Nate Olson: Bret Bielema Finds Hot Bed of Talent at North Little Rock

The lack of Division-I prep football recruits in Central Arkansas is troubling to some. A segment of Arkansas fans remember when the Little Rock School District routinely churned out prospect after prospect. That well has all but dried up, but it seems like Bret Bielema has found at least one hot bed of talent in the Little Rock Metro area.

North Little Rock High School has become the “it” program in the area for football players and maybe for basketball players in light of their 2012-13 7A State Title. Not only does Charging Wildcats coach Brad Bolding have the luxury of being the lone high school in a town with a population of close to 63,000 people, he has also drawn players from LRSD schools who are tired of losing and disorganization.

Bolding, the son of legendary prep coach and athletic director Buzz Bolding, is a player’s coach. The team is outfitted with Under Armour gear, has a nice weight and locker room and turf field. The program has a collegiate feel with attention to detail and structure and word has spread. Over the past few years, Bolding has molded the talent into winners. Last year NLR was less than a minute away from playing for the 7A State Title. Fayetteville quarterback Austin Allen, a Razorback football signee, engineered a miracle drive that produced a game-winning field goal as time ran out.

Bielema got to know Bolding early in his tenure as he courted highly touted running back Altee Tenpenny. Bielema was relentless in his pursuit of Tenpenny, who stayed true to his Alabama pledge. Bielema met with him at school, at home and at his part-time job. During the process Bielema and Bolding became close.

“I consider him a friend,” Bolding told me on Sports Night Friday night. “We’ve called and texted and had dinner a couple of times.”brad bolding considers bret bielema a friend

Bilema impressed Bolding with his laid-back approach, and genuine interest in the players as people. As Bielema evaluated Tenpenny he noticed the influx of talent at NLR. He immediately offered junior running back Juan Day a scholarship. Day, the cousin of former U of A standout Cedric Cobbs, ran for more than 1,000 yards last fall as the complementary back to Tenpenny.

“There were some people that said (Day) looked better in some games than (Tenpenny),” Bolding said Friday night. “I’m not going to say that, but he is a good running back. (Day) isn’t going to impress you with the combine numbers that (Tenpenny) has, but he runs hard.”

The good news for both Brad Bolding and Bret Bielema is the cupboard is fully stocked.

Bielema is looking hard at junior cornerback Kavin Alexander (5-8, 185). Last week he broke the NLR 40-yard dash record with a time of 4.27. Alexander, the cousin of former Hogs star running back Darren McFadden, recently won the 7A 100 meters with a 10.83 clocking and won the 200-meters at the Meet of Champs. Alexander also posted the nation’s top Nike SPARQ score. Junior K.J. Hill, who started for Bryant’s football and basketball team last year, posted a 40  time of 4.55. He is considered a prospect at receiver. Freshman running back Fabian Lewis (5-6, 160) ran a 4.37 40-yards hand-held time and a 4.45 at the Nike SPARQ Combine, earning All-Combine honors. Bolding said Lewis could fill the complementary role in the backfield behind Day.

Junior receiver Devohn Lindsey (6-2, 200, 4.7 speed) set the school record pro agility time with a 3.57 mark. Junior fullback Dion Tidwell (5-10, 205) broke the school mark for incline (335 pounds), and classmate Curtis Parker (6-1, 276) broke the squat record (605 pounds). Parker threw the power ball so far at the SPARQ Combine the system wouldn’t accept it, setting new mark.

The numbers don’t lie. The NLR program is full of talent and a portion of those each year will be SEC caliber. Bret Bielema understands that  and hopes Tenpenny is the first and last Charging Wildcat to spurn the Hogs for a conference rival.

“We have pictures of all of our college players hanging up in our locker room. I expect to see quite a few pictures of players wearing red,” Bolding said.

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