After some waffling, Var’Keyes Gumms has decided he does, in fact, want to continue his career with Arkansas football.
The tight end transfer from North Texas initially committed to the Razorbacks at the end of his official visit on April 23, only to back off that pledge just nine days later. Following a trip out west to officially visit California, though, Gumms told 247Sports that he had re-committed to Arkansas.
It was a five-day de-commitment for Gumms, whose two commitments to the Razorbacks were exactly two weeks apart. The first-team All-CUSA tight end was also offered West Virginia, Utah, Colorado and Oregon when he entered the transfer portal on April 15.
Assuming he sticks this time, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end fills a major need for Arkansas, which is now back up to 14 transfers this cycle. That number includes 10 midyear enrollees, plus three others who committed during the semester like Gumms — cornerback Jaheim Singletary from Georgia, defensive tackle Anthony “Tank” Booker Jr. from Maryland and linebacker Jaheim Thomas from Cincinnati.
What makes Gumms somewhat unique is the fact that he previously played at North Texas, a school known by Arkansas football fans for handing the program one of its most embarrassing losses in school history nearly five years ago.
Var’Keyes Gumms at North Texas
Originally from New Orleans, Var’Keyes Gumms went to Dekaney High in Houston, where he was a two-sport standout.
On the hardwood, he was an all-district performer as a junior, averaging a double-double (10.1 points and 11.8 rebounds). His future, though, was on the gridiron — on one side of the ball or the other. He was mainly viewed as a tight end, but he also flashed potential as a defensive end.
LSU and Texas extended early offers, but he battled injuries as a junior and the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out what would have been a crucial summer camp season before his senior year.
That led to him being a three-star recruit on all of the major services, but one with a high ceiling. Gumms ultimately picked North Texas over Houston, despite the latter being in his hometown and in a larger conference. The fact that then-North Texas football coach Seth Littrell coached Rob Gronkowski at Arizona and that he emphasized tight ends played a role in that decision.
It took a year, as he appeared in only three games and played just 10 total snaps (one on offense, nine on special teams) during the 2021 season to maintain his redshirt, but Gumms eventually showed why he garnered early attention from the likes of the Longhorns and Tigers.
He was one of the best young tight ends in the country last season, breaking North Texas single-season records for receptions (34) and receiving yards (458) by a tight end. His five touchdown catches were one shy of tying the school record.
Pro Football Focus gave him a 71.9 overall grade on 444 offensive snaps and he earned first-team All-CUSA honors from the league’s coaches. The Athletic and College Football News named him a second-team Freshman All-American.
That kind of production made Gumms a prime candidate to hit the transfer portal and pursue better opportunities, especially after North Texas fired Littrell, but he originally chose to stick around and play for new head coach Eric Morris. He discussed that decision in an interview with the Mean Green Show on Dec. 20.
“I can feel the energy…when he goes out to the public and even when he came in for the talk with us,” Gumms said. “I felt the energy that he was going to bring and I feel like he was a great fit for here, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m staying.’ I trust what he’s going to do and I trust that who he’s going to bring in is going to produce and change this thing around and get stuff started around here at North Texas.”
As the Mean Green prepared to begin spring practice, Morris talked about Gumms being a key piece to what he hoped to do offensively.
“Gumms is perfect for what we want to do and is someone we can keep on the field,” Morris said before spring drills began. “He is skilled enough to play wideout and is strong enough to play in the core as a tight end.”
However, just a few minutes after tight ends coach Chris Gilbert talked about him being part of North Texas’ plans on March 23, Gumms announced his intent to enter the transfer portal when the spring window opened April 15.
It was a situation reminiscent of a couple of former Arkansas football players.
Defensive end Jordan Domineck announced he would return for his super senior season with the Razorbacks only to change his mind about a month later and enter the transfer portal. He ended up landing with Colorado.
Then, as Arkansas was about to begin prep for the Liberty Bowl, Sam Pittman told reporters that he expected wide receiver Ketron Jackson Jr. to slide into the slot as a replacement for Jaden Haselwood, only for him to pop up in the transfer portal about 24 hours later. He has since transferred to Baylor.
What it Means for Arkansas Football
Sam Pittman was never shy about his desire to add a tight end from the transfer portal this offseason. It was a position of emphasis in the 2023 recruiting class, as evidenced by them taking three four-star tight end commitments, and the way everything has played out made it even more important.
Tight ends coach Dowell Loggains left to become the offensive coordinator at South Carolina, which caused the first few ripple effects. Trey Knox decided to hit the transfer portal and ended up following Loggains. He tried to get commit Shamar Easter to do the same, but he stuck with Arkansas — as did Luke Hasz, despite a late push from Alabama. However, Jaden Hamm did flip to Kansas in the fallout.
The need for a tight end from the transfer portal increased even more when offensive coordinator Kendal Briles left for the same job at TCU and Pittman brought in Dan Enos as his replacement. He runs a more pro-style offense that not only uses the tight end more in the passing game, but also utilizes 12- and 13-personnel formations that require two and three tight ends, respectively, on the field at the same time.
Arkansas hosted a couple of transfer tight ends in January, but wasn’t able to reel either of them in. Interestingly, its first target was another North Texas transfer: Jake Roberts. He picked Baylor instead and Notre Dame transfer Cane Berrong transferred to Coastal Carolina.
Even with Nathan Bax returning as a super senior and Hasz emerging as a potential starter as a true freshman over spring ball, Pittman maintained that he’d like to add a veteran tight end to the group.
Var’Keyes Gumms doesn’t necessarily fit the traditional definition of that because he’ll be just a redshirt sophomore in 2023, but he has played nearly twice as many snaps of college football than Arkansas’ entire tight end room combined.
Considering all of the factors laid out above, Gumms should be an immediate contributor – if not starter – when he arrives on campus.
The coaches seem to really like Hasz, who has proven to be a serious threat in the passing game, but he’s still a little light and might not be able to handle the blocking aspect of things right out of the gate. Bax is probably better equipped in that area, but he presents little to no threat through the air. Redshirt freshman Ty Washington is also expected to factor in and Easter will join the team this summer, but Gumms might provide the best of both worlds from the jump.
Being able to reel him in was big for Arkansas because there aren’t exactly a lot of other great options at tight end in the portal. The Razorbacks did offer Seydou Traore, who re-entered the portal following a spring at Colorado after transferring there from Arkansas State, but he is smaller than Gumms and would have been a similar type of tight end as Hasz and Easter.
It’s also worth noting that even with Var’Keyes Gumms, the Razorbacks are still at only 79 scholarship players for 2023, according to Best of Arkansas Sports’ tracker. That means they can still add six more players from the transfer portal. Defensive tackle, defensive back and wide receiver are believed to be the top remaining priorities.
Get to know new Arkansas football transfer portal commit Var’Keyes Gumms:
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…