New Arkansas coach Bret Bielema crushed the press conference. He hired a killer staff. Now, he’s trying to put his stamp on a recruiting class that he hopes is the foundation for a future SEC Championship.
Somehow interim coach John L. Smith managed to secure several commits. Bielema re-evaluated those players, and some didn’t make the cut. The new staff has split their time between quickly recruiting a different set of players, and firming up a few pledges.
They got good news last weekend when four-star offensive lineman Reeve Koehler, a U.S. Army All-American and Hawaii native, committed on his official visit. Fellow 4-star recruit Hunter Henry, a tight end from Pulaski Academy, reaffirmed his commitment to the Hogs. There was some uncertainty surrounding Henry’s pledge following Bielema’s hire, but after an in-home visit, and official campus visit Henry is in.
With some recent pickups, and a new staff scouring familiar recruiting grounds in Florida, Arkansas’ recruiting ranking should jump up higher from the mid-50s and low 60s where it sits currently, depending on the service. One of the prospects that could not only make a difference in the rankings but also immediately on the field is North Little Rock running back Altee Tenpenny. Tenpenny, who ranks as one of the top backs in the nation earned Army All-American Game honors.
He committed to Alabama last winter, but that hasn’t kept Bielema and his staff away.
In fact, it appears that flipping Tenpenny’s commitment was one of Bielema’s top priorities as he hit the ground running in Fayetteville in early December. Assistants have visited Tenpenny at school and Bielema will conduct an in-home visit. Tenpenny visited Arkansas last weekend and had a good experience. He plans to compare notes with his parents, but he hasn’t switched his commitment yet.
There’s a reason Bielema has spent so much time courting the committed 6-foot-0, 200-pounder with 4.4 speed. Tenpenny’s combination of speed and power is rare. He has NFL athleticism and a potential to run for 1,000 for as many years as he chooses to hang around a college campus. After sitting out as a junior with an ankle injury Tenpenny didn’t miss a beat last fall, as he torched opposing defenses for 10.84 yards a carry, and pushed North Little Rock to the 7A state semifinals.
An Altee Tenpenny flip is important for more than a few reasons. Obviously, he raises the profile of the 2013 Class and could be a key cog in a championship team, much like star back Montee Ball was at Wisconsin. He is the type of player you can build a winning team around.
However, the flip could have even deeper consequences. It could mean that next year’s class is significantly better than this one. If Bielema snatches a player from task master Nick Saban that makes national news and resonates with future prospects. Certainly highly touted Har-Ber junior defensive lineman Joshua Frazier, who has an offer from ’Bama and Arkansas, would take notice. It sends a message to Frazier and other in-state recruits and prep coaches that Arkansas will fight to keep the top talent inside the state’s borders. So far, Arkansas has all of the ‘Natural State’ recruits it wants – except Tenpenny.
Tenpenny’s signature also forms the beginnings a pipeline from North Little Rock to Fayetteville. Charging Wildcats coach Brad Bolding is impressed with Bielema’s easy going approach. Junior running back Juan Day, the cousin of former Hog back Cedric Cobbs, has already committed to Bielema. If the Hogs land Tenpenny, they have some roots at the only school in the Little Rock metro that has the potential to churn out blue chip talent routinely.
Arkansas has landed some big-time players in school history and watched some fall off the hook. But Tenpenny could be the most important in-state recruit any Hog coach has pursued in some time. The combination of the timing and his stature compare to any other recruiting battle in any time period.
While Arkansas isn’t coming off back-to-back national title seasons, it has a lot to offer Tenpenny. Namely, immediate playing time. It’s doubtful Tenpenny, as talented as he is, would see many snaps in ’Bama’s backfield next fall and maybe the year after that. It seems maybe that is a point that has resonated with the state’s top recruit. Tenpenny can go toe-to-toe with any of the Hogs returning backs as well as 4-star recruit Alex Collins, who is deciding between Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Wisconsin and others.
Since, the run-oriented Bielema took over, it seems as though Tenpenny has been more attentive. He knows he could be the featured back in 2013. I’m not sure what he thought about Bobby Petrino, but he certainly has to be more impressed by Bielema’s personality. His friendly demeanor has gotten rave reviews from the players he has recruited in his short time on “The Hill.”
If Tenpenny weren’t a little interested, he wouldn’t have bothered listening. He knows there is value in the Arkansas program. Maybe there wasn’t during the 2012 season, but the momentum is turning in a positive direction again.
A 2013 recruiting class without Tenpenny doesn’t spell doom and gloom for the Hogs. It isn’t do or die. But it sure can’t hurt, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Tenpenny were a Hog and if he ended up playing in Atlanta before he left campus.
Bielema and his new Hogs’ staff thinks so, too, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent their precious moments courting a player who has been committed to the nation’s top program for a year.