Prodigy turned Prodigal Son Braylen Russell Staunches Bleeding for Arkansas Recruiting

Josh Heupel, Braylen Russell, Arkansas football, Arkansas recruiting
photo credit: Tennessee Athletics / Nick Wenger

For the second time, Braylen Russell has committed to Arkansas football.

The four-star running back from Benton picked the Razorbacks over fellow finalists South Carolina and Tennessee in a ceremony at his high school Friday evening. He is the 15th member of Arkansas’ 2024 recruiting class.

The announcement comes nine months after Russell backed off his original pledge in October, during which he racked up many more Power Five offers and thoroughly explored his options by visiting several of them, but Arkansas stayed after him and managed to reel him back in.

He had previously included Baylor and Texas A&M in a top five released in April, as well as Cincinnati, Kansas, Kansas State, Ole Miss and Purdue in a top 10 released in February.

It is a big get for the Razorbacks, who had been just 1 for 8 with its major recruiting targets so far this month and needed some good news to break out of the slump.

Since July 1, they had seen offensive lineman Jac’Qawn McRoy (Oregon), defensive lineman Alex Foster (Baylor), linebacker D’Angelo Barker (Auburn), cornerback Chris Johnson II (Arizona State), offensive lineman Fletcher Westphal (Florida), defensive lineman Kendall Jackson (Florida) and linebacker Brian Huff (Missouri) commit elsewhere, with four staying in the SEC.

Russell is the second player to pick Arkansas football over that span, joining wide receiver Ashton Bethel-Roman – a top-100 prospect out of Texas who committed on the Fourth of July.

However, the Razorbacks didn’t have to wait long for commitment No. 3 of the month. As expected, cornerback Selman Bridges, a top-50 prospect also from the Lone Star State, announced his pledge to Arkansas football a few minutes later.

Securing two more four-star commitments provide a nice boost to the Razorbacks’ already solid class. They now are now inside the top 20 across the board and ranked as high as No. 14 by 247Sports. The group also checks in at No. 15 in the On3 Consensus, No. 17 in the 247Sports Composite and No. 18 on Rivals.

The Unique Recruitment of Braylen Russell

Braylen Russell has been on Arkansas’ radar since the summer of 2021, when he attended a camp in Fayetteville and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds as a rising sophomore at Hot Springs Lakeside.

That earned him his first offer and he committed a few months later, doing so when he was on an unofficial visit and got swept up in the excitement of a 31-28 win over Mississippi State.

It was an unusually early commitment. At the time, Russell was just the ninth player in the 2024 class to announce his college decision, according to the Rivals database. It was also the Razorbacks’ earliest commitment in at least 20 classes, based on research by Best of Arkansas Sports.

Russell, who transferred to Benton for his junior year, backed off his pledge the day after Arkansas’ blowout loss to, ironically, Mississippi State last year. It’s not particularly common for a recruit to end up with a school from which he had previously de-committed, but Russell is the third to do so with the Razorbacks in recent memory.

In the 2020 class, Memphis native and wide receiver Darin Turner backed off his pledge when Chad Morris was fired, but ended up signing with the Razorbacks when wide receivers coach Justin Stepp was retained by Sam Pittman. The following year, Little Rock Parkview quarterback Landon Rogers opened things back up in the summer, but committed again less than three weeks later.

The most famous – or infamous, depending on who you ask – example of such a move was in the 2006 class. Springdale quarterback Mitch Mustain committed to Arkansas before his senior season, backed off after the Razorbacks went 4-7 and ended up signing with the Razorbacks when his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, was hired as the offensive coordinator.

It’s worth noting that all three of those players ended up transferring, albeit with varying circumstances at play.

Updated Look at 2024 In-State Class

The Razorbacks have now landed five players in the loaded 2024 crop of in-state recruits, as Braylen Russell joins Little Rock Mills defensive end Charleston Collins, Pine Bluff wide receiver Courtney Crutchfield, Bentonville wide receiver CJ Jones and Fort Smith Southside offensive lineman Kobe Branham.

It is a much stronger group than what the Natural State produced a year earlier, when Arkansas signed what is believed to be an all-time low three in-state recruits in Ashdown tight end Shamar Easter, Bentonville offensive lineman Joey Su’a and North Little Rock defensive end Quincy Rhodes Jr.

In fact, when not limiting it to only players pledged to the Razorbacks, the 2024 in-state class is one of the strongest in recent memory. There are already 16 players from Arkansas committed to FBS programs – with 11 of them headed to the Power Five – and that number is only going to grow in the coming months.

PlayerPOSHigh SchoolCollege Commitment
Charleston CollinsDELittle Rock MillsArkansas
Courtney CrutchfieldWRPine BluffArkansas
CJ BrownWRBentonvilleArkansas
Kobe BranhamOLFort Smith SouthsideArkansas
Braylen RussellRBBentonArkansas
Walker WhiteQBLittle Rock ChristianAuburn
Marquaze ParkerDEWest MemphisCincinnati
Drake LindseyQBFayettevilleMinnesota
Brian HuffLBValley ViewMissouri
Chauncey JohnsonOLLonokeOklahoma State
Joseph McVayWREarleVanderbilt
Drake FowlerDBBryantAir Force
Kealen JunielTEMalvernArkansas State
Jalen DupreeRBMalvernColorado State
Lane JeffcoatOLBentonville WestRice
Bryson AdamohDBBryantUNLV

If you include defensive end TJ Lindsey, who is transferring from Bryant to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior year, there are at least seven other in-state prospects with Power Five offers.

  • *Bryant DE TJ Lindsey – many Power Five offers
  • Harding Academy LB Wyatt Simmons – many Power Five offers
  • Gosnell ATH Camron Williams – many Power Five offers
  • Pine Bluff ATH Austyn Dendy – offers from Michigan State, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, Purdue + several G5
  • Malvern OL Vinny Winters – offers from Kansas State, Missouri, UNLV
  • Little Rock Parkview DT Alex Martin – offers from Cincinnati, Kansas State + several G5
  • Lakeside RB Aquavious Dunbar – offers from Vanderbilt, Arkansas State, Liberty, Tulsa, ULM

Even if only five of them ultimately sign with a Power Five school, it would give the state of Arkansas its most such recruits since 2008, when it produced 18. That year, the Razorbacks signed all but three of those players. Among those they did land in 2008 were Tyler Wilson (Greenwood), Joe Adams (Central Arkansas Christian) and the Warren trio of Greg Childs, Chris Gragg and Jarius Wright.

Arkansas Football Commits in Class of 2024


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