It has been more than 16 years since Arkansas football last beat Alabama on the field, but it has now gone head-to-head with Nick Saban on the recruiting trail and come out on top twice this cycle.
The Razorbacks’ latest win is four-star athlete JuJu Pope from Mississippi, as he picked them over the Crimson Tide, Michigan, Louisville and Oregon.
A two-way standout at South Panola High in Batesville, Miss., he is the fourth member of Arkansas’ 2024 recruiting class — and the second it had to battle Alabama to land.
Defensive end Kavion Henderson, a four-star prospect from Leeds, Ala., had the Crimson Tide in his top five, but picked the Razorbacks despite his grandfather being a huge Alabama fan and growing up just an hour away from Tuscaloosa.
The four-man group is currently ranked 17th nationally by On3, which factors in the varying sizes of classes at this point in the process.
The Recruitment of JuJu Pope
When the calendar flipped to 2023, JuJu Pope was still relatively unknown on the recruiting trail. He had no offers and the various recruiting services had not given him a star rating.
However, that quickly changed when one man — Nick Saban — got a look at his tape and made the trek to South Panola High to personally invite him to junior day. He performed well and earned an offer, his first, from the Crimson Tide on Jan. 28.
In the two weeks that followed, Michigan, Arkansas, Louisville and Oregon also offered. The Razorbacks did so before even having him on campus, but he did make the trip to Fayetteville for Prospect Day on March 4.
Co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson’s extensive ties to the Magnolia State played a huge role in Arkansas winning out — just as they did with Noreel White out of St. Martin in Ocean Springs, Miss.
As he blew up with major offers, the recruiting services responded accordingly. Rivals and 247Sports each gave him a four-star rating and On3 made him a high three-star with an 89 rating – just shy of four-star status. He landed at No. 215 in the Rivals250 and checks in at No. 338 overall in the 247Sports Composite.
Where Pope ends up playing at Arkansas is still up in the air. He told Rivals that the Razorbacks aren’t recruiting him for one side of the ball or the other and his commitment graphic from the UA lists his position as “athlete.”
That’s how he’s listed on Rivals and 247Sports, but the latter ranks him with the linebackers. On3 lists him as a linebacker, as well. However, there is speculation that he may end up in the secondary if he sticks on defense. He is also a talented running back.
Pope tagged all three of those position coaches – running backs coach Jimmy Smith, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Travis Williams and Woodson – in the tweet announcing his commitment.
In high school, he is a running back and outside linebacker, producing at a high level at both spots for the Tigers.
As a sophomore, Pope ran for 398 yards and five touchdowns on 60 carries, an average of 6.6 yards per carry, and racked up 59 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 8 pass breakups and 1 interception.
His numbers were even better as a junior. Despite getting less carries, he had more touchdowns and yards at running back, finishing with 490 yards and eight touchdowns on 41 carries for an average of 12.0 yards per carry. Defensively, he made 82 tackles, including 19 tackles for loss and 9 sacks, plus notched 10 quarterback hurries, 9 pass breakups, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles.
Many experts predict Pope will end up on the defensive side of the ball in college, but it’s unknown if that’ll be at linebacker or in the secondary.
“His versatility makes him an intriguing prospect, and he likely projects best on the defensive side at linebacker or in a hybrid role where he can put his instincts and range on full display,” wrote Rivals’ Cole Patterson.
Arkansas Football Makes Push Into Mississippi
Assuming at least one of them stick, Noreel White and JuJu Pope would give the Razorbacks back-to-back classes with a signee from Mississippi. They signed linebacker Alex Sanford in the 2023 class.
Arkansas had landed only one high school recruit from the state in the previous six classes — quarterback KJ Jefferson in 2019 — and just two in the previous 10, with the other being tight end Grayson Gunter in 2016.
Jefferson actually went to high school at North Panola in Sardis, Miss., which is just 9 miles up the road from South Panola, where Pope goes to school.
While he didn’t get to Fayetteville in time to influence Sanford’s decision, it’s impossible to ignore the impact Marcus Woodson had on White and Pope.
The Razorbacks’ new co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach is from Moss Point, Miss., and played safety at Ole Miss before breaking into the coaching ranks at Millsaps College in Jackson. One reason Sam Pittman hired him was his recruiting prowess, which includes using his ties in Mississippi to his advantage.
Since his arrival, Arkansas has also hosted and/or offered five-star defensive end Kamarion Franklin from Lake Cormorant, four-star defensive tackle Terrance Hibbler from Lexington, four-star defensive back PJ Woodland from Hattiesburg, four-star linebacker Jamonta Waller from Picayune and several others from the Magnolia State.
Check out some highlights of new Arkansas football commit JuJu Pope:
2024 Arkansas Recruiting Class
Here’s a list of the Razorbacks’ current commitments in the Class of 2024…
- DE Kavion Henderson — Leeds (Ala.) — Nov. 6, 2022
- DT Dion Stutts — Memphis (Tenn.) University School — March 11, 2023
- ATH Noreel White — Ocean Springs (Miss.) St. Martin — March 13, 2023
- ATH JuJu Pope — Batesville (Miss.) South Panola — April 8, 2023
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