“It Kind of Feels Like Back in the Houston Nutt Days”: Arkansas Football Recruiting Sets All-Time High

Courtney Crutchfield, Houston Nutt, Arkansas football, Arkansas recruiting
photo credit: PBHS Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

Arkansas football fans have seen plenty of good in the last few offseasons that didn’t quite pan out come fall.

Malik Hornsby, for instance, looked like a more than serviceable quarterback, and then a potential game-changer as wide receiver, during last year’s spring practice. Fast forward to November, though, and fans were pulling their hair out as Hornsby failed to live up to the promise when thrust into the spotlight. Trey Knox, too, looked like he could burst out as an All-SEC tight end. After a hot start in the 2022 season, though, those hopes fizzled as well.

Nothing, however, has gotten fans’ hopes up more than the prospect of seeing the Razorbacks end up in the Top 10 on either the football field and/or recruiting front. In each of the last two seasons, the Arkansas has ascended into the Top 10 early in the fall, getting as high as No. 8 in the AP poll in 2022 and No. 10 in 2023.

Then the heart of the SEC season struck, and Arkansas was knocked from its oh-so-momentary pedestal.

The same dynamic has played out in recruiting circles in recent seasons.

First, there was what in retrospect turned out to be the height of the Chad Morris era, when Morris’ class of 2019 at one point broke into the Top 10 behind the likes of Knox, Jalen Catalon, Treylon Burks and KJ Jefferson.

During last year’s cycle. Arkansas again broke into the national Top 10 247Sports composite recruiting rankings. Indeed, over at Rivals, they even briefly, gloriously touched the sun by breaking into the Top 3 before falling back down to earth in the following months:

That early April 2022 surge was in large part due to Arkansas having 10 commits at that point, which was second in the nation only to Texas Tech at the time.

By the time the dust cleared on the 2023 signing class, Arkansas stood at No. 22 in the 247Sports Composite, which was still the highest of the Sam Pittman era so far, as you can see below.

Arkansas Recruiting Breaks New Record

Now, Pittman is on pace to set another high and finish even higher in the 2024 recruiting cycle. After a flurry of four-star commitments late last week, Arkansas is now ranked No. 13 nationally in the 247Sports Composite. It has more four-star commits than Clemson, Alabama and Florida and just as many as Penn State, Georgia and Notre Dame. (Sure, Alabama, Notre Dame, Georgia and Florida all have more five-stars but, hey, you got to start somewhere.)

The recent additions of Jaden Allen, Charleston Collins and Courtney Crutchfield have elevated Arkansas’ average player rating to 89.66, which is the Arkansas football program’s highest in the modern recruiting era, according to data from 247Sports. They bolster a class that includes a few Alabama natives who have chosen Arkansas over Auburn and/or Alabama, most notably Kavion Henderson who was at one time the No. 1 recruit in Alabama.

Along with Tevis Metcalf and KJ Jackson, Arkansas now has at least three Alabama native commits for the second straight year. That’s significant because this may be the longest sustained recruiting success the program has ever had in the backyard of the Crimson Tide and the Tigers and may indicate that Pittman and his staff are on the cusp of more recruiting breakthroughs.

Before the recent trio of Alabama natives brought in with the class of 2023, the last time Arkansas brought in three players from Alabama in the same class was 1996, when it signed linebacker Quinton Caver (Anniston High), running back Chrys Chukwuma (Sidney Lamar High in Montgomery) and linebacker Jamel Harris (Wicksburg High in Newton; recently hired as head coach of Geneva High, Ala.).

Relatively Heady Days Under Houston Nutts

All three of the above played big roles in the successful first two seasons under former Hogs head coach Houston Nutt that included a share of the 1998 SEC West division crown.

Nutt was able to use that early success, coupled with a dynamic personality that hadn’t quite rubbed many fans wrong, to set the high-mark in Arkansas recruiting in the modern era. With five-star headliner Ahmad Carroll and a star-studded in-state cohort including De’Arrius Howard, Shawn Andrews and Matt Jones, Nutt signed a class in 2001 that ranked No. 9 in the nation. Never mind the Top 10 status; that class remains Arkansas’ only of the modern recruiting era Arkansas that even finished in the Top 15.

But the unusually deep pool of in-state talent of this class of 2024 is helping Arkansas flirt with the possibility of another top 15 class. Michael Williams, Crutchfield’s coach at Pine Bluff High is an Arkansas native and long-time Razorback fan, sees the recent commitments as a “huge statement” on the part of Pittman and a staff full of hungry younger assistants.

“It kind of feels like back in the Houston Nutt days when we were something to reckon with,” Crutchfield told The Athletic’s Grace Raynor. “I think by them making this statement, (the current staff is) letting everybody know football is about to be back in Arkansas.”

Williams coached much of the last couple decades in Texas and he’s never doubted the efforts of Razorback coaches there. But this is different. “Being in Texas the last 20 years, I’ve seen Arkansas come there a lot, but I’ve just never really seen them recruit Arkansas like that,” Williams told Rayor. “But I think they’re making a special commitment (to in-state prospects).”

Of course, it’s also easy to look at these lofty numbers, shrug your shoulders and say: “Get back with me when the digital ink’s dried on those NLIs.”

The hot start this time around, however, may be more than the glitter of fool’s gold.

This time last year, Arkansas was essentially padding its numbers in the 247Sports Composite and Rivals by having more commits than most anybody else. So, in those rankings, a team with 12 3-star commits will chime in higher than a team with 5 4-star commits, even though the latter is probably a better class.

But this year’s different. The Hogs are more in the middle of the pack when it comes to number of verbal commits and they are still doing well according to On3, which alone among the major recruiting rankings attempts to weigh the fact that classes have varying sizes at this point and uses the current national average of commits (which is 6 right now) to calculate its rankings.

Indeed, on On3, Arkansas also retains a Top 15 class by coming in at No. 15 exactly. It speaks to the disgusting riches of the SEC that this is still middle of the pack of the conference, but sneaking ahead of Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Ole Miss is no small feat at this stage of the game.

Raynor also spoke with KJ Jackson for her recent article on Arkansas recruiting here. Read the rest of her piece on The Athletic here.

2024 Arkansas Football Recruiting Class

Here’s a list of the Razorbacks’ current commitments in the Class of 2024…

Other Razorback Recruiting Targets

Below are some top remaining in-state Arkansas football prospects in the class of 2024. Braylen Russell, who initially pledged to the Hogs but then retracted that commitment, could yet still land with Arkansas. His announcement is scheduled for July 14.

4-star RB Braylen Russell (Benton, AR)

National- Top 300

RB- Top 25

AR- No. 4 on 247Sports

“Ran for 1,643 yards and 26 TDs on 6.8 yards per carry as a junior, while catching 22 passes for 224 yards and 1 TD. Averaged 155.6 yards from scrimmage per game for a Benton team that went 9-3 and reached the Arkansas 6A state semifinals” – 247Sports’ Gabe Brooks

3-star WR CJ Brown (Bentonville, AR)

WR- Top 100

AR- No. 7 on 247Sports

3-star DL TJ Lindsey (Bryant, AR)

National- Top 500

DL- Top 50

AR- No. 6 on 247Sports

Below are some of the top out-of-state prospects:

5-star S KJ Bolden (Burford, GA)

National- Top 10

Safety- #1

GA- Top 3

4-star WR Parker Livingstone (Lovejoy, TX)

National- Top 300

WR- Top 40

TX- Top 50

4-star CB Chris Johnson Jr. (Aledo, TX)

CB- Top 35

TX- Top 75

4-star S Ka’Davion Dotson (Duncanville, TX)

National- Top 250

S- Top 20

TX- Top 50

4-star ATH Ondre Evans (Nashville, TN)

ATH- Top 35

TN- Top 10

3-star ATH Mekhal White (King George, VA)

National- Top 500

ATH- Top 50

VA- Top 10

3-star LB D’Angelo Barber (Pinson, AL)

National- Top 500

LB- Top 50

AL- Top 25

Recruiting list contributed by Jace Dunegan

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