Nearly every young person in Arkansas who falls in love with the game of football dreams of growing up and donning the famous white Razorback on a red helmet. However, the reality is there are only so many spots available.
That also provides opportunities for homegrown kids to succeed elsewhere and show out for their state, as is the case for many of the 15 college football Arkansans mentioned below.
Best of Arkansas Sports has compiled a list of Natural State natives we expect to take on big-time roles for the 2023 season in the FBS ranks. We’ll look at the standouts who have already made an impact, as well as some who are just getting started.
15. Brandon Thomas | RB | Memphis | 5-10, 210 | R-JR
Brandon Thomas received an offer from the Razorbacks during the Chad Morris era, but committed to Memphis two weeks later in June of 2019. He then signed with the Tigers the following December.
After only two carries during his freshman year in 2020, the North Little Rock product became the featured back for the Tigers in 2021, finishing the season with 669 yards – which ranked ninth in the AAC – along with eight touchdowns on 116 carries. Unfortunately, Thomas’ season last year came to an abrupt halt with three games remaining due to an undisclosed injury after rushing 76 times for 270 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns.
While there have been minimal reports of Thomas’ status, he is not listed on the depth chart going into Saturday’s season opener against Bethune-Cookman, but is “back in the fold.”
14. Jacolby Criswell | QB | Arkansas | 6-1, 230 | R-JR
If it were not for Arkansas returning arguably the top quarterback in the SEC, Jacolby Criswell would be vying for the top spot on this list. There is zero question as to whether Arkansas will be in a much more ideal position if something happens to KJ Jefferson like it did in 2022.
The Morrilton product is another big-armed, big-bodied signal caller, but does not have a large body of work in the collegiate ranks, due to playing behind Sam Howell and Drake Maye at North Carolina, the former of which is now the Washington Commanders’ starter and the latter of which is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
In three seasons with the Tar Heels, Criswell appeared in 14 games with one start and completed 18 of 31 passes (58%) for 204 yards and a touchdown. A top-15 dual-threat quarterback coming out of Morrilton, Criswell passed for 5,925 yards and 58 touchdowns in his career with the Devil Dogs, and rushed for another 2,500 yards and 41 scores. He was tabbed as the Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019 after helping Morrilton to the 5A semifinals.
13. E’Marion Harris | OL | Arkansas | 6-7, 300 | R-FR
It is hard to miss a player with the massive build of Harris, who was about the same size as a ninth grader when he was shocked to receive an offer from national power Alabama. A four-star prospect and the 24th-best offensive tackle in the Class of 2022 according to 247Sports, Harris was also sought by multiple other top tier programs around the country including Georgia and Oklahoma.
Ultimately, Harris chose the Hogs, just like his father, Elliott, did two decades earlier. Harris was able to maintain his redshirt status by appearing in only two games for Arkansas in 2022 and he flashed signs of his potential. He played left tackle at Joe T. Robinson High School, but is now competing for playing time at both guard and tackle and it would not be shocking to see him start at some point this season in the event of injuries or lack of production from those initially higher on the depth chart.
12. Nico Davillier | DL | Arkansas | 6-4, 270 | SO
Nico Davillier has heaped praise from the coaching staff for the past two fall camps and after contributing mostly on special teams in 2022, he should get plenty of opportunities to prove his talents as part of what should be an extremely deep defensive front.
Coming out of Maumelle in 2022, Davillier had quite an impressive offer list that, along with Arkansas, included Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Penn State and Tennessee. Kansas was actually Davillier’s first, when former Jayhawks offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon, now the head coach at North Alabama, extended the offer after seeing the athleticism displayed as he performed a windmill basketball dunk on video that Davillier was just doing for fun. After Kansas offered, the dominos began to fall. Davillier committed to the Hogs in June of 2021 and now he aims to set the foundation for his Arkansas football legacy this season.
11. Andrew Chamblee | OT | Arkansas | 6-6, 305 | R-FR
Andrew Chamblee redshirted during his true freshman season, but he has already cracked the two-deep and is vying for a starting spot in 2023. While injuries are never a good thing, the silver lining is it does open up opportunities for other players. That is certainly the case for Chamblee, who made the most of the first-team reps he earned at left tackle during fall camp while starter Devon Manuel nursed an injury.
Chamblee is slated to possibly start in Saturday’s season opener against Western Carolina, as the depth chart has him “or” Manuel listed at left tackle. Coming out of Maumelle alongside Davillier in 2022, Chamblee was a four-star prospect and the 18th-best offensive tackle in the country according to 247Sports and had additional offers from Auburn, Florida, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Penn State, Tennessee and others.
10. Layne Hatcher | QB | Ball State | 6-1, 210 | GR-SR
The former Pulaski Academy standout has worn many uniforms throughout his collegiate career. After being part of Alabama’s national runner-up squad in 2018, Layne Hatcher transferred to Arkansas State, where he played from 2019-2021, and then spent last year at Texas State before opting to use his final year of eligibility at Ball State.
Hatcher has passed for more than 2,000 yards in each of the past four seasons, with his best coming in 2019 with Arkansas State when he completed 204 of 310 passes for 2,946 yards and 27 touchdowns. He passed for 2,653 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2022 with Texas State.
A four-year letterwinner for PA, Hatcher helped the Bruins win four consecutive state championships and basically rewrote the state record books. At the time of this publication, Hatcher still ranks at the top in career passing yards (15,583) and touchdowns (185).
9. Dreyden Norwood | DB | Missouri | 6-0, 185 | R-SO
Dreyden Norwood, the top-ranked player from Arkansas in the 2022 class according to ESPN, broke the hearts of Razorback fans when he gave his pledge to Texas A&M in July of 2020. While he is no longer with the Aggies, he will still compete against Arkansas for the remainder of his collegiate career at Missouri, where he transferred following the 2021 season.
Norwood started one game in his first season with the Tigers in 2022, but played in all 13. He made his first career interception, along with 13 tackles, and expects to play a much larger role this year. Coming out of Fort Smith Northside, Norwood was ranked as the 143rd-best prospect in the ESPN 300.
8. Gerry Bohanon | QB | South Florida | 6-3, 225 | SR
“Rollercoaster” would be an appropriate term to describe Gerry Bohanon’s collegiate career. First, the ascent: At Earle, a tiny Northeast Arkansas town along the banks of the Mississippi River, he passed for 11,362 yards and 142 touchdowns, along with an additional 5,925 yards and 70 scores on the ground. He was the top prospect in Arkansas for the 2019 class and signed with Baylor over offers that included Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU.
Then, the descent: Bohanan served mostly as a backup during his first three seasons with the Bears, before rising again in 2021 by starting 12 games and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors while helping Baylor win the Big 12 championship, as well as the Sugar Bowl.
Bohanon transferred to South Florida following that season and was named the starter in fall camp. However, his season ended after seven games because of shoulder surgery. Bohanon expects to be the starter for the Bulls this season. In his career, he has completed 282 of 473 passes for 3,464 yards and 26 touchdowns, plus added 1,000 yards and 15 scores on the ground.
7. Kyle Ferrie | K | Mississippi State | 6-1, 205 | FR
High school kickers normally do not demand attention, but Kyle Ferrie was no ordinary high school kicker. During warmups of the 2021 3A state championship game between Harding Academy and Prescott, media members on the third floor press box at War Memorial Stadium watched in awe as Ferrie consistently connected on field goals of 55 and 60-plus yards.
Fast forward almost two years and Ferrie is arguably the best specialist to ever play Arkansas prep football – a list that includes the likes of former Razorbacks Zach Hocker and Alex Tejada. Ferrie signed with Mississippi State last winter and already earned the starting job for the Bulldogs as a true freshman.
He helped Harding Academy win two state championships and finish as runner-up last year after the Wildcats bumped up to Class 4A. In his career, Ferrie scored 313 points (state record) while connecting on 37 of 50 field goals (74%). Keep in mind that he had multiples attempts of 45-plus yards with a long of 56. He also went 202 of 207 (98%) on extra points. On top of the place kicking, Ferrie averaged 40 yards per kickoff with a long of 75, had 209 touchbacks, averaged 41 yards per punt with a long of 72 (state record) and downed 24 inside the 20-yard line.
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