Hogs Must Be Hoping Lightning Strikes Twice with Harding Academy Linebacker

Wyatt Simmons, Arkansas football, Arkansas recruiting
photo credit: Twitter/Wyatt_Simmons10

Arkansas football picked up another in-state commitment Saturday evening when Wyatt Simmons announced he was staying home.

The three-star linebacker out of Harding Academy in Searcy, Ark., had an impressive offer sheet that included the likes of Auburn, Clemson, Oklahoma, USC and many others, but will instead join the Razorbacks’ 2024 recruiting class.

Although it has notably missed out on a few of them, Arkansas has kept most of its desired in-state targets in the class from leaving the Natural State.

Simmons is the sixth such Natural State product to choose the Razorbacks, joining defensive end Charleston Collins (Little Rock Mills), running back Braylen Russell (Benton), wide receiver Courtney Crutchfield (Pine Bluff), wide receiver CJ Brown (Bentonville) and offensive lineman Kobe Branham (Fort Smith Southside). It’ll be just the second time in the last seven cycles that Arkansas has landed at least six homegrown recruits.

The main in-state targets they failed to reel in were Little Rock Christian quarterback Walker White (Auburn), Valley View linebacker Brian Huff (Missouri) and Bryant defensive end TJ Lindsey (Auburn), who is now at IMG Academy.

Simmons is also the third linebacker in the class. The other two are four-star recruits from within the SEC footprint — Julius Pope from Mississippi and Justin Logan from Georgia.

The trio is part of what is now an 18-man class that is ranked as highly as No. 17 nationally by 247Sports. It checks in at No. 21 on Rivals and No. 24 on On3. The two metrics that combine all of the major recruiting services — the 247Sports Composite and On3 Consensus — each have Arkansas at No. 20.

The Recruitment of Wyatt Simmons

Unless you’re a fan of Harding Academy or an avid follower of small-town high school football in Arkansas, you might not have heard of Wyatt Simmons until May. That’s perfectly understandable because neither had many college coaches.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he played defensive end as a freshman and wide receiver as a sophomore, helping the Wildcats capture back-to-back Class 3A state titles.

Simmons was set to move back to defensive end last season, but Harding Academy’s starting middle linebacker got hurt before the season and he filled in there instead. It proved to be a great move.

As a junior, he racked up 84 tackles, including 15 for loss and six sacks, plus forced two fumbles, intercepted a pass and scored two defensive touchdowns. Now playing in Class 4A, the Wildcats went 12-0 before falling to Malvern in the state championship game.

Despite that production, Simmons was still under the radar. That changed one weekend this spring when he put together a highlight film and published it to the internet. Although at first it didn’t even have his name or contact information, college coaches still found him.

He posted the highlight reel to his Twitter account — which was seemingly created solely for that purpose — on May 9. At the time, Simmons had no offers. That day alone, though, he received offers from SMU, Auburn, UAB, Southern Miss and Arkansas State.

By the end of the month, the number of schools after him grew to 20 and included the likes of Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Illinois, Miami (Fla.), Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas. He’s since added offers from Clemson, USC and Tennessee this summer.

It was a remarkable rise and led to him receiving high three-star ratings from each of the major recruiting services. Even that, however, may sell him short.

“He’s top-five on our board,” one anonymous college coach told FootballScoop in May. “Not top-five at the position. Top-five in the nation in that class for us.”

The Razorbacks got him to officially visit Fayetteville in late June, but it was widely believed that Auburn and Clemson were the teams to beat in his recruitment. After all, Auburn linebackers coach Josh Aldridge played for Simmons’ father at Harding University.

Beyond connecting those dots, though, it’s unclear where that sentiment emerged. Simmons did not do any interviews throughout the process and used his Twitter only to share new offers, so he was mostly a mystery. Even his commitment announcement failed to include the word “committed.”

With his recruitment behind him, Simmons can now focus on his senior season at Harding Academy, which begins Friday against Valley View.

Arkansas Hoping for Déjà Vu

This is not the first time the Razorbacks have landed a big-time recruit from the small private school in Searcy. It also happened in the 2001 class and Arkansas football fans may remember the player: Jeb Huckeba.

The coincidences don’t stop there.

Both of them were/are heavily recruited linebackers. Huckeba was a four-star prospect and top-100 overall prospect, checking in at No. 85 overall in the 247Sports Composite, while Simmons was being pursued by some of the top programs in the country despite his high three-star rating.

On top of that, they are both the son of a former Harding University player-turned-coach.

Huckeba’s father, Ronnie, played for the Bison in the 1970s before returning as an assistant in 1986. He remained on staff until being promoted to head coach in 2007 and eventually led Harding to a GAC title, top-10 national ranking and DII quarterfinal appearance in 2016, his final season before retiring.

Simmons’ father, Paul, starred at Ashdown High — which has since become a pipeline of sorts for Arkansas — before playing at Harding in the early 1990s. He returned to the school as an assistant in 2006 and became the head coach after Huckeba retired, maintaining the Bison’s status as a Division II power.

Sam Pittman is likely hoping the similarities between Huckeba and Simmons continue in Fayetteville.

In four seasons with the Razorbacks, Huckeba racked up 210 tackles, including 33 for loss — a total that ranks 10th in school history. He earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team as a linebacker in 2001 but eventually converted to defensive end, where he earned first-team All-SEC honors as a senior in 2004. That led to him getting selected by the Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

Check out some highlights of new Arkansas football commit Wyatt Simmons:

Arkansas Football Commits in Class of 2024


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