty Storey of Charleston, sophomore Cole Kelley, backing up graduated 2017 senior starter Austin Allen and starting the four games that Allen missed with injuries, and redshirted freshman Daulton Hyatt and adding walk-on Austin Aune, a former baseball player in the New York Yankees organization, to walk-ons Jack Lindsey and Connor Proctor.
Morris touted the offensive line potential of Gatlin and Winkel with Robinson and even with them said the linemen numbers must increase offensively and defensively even with Alexander added to Nichols, Ferrell and Fulwider.
“We signed some big offensive linemen and I’m excited about them,” Morris said. “Defensively we were able to sign four linemen and we’re hoping to get a couple of more to have that depth in the D-line we’ve got to have to be successful to build that defense back up.”
At linebacker, getting Parker, committing to Arkansas but getting such a strong push from Texas that it was speculated he might flip on signing day, to go with Pool from December was a Wednesday recruiting coup.
“Andrew was a sought after young man,” Arkansas recruiting coordinator/cornerbacks coach Mark Smith said Wednesday. “Those are the kind of guys we want to recruit that have an interest from a lot of different schools At the end of the day he had a comfort level about us and our staff and being here and so did his family.”
Foucha, who had not committed during the courtship by Arkansas and Ole Miss and also was a big recruiting day coup to go wit Mason in the secondary.
“To get Joe was critical,” Morris said. “And Myles, that guy leaves a mark when he gets there. I anticipate both of these young being able to come in here and make an immediate contribution.”