Arkansas football reached into some unusual recruiting territory and beat out an impressive list of schools to land Tay Lockett as its first 2026 commitment Thursday evening.
The heralded sophomore is from the San Diego area and transferred to national powerhouse St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., for his sophomore year.
A two-way standout, Lockett is likely capable of playing wide receiver or defensive back at the next level, but the latter is believed to be his better position and where he earned first-team Freshman All-America honors from MaxPreps last year.
He chose the Razorbacks over a slew of other schools, as he already has nearly 40 offers — including from the likes of Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon and USC.
Considering its proximity and prestige, USC football was believed to be the leader for Lockett’s services in these early stages of his recruitment. According to On3’s “Recruiting Prediction Machine,” he had a 33.9% chance to pick the Trojans – with Arkansas right behind them at 20.1%.
Not only is he in Lincoln Riley’s backyard, but Lockett also has a great relationship with USC defensive backs coach Donte Williams, who he’s known since he was in the eighth grade.
The Trojans have also been recruiting exceptionally well, putting together a top-10 class in 2023, and are coming off an 11-win season in which they came within a game of making the College Football Playoffs.
However, the Razorbacks have ties working in their favor, as well. His mother is originally from Little Rock and he still has a lot of family living in central Arkansas. Throw in two visits to Fayetteville this spring and it was enough for him to feel comfortable with pulling an early trigger with his pledge.
And it is definitely an early pledge. It is just August of his sophomore year, making it the earliest commitment the Razorbacks have received over a span of at least 26 classes – just edging 2024 running back Braylen Russell’s original pledge in November of his sophomore year.
According to both Rivals and 247Sports, Lockett is just the ninth player in the 2026 class to announce a college decision. The others are committed to Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina, Miami (the Hurricanes actually have two) and USC.
As for Arkansas, it now has three players committed in future classes, with a pair of in-state prospects — Central Arkansas Christian quarterback Grayson Wilson and Bauxite safety Marcus Wimberly — pledged for 2025.
The current class, which is for 2024, features 18 players and is ranked anywhere from No. 17 by 247Sports to No. 24 by On3.
What Arkansas is Getting in Tay Lockett
It’s hard to know exactly how a player will turn out when he’s just a sophomore in high school, but most experts – and college coaches, as evidenced by his offer sheet – believe Tay Lockett will be pretty good.
After all, as a freshman playing at San Diego University City High, he racked up 92 tackles, nine pass breakups and a whopping seven interceptions. He also forced three fumbles and recovered five, plus returned nine punts for 189 yards – a 21-yard average.
Most recruiting services have only just begun looking at the 2026 class, but Prep Redzone ranks him as the top overall player in California for that class.
However, Lockett (5-11, 175) was not one of eight Californians included in 247Sports’ initial top-100 ranking for the 2026 class that was released earlier this month. That said, he was certainly considered.
Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, wrote that he was one of 11 players from the state who just missed the cut.
“He’s one of the most instinctive young players I’ve seen and has a great natural feel for the game,” Biggins wrote. “In terms of his long term upside, Lockett is a little undersized so he needs to continue to improve athletically. … He’s a guy who we know will be very good at the college level and his ability to play beyond that will be determined by where his body is at down the road.”
Even if Lockett ends up as “only” one of the top 20 or so players in California, that should still have him comfortably among the top 200 recruits in the country. If he can climb into the top 10, he’d likely crack the top 100.
He’ll certainly get a chance to prove his abilities now that he’s playing for St. John Bosco. The Braves are coming off a season in which they were ranked No. 1 nationally by MaxPreps and are currently No. 3 in the national rankings.
Arkansas football fans will get a chance to watch him in action this Saturday, when St. John Bosco travels to Florida to face fellow national power St. Thomas Aquinas, which is ranked No. 9. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
Other games on the Braves’ schedule include a non-league matchup with No. 12 St. Frances Academy from Baltimore and a conference showdown with No. 1 Mater Dei. They’ll also be traveling to Hawaii to face Kahuku High.
The Rarity of Razorbacks Recruiting California
Needless to say, it is extremely rare for Arkansas football to go into California and land a high school recruit.
There are several examples of the Razorbacks recruiting the junior colleges out west, including recent players Taylor Lewis and Dorian Gerald.
It will have been more than a decade, though, since they signed a high school prospect from California when Tay Lockett officially signs in 2026 — barring any other commitments in the 2024 and 2025 classes.
The last such player was punter Blake Johnson from Los Alamitos, Calif., in the 2015 class. You have to go all the way back to 1998 to find the last time Arkansas signed a non-specialist from the state. That was Rancho Cucamonga product Jermaine Brooks, who came to Fayetteville as a defensive end before moving to defensive tackle and having a brief stint in the NFL.
Prior to that, according to research by the UA, Arkansas’ last high school signees from California were during the Lou Holtz era. He signed four players – offensive lineman Frank Kalil (1977), offensive lineman Steve Green (1979), kicker Steve Baaden (1981) and kicker Ernie Villarreal (1982) – over a five-year period.
Check out some highlights of new Arkansas football commit Tay Lockett:
Arkansas Football Commits
Class of 2024
- DE Kavion Henderson — Leeds (Ala.) — Nov. 6, 2022
- DT Dion Stutts — Memphis (Tenn.) University School — March 11, 2023
- NOTE: Stutts tragically died in an ATV accident on June 13.
- ATH JuJu Pope — Batesville (Miss.) South Panola — April 8, 2023
- QB KJ Jackson — Montgomery (Ala.) St. James — April 9, 2023
- CB Jaden Allen — Aledo (Texas) — April 21, 2023
- DE Charleston Collins — Little Rock (Ark.) Mills — April 21, 2023
- WR Courtney Crutchfield — Pine Bluff (Ark.) — April 21, 2023
- CB Tevis Metcalf — Birmingham (Ala.) Parker — April 22, 2023
- ATH Jadan Baugh — Decatur (Ga.) Columbia — May 19, 2023
- ATH Ahkhari Johnson — Texarkana (Texas) Pleasant Grove — June 14, 2023
- WR CJ Brown — Bentonville (Ark.) — June 15, 2023
- OL Kobe Branham – Fort Smith (Ark.) Southside – June 26, 2023
- OL Zuri Madison — Lexington (Ky.) Frederick Douglass — June 27, 2023
- WR Ashton Bethel-Roman — Missouri City (Texas) Ridge Point — July 4, 2023
- RB Braylen Russell – Benton (Ark.) – July 14, 2023
- CB Selman Bridges – Temple (Texas) Lake Belton – July 14, 2023
- S Jeremy Cook – Hoover (Ala.) – July 31, 2023
- LB Justin Logan – Marietta (Ga.) Kell – Aug. 2, 2023
- LB Wyatt Simmons – Searcy (Ark.) Harding Academy – Aug. 19, 2023
Class of 2025
- QB Grayson Wilson – Central Arkansas Christian
- S Marcus Wimberly – Bauxite (Ark.)
Class of 2026
- DB Tay Lockett – Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
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