It came with far less fanfare, but Sam Pittman reeled in a key depth piece for Arkansas football from the transfer portal Friday with the addition of Francis Sherman.
The former Louisville walk-on decided to enter the portal just before the spring window closed and now brings a veteran presence to a mostly young Razorbacks’ tight end room.
Listed as a fifth-year senior, Sherman actually has two years of eligibility remaining because of the pandemic-related relief granted by the NCAA to all players who were active in 2020.
He joins Nathan Bax, another former walk-on, as Arkansas’ only upperclassmen at the position. Both of them are more blocking-oriented rather than a threat in the passing game. That’s in contrast to redshirt freshman Ty Washington, true freshmen Luke Hasz and Shamar Easter, as well as North Texas transfer Var’Keyes Gumms, a redshirt sophomore.
The Razorbacks have now landed 15 transfers this cycle, with 10 of them being mid-year enrollees who went through spring ball. Sherman and Gumms, as well as defensive back Jaheim Singletary from Georgia, defensive tackle Anthony “Tank” Booker from Maryland and linebacker Jaheim Thomas from Cincinnati, will arrive this summer.
The group is ranked fourth nationally by On3, behind only a trio of Pac-12 programs in USC, Colorado and UCLA. The Razorbacks are No. 10 in 247Sports’ transfer portal rankings.
Francis Sherman with Louisville Football
A two-way standout on the gridiron who also played basketball, Francis Sherman was far from a coveted prospect coming out of Bay High School in Bay Village, Ohio, in the Class of 2019.
His offer sheet included the likes of Robert Morris and Butler from the FCS ranks and several Division II programs like Lake Erie College, Tiffin University, University of Findlay and Notre Dame College.
Sherman originally committed to Toledo as a walk-on, but ultimately decided to give the Power Five a chance by flipping to Louisville as a walk-on.
The gamble paid off. Following a redshirt season in 2019, during which he bulked up and added about 35 pounds, Sherman found his way on the field midway through the 2020 season.
“His work ethic is what’s given him a chance to contribute,” then-Louisville tight ends coach Stu Holt said in 2021. “He shows up every day and he’s very consistent. We talked about being consistent a lot, and he’s taken that to heart. He works very hard to improve every single day. He has the respect of his teammates because of the way that he works.”
His reps were limited until the regular-season finale against Wake Forest, when an injury to Ean Pfeifer — a Bentonville native, interestingly enough — forced him into the starting lineup. Not only did Sherman more than double his career snaps in that game, but he caught three passes for 19 yards, including a touchdown.
“He’s one of those glue guys that helps keep the program tight and it’s not just on the game field like that, it’s a lot of it off the field — in the weight room, in the meeting rooms and on campus,” then-Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield said after the game. “Those guys keep everything together and they work so hard.”
Since then, Sherman’s playing time has increased each year. He played 105 snaps in 2021, serving as a blocker for almost all of them, and then got 230 snaps this past season. Last August, the Cardinals rewarded him with a scholarship.
According to Pro Football Focus, nearly three-quarters of his career snaps have been as a run blocker. He earned a solid 71.3 run-blocking grade in 2021 and a 60.8 grade last season. Another 7.7% of his snaps have been as a pass blocker, on which he’s been graded 66.3 and 71.2 the last two years.
An interesting connection to Arkansas comes in the form of his position coach this past season, Josh Stepp. He is the twin brother of Justin Stepp, the Razorbacks’ former wide receivers coach. Sherman and Stepp apparently had a very close relationship despite being together for just one season.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
There was never a doubt that the Razorbacks wanted to bring in another tight end via the transfer portal. Sam Pittman was up front and honest about that from the beginning – plus it was an obvious need.
With Trey Knox heading to South Carolina, the most experienced tight end on the roster was former walk-on Nathan Bax, who didn’t have a heavy role on offense until last season and is not much of a threat in the passing game. He is back as a super senior. Everyone else is a redshirt freshman (Ty Washington) or true freshman (Luke Hasz, Shamar Easter).
The Razorbacks got their man, and then lost him, before getting him back on board, as the recruitment of North Texas transfer Var’Keyes Gumms was quite the roller coaster. He very well could end up as the starter for Week 1 against Western Carolina on Sept. 2.
That’s probably not the case with Francis Sherman, who is more in the mold of Bax – a blocker who likely won’t be targeted with very many passes. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, their grades and snap counts are very similar.
|Name||Total Snaps||PFF Pass Blocking Grade||PFF Run Blocking Grade|
While this probably isn’t a sexy transfer portal addition, bringing in Sherman is a critical pickup considering new offensive coordinator Dan Enos will utilize more 12- and even 13-personnel – formations that require two and three tight ends, respectively, on the field at the same time.
Having Sherman and Bax available as blocking tight ends to go along with bigger receiving threats in Gumms, Washington, Hasz and Easter is very important to what the Razorbacks will try to do on offense this year.
Arkansas had the flexibility to bring in someone like Sherman because it has several open scholarships remaining thanks to a large group of players transferring out. Even after adding him, the Razorbacks are still sitting at only 80 players for 2023, according to Best of Arkansas Sports’ unofficial roster tracker.
That is five shy of the 85-man limit. Pittman and his staff are believed to be pursuing another couple of defensive backs, a defensive tackle, a wide receiver and an interior offensive lineman (preferably a center).
More coverage of Arkansas football and the transfer portal from BoAS…