Arkansas football has a long and storied history of being a family affair of sorts. Some of the program’s best players have been “legacy” players, whose family names have become synonymous with the Razorbacks.
The Joneses (Jerry, Stephen and John Stephen), the Smiths (Billy Ray Sr. and Billy Ray Jr.) and the Henrys (Mark, Hunter, Hayden and Hudson) are just a few that immediately come to mind.
Unfortunately, the program is having a rough go as of late when it comes to landing some prized recruits with family connections to the Razorbacks. The latest whiff came with Lance Jackson, brother of current Razorback defensive end Landon Jackson, who committed to Texas over the Hogs last weekend.
Jackson, a consensus four-star recruit in the 2025 class, is ranked 105th nationally in the 247Sports Composite and actually held a crystal ball prediction to the Hogs from Arkansas recruiting analyst Danny West. The loss of Jackson is the team’s third miss on a legacy recruit in the past six months, with Ryan Wingo and Walker White also choosing other SEC programs.
Ryan Wingo is the younger brother of former Razorback running back Ronnie Wingo Jr. (2009-12), and was a five-star wide receiver and the No. 30 rated prospect in this latest recruiting cycle. He signed with Texas despite having visited Fayetteville numerous times over the past few years.
Walker White was the No. 5 rated quarterback in the country in this latest recruiting cycle and has extensive family connections to the Razorbacks. He signed with Auburn despite expressing interest in Arkansas on multiple occasions and holding an offer from the Hogs.
These kinds of recruiting losses are double whammies because the recruits end up with soon-to-be rival SEC programs that are only getting stronger after already coming in ahead of Arkansas in early preseason polls according to USA Legal Betting.
History of Arkansas Football and Legacy Recruits
White’s decision is one that stands out as a particularly significant one. The Little Rock native went against what had been a well-established pattern of multi-generational Razorback legacies. The kind of legacies that represent what it means to be a Razorback across different generations.
These generational legacies are ingrained in the fabric and history of Arkansas football. Synonymous with the program’s biggest moments and most memorable teams.
There’s not a more recognizable example of that than Jerry Jones and his family. Jones, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys, was an offensive lineman for the Razorbacks in the early 1960s.
As a co-captain and integral part of the undefeated 1964 team, he helped lead the program to its only national championship.
Jones’ football legacy was passed on to his son Stephen, who played linebacker for the Hogs in the late 1980s, including starting in the 1987 Orange Bowl. The Jones legacy continued when Stephen’s son, John Stephen, played quarterback at Arkansas from 2018-20.
While the Jones family might be the most famous example, there have been plenty of others that make a tough case for most talented. The aforementioned Smith family is one likely name that deserves to be at the top of any list.
Billy Ray Smith Sr. played for the Razorbacks in the 1950s, lettering in both 1954 and 1956 and earning first team All-SWC honors his senior season. Smith Sr. helped lead the Hogs to a SWC Championship and Cotton Bowl berth in 1955 and went on to have a 14-year career at the pro level with the Rams, Steelers and Colts.
His son, Billy Ray Smith Jr., would follow in his footsteps in the early 1980s as a unanimous All-American defensive lineman for the Hogs in 1981 and 1982. He still holds the school record for career tackles for loss.
Smith Jr. went on to have an impressive 10-year NFL career with the San Diego Chargers and is enshrined in both the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.
One other legendary family that is much more recent than the previous two are the Henrys. Mark Henry was an offensive lineman for the Razorbacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He lettered from 1988-1991 and was a team captain as a senior, earning All-SWC honors.
Mark’s three sons Hunter, Hayden and Hudson all followed in their father’s footsteps by playing for the Hogs. Hunter Henry was a tight end from 2013-15 and became the school’s second ever Mackey Award winner. He’s currently playing for the New England Patriots as part of an eight-year run in the NFL.
Two seasons after Hunter’s Arkansas career ended, Hayden Henry arrived in Fayetteville as a linebacker. He spent five seasons with Hogs with his best coming in 2021, when he totaled 100 tackles and four sacks as part of the nine-win season.
Hudson is the only Henry brother to have struggled to make a significant impact during his time in Fayetteville. Hudson played sparingly over his four-year career, and ahead of the 2023 season, opted to move on from football with one year of eligibility remaining. Still, the Henrys have an impressive resume that is no doubt worth mentioning.
Importance of Legacy Recruits at Arkansas
It would be unrealistic to expect every single high-rated recruit with even the slightest familial ties to the program to commit. However, it should be expected of the program to not miss out on three such players in a short amount of time.
Obviously, Jackson, Wingo and White are all unproven college-level talents at this point, but it can’t be denied that the optics are tough. The recruiting landscape is a big reason why.
At a school like Arkansas, it’s vastly more important to make sure you cultivate strong relationships with former players than it is, say, at Alabama, Georgia or LSU.
Those schools will always have the national spotlight and championship pedigree that Arkansas lacks. Plus, let’s be honest, firing off a 4-8 season makes recruiting exponentially more difficult. Because of that, the blue bloods almost always have a much deeper talent pool of recruits to choose from, meaning it’s not as important if they don’t land a talented legacy recruit.
At Arkansas, losing elite, legacy talent is a tough pill to swallow. It can really halt momentum across the program and amongst fans. Football isn’t exclusive in feeling the effects of missing on legacy recruits either.
Even today, after all, mentioning the name “Malik Monk” around Hog fans can draw a visible flinch. Monk is the younger brother of former Arkansas football star Marcus Monk who spurned the Hogs for Kentucky.
Razorback broadcaster Mike Irwin was someone who was especially harsh toward the Monks after that Malik’s announcement in late 2015. After seeing what Nick Smith Jr. had to go through in the 2022-23 season, however, Irwin backtracked. “I owe Marcus Monk an apology,” Irwin said. In an exchange from late 2015, Irwin recalled telling Monk “You did what was best for you because he’s going to make more money, you think,” going to Kentucky. “He got really mad at me. We got into it over it and I owe him an apology because I think he knew what he was doing.”
He continued: ““I think he knew that if his brother who grew up in this state and was a Razorback fan, came here as a one and done and didn’t deliver, he would be crucified.”
Transfer Portal Impact on Legacy Players
While it could be easy to sit back and act as if missing on legacy recruits is the end of the world, it’s actually not as bad as it would’ve been years ago.
The addition of the transfer portal and NIL have completely transformed the recruiting landscape. Now if a program misses out on a player, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll have a second opportunity to land them later down the road via the portal.
Ironically, Landon Jackson is a perfect example of this. He chose to begin his college career at LSU before transferring to Arkansas after just one year in Baton Rouge. As much roster turnover and portal as we’ve seen in recent years, it’s very possible that one of the Jackson/Wingo/White trio could eventually find their way back to Fayetteville.
It’s still a pretty tough look, initially missing out on all three, and something that the program should correct going forward. If Arkansas wants to get back to being a threat in the SEC instead of perennial doormat, it still begins with recruiting from the high school ranks alongside the portal. Landing legacy players is an important piece to putting that recruiting puzzle together.
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