UPDATE (Jan. 7): After briefly backing off his commitment to Arkansas football on New Year’s Day, linebacker transfer Antonio Grier reaffirmed his pledge to the Razorbacks on Saturday.
The UA actually announced he had signed on the second day of the early signing period last month, but Grier posted on Twitter that his recruitment was “100% open” and that UCF — where he was committed before signing with Arkansas — was “still in my vision.”
Ultimately, Grier decided to still follow former UCF and current Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams to Fayetteville — a decision he felt comfortable with after taking an official visit.
“I had pretty much I would say the time of my life,” Grier said. “It’s very fun, but more like a business trip. I’m coming here to accomplish goals, win championships and bowl games and stuff like that. Overall the visit was real good and my family enjoyed it.”
He’s the second transfer to commit to the Razorbacks in as many days, as he follows former Baylor cornerback Lorando Johnson.
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas football team announced a late addition to its 2023 signing class Thursday night, successfully flipping linebacker transfer Antonio Grier from UCF.
After a standout career at South Florida, Grier had been set to flip sides of the War on I-4 rivalry by going from Tampa to Orlando, but will instead follow defensive coordinator Travis Williams to Fayetteville.
Grier also considered USC, Cal and Mississippi State out of the transfer portal before originally committing to UCF.
The Razorbacks are now up to 24 total signees for the current recruiting cycle. That number includes 19 players from the high school ranks and five from the transfer portal.
It is the second surprise addition for Arkansas in as many days, as it landed defensive end transfer John Morgan III from Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period. Friday is the third and final day of the early period, with the traditional period beginning Feb. 1.
The other three transfers who signed with the Razorbacks did so after committing earlier in the month. Offensive lineman Joshua Braun from Florida was first and then followed by quarterback Jacolby Criswell from North Carolina and wide receiver Andrew Armstrong from Texas A&M-Commerce.
Antonio Grier at South Florida
A two-star recruit coming out of Mays High School in Atlanta, Antonio Grier had a handful of offers from Group of Five programs. He ultimately picked South Florida over Eastern Michigan, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Marshall and Toledo.
It took a year of playing mostly on special teams, but Grier found himself in the Bulls’ starting lineup as a sophomore in 2019. He actually started half of their games that year and totaled 58 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
That was a sign of things to come for Grier, as he earned second-team All-AAC efforts each of the next two seasons.
Despite missing one game because with an injury and the first half of another because of a targeting penalty, Grier led the Bulls in tackles with 59 in eight games. That total included 5.5 for loss and 3 sacks, plus he forced two fumbles.
The following season, he started all 12 games and racked up 92 tackles, including 8 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Grier also had two interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and four quarterback hurries.
Big things were expected of Grier when he returned as a super senior this year. He landed on preseason All-AAC first teams selected by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports, but things didn’t go as he and South Florida had hoped.
After missing two of the first five games with a hand injury, tragedy struck. Grier’s father died in October and he left the team, missing the rest of the season. He finished with 21 total tackles in only three games, which preserved his redshirt.
Rather than coming back to South Florida for a sixth season, Grier entered the portal to play his final season elsewhere.
What it Means for Arkansas
Head coach Sam Pittman didn’t hide the fact that linebacker was one of many positions he wanted to add from the transfer portal with one of his many remaining scholarships.
However, he went out of his way to point out that wasn’t a knock on his current linebackers — Chris Paul Jr., Jordan Crook, Jackson Woodard, Mani Powell and Kaden Henley.
Instead, the goal was to add to the depth of the position, preferably supplementing incoming freshmen Carson Dean, Alex Sanford and Brad Spence with a veteran presence.
Considering the success of Drew Sanders as a transfer, plus other 100-tackle linebackers like Grant Morgan, Hayden Henry and Bumper Pool, Arkansas would presumably be a desirable destination for linebackers, even with the change at defensive coordinator.
That change actually gave the Razorbacks an in with Antonio Grier, as he was committed to transfer to UCF, where he would have played for Travis Williams. Now he’s following Williams, a former linebacker at Auburn and in the NFL, to Fayetteville.
The UA’s announcement that it had signed Grier seemingly came out of nowhere, but perhaps it should have been somewhat expected because his relationship with Williams was vital in getting him to commit to UCF.
“It was more T-Will trying to get to know me more than me getting to know him,” Grier told UCFSports.com about his visit to Orlando. “He was asking a lot of questions. He wanted to know me and my family. He’s going to tell you how it is and be real with you. I don’t want somebody to lie or give me half-truths. I need somebody to tell me the full truth. T-Will is a man of his word.
“Being around his family, his wife and kids, not a lot of guys will invite you into their home. I was so appreciative of that. T-Will is just different. A great person.”
Looking ahead to 2023, Grier can tentatively be penciled in as a starter alongside Paul, who got a lot of playing time as a redshirt freshman this year with Bumper Pool dealing with a hip injury.
Crook, a true freshman, is expected to make his first career start in the bowl game because Sanders has opted out. The coaching staff is really high on him, as well as Powell, but bringing in someone like Grier as a one-year stopgap could allow both of them to develop a little more before being asked to take on a full-time starting role.
Depending on what exactly Williams’ defensive scheme looks like, there’s a chance both of them could still get plenty of meaningful reps even if Grier and Paul are the primary starters.
What Antonio Grier Brings Off the Field
Outside of being a great player on the field, Antonio Grier also has a pretty impressive resume off the field. In fact, his charitable efforts garnered a mention in Bulls247’s story about him entering the transfer portal.
“Grier was always heralded as a leader on and off the field,” wrote Bulls247’s Will Turner. “While he was a fan favorite with a bruising, hard-nosed, dogged style of play, Grier was a champion in the community.”
Grier was the president of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity – Upsilon Delta Chapter and served as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Chair for the USF Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He was also a mentor at the Hillsborough County Juvenile Detention Center and volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay and in the Just Gents Mentorship Program, among others.
Grier also lent a hand to The Verb Kind, a program that provides mentorship for incarcerated youth. It’s clear that his efforts extend well beyond the football field.
“We try to give hope to kids who have made mistakes,” Grier told UCFSports.com. “They’re kids. A lot of people may judge those kids, but they may come from backgrounds with no mom, no dad, no guidance. All they need is somebody to talk to, be there for them, listen to them and guide them. We all need mentors in life.”
“In 2022, my word of the year was ‘purpose.’ I wanted to figure out my purpose in life, my purpose in serving my community, my purpose in being on a football team, my purpose in building connections with people, my purpose within everything I did. I feel like God’s calling for my life is to give back for the kids. That’s the most important thing in this world, the kids.”
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…