Hugh Freeze’s Latest Win Whittles Down Arkansas’ Numbers at Critical Position

Hugh Freeze, Stephen Johnson, Arkansas football, Arkansas recruiting
photo credit: Liberty Athletics / Twitter

With the early signing period just three days away, the Arkansas football program is clinging to its 2023 recruiting class and lost a pair of commitments Sunday.

The Razorbacks saw defensive tackle Stephen Johnson flip to Auburn late in the morning and then tight end Jaden Hamm backed off his pledge a few hours later, following an official visit to Kansas.

They entered the day with 23 commitments and firmly inside the top 20 in the recruiting rankings, but are now down to a 21-man class that ranks 19th nationally in the 247Sports Composite. Rivals still has Arkansas at No. 15.

Both moves were the result of the coaching carousel, as Johnson decided to play for the Tigers’ new head coach, Hugh Freeze, and Hamm left the class a few days after tight ends coach Dowell Loggains took the offensive coordinator job at South Carolina.

Hugh Freeze Beats Arkansas (Again)

When he was the head coach at Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze lost his last three matchups with the Razorbacks to finish his tenure with a losing record (2-3) against them.

Over the last six weeks, though, he’s flipped the script. He brought a ranked Liberty team to Fayetteville back on Nov. 5 and left with a 21-19 upset victory over Arkansas.

If losing to a non-Power Five wasn’t bad enough, Freeze targeted one of the Razorbacks’ 2023 commitments after being hired at Auburn and successfully pulled it off Sunday.

Johnson, a defensive tackle out of Whitewater High School in Fayetteville, Ga., committed to Arkansas back in June. Even though he was considered a mid- or low-three-star recruit by all of the major outlets, he was an important commitment because he was one of only two defensive tackles in the Razorbacks’ current class, along with Ian Geffrard.

Arkansas will have to replace its two primary starting defensive tackles from this season because Isaiah Nichols is entering the transfer portal to use his final season and Terry Hampton is out of eligibility.

However, Taurean Carter should be back after missing the entire season with a knee injury suffered at the end of a very impressive spring, plus Cameron Ball will return following a solid redshirt freshman season in which he posted the highest PFF grade among Arkansas’ interior defensive linemen (69.0).

If the Razorbacks use more four-man fronts next season, which head coach Sam Pittman hinted at in his most recent press conference, Eric Gregory would likely slide inside to defensive tackle. Another player like that is Nico Davillier, the former four-star recruit who was a true freshman this year.

Beyond that, though, there isn’t much depth. It’d pretty much just be lightly used fifth-year senior Marcus Miller and the incoming freshmen, which is now just Geffrard, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Razorbacks pursue defensive tackles in the transfer portal again.

Stellar Tight End Class Takes Hit

As soon as news broke that tight ends coach Dowell Loggains was leaving the Arkansas football program to become the offensive coordinator at South Carolina, the focus in the Natural State shifted to the trio of four-star recruits he had committed for the Razorbacks.

Sam Pittman acted quickly to find his replacement, hiring one of the top tight ends in the country in Morgan Turner. He and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles hit the road Thursday to visit each of them — Shamar Easter, Luke Hasz and Jaden Hamm.

When asked about how it went the next day, Pittman told reporters — without mentioning names, because that’d be an NCAA violation — that he felt like Turner was well received. However, he hinted that one of them might take a visit on the final weekend before the early signing period.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to hold on to every one of them from not going to a visit, but I think at least a couple of them won’t,” Pittman said. “They’ll be here for us.”

A couple of days later, it’s now apparent that he was referring to Hamm. The four-star tight end visited Kansas, which is less than 20 minutes away from his hometown of Eudora, Kan.

It remains to be seen if the Jayhawks can hand the Razorbacks a loss on the recruiting trail before they square off in the Liberty Bowl, but it now appears certain that Arkansas won’t land Hamm’s services.

UPDATE (Dec. 19): Jaden Hamm has announced his commitment to Kansas, adding another layer to the Liberty Bowl showdown between the Razorbacks and Jayhawks in just nine days.

That leaves Arkansas with only four scholarship tight ends currently projected to be on the 2023 roster: Collin Sutherland, Ty Washington, Easter and Hasz. This year’s starter, Trey Knox, has already entered the transfer portal, but that number could increase if either Nathan Bax or Hudson Henry choose to return.

Bax is a potential super senior and Pittman made a broad statement that he expected the remaining undecided players to be back in Friday’s press conference, but news broke the next day that Isaiah Nichols was entering the transfer portal.

Henry is just a redshirt junior, but went through Senior Day festivities and Pittman has hinted at him moving on from football. Perhaps that changes, though, with the hire of Turner because he was his primary recruiter while at Stanford — the program he considered heavily before signing with Arkansas.

Pittman also said the Razorbacks might try to add a tight end from the transfer portal.

Some Good News for Arkansas Football Recruiting

It’d be easy to focus on the loss of Stephen Johnson and Jaden Hamm, but the Razorbacks also got a dose of good news Sunday night.

Following an official visit to Georgia Tech, four-star defensive back T.J. Metcalf told Rivals that he is “100 percent locked in” with the Arkansas football program. He was also pursued by Colorado and Penn State in recent weeks.

Getting to Wednesday with the rest of its 21-player class intact is vital for head coach Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks and keeping Metcalf is a great start. They’ve also seemingly held off Gus Malzahn’s efforts to flip four-star quarterback Malachi Singleton and might not be done keeping the wolves away.


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