Arkansas once again finds itself in a recruiting battle with longtime rival Texas, this time for a potential flip in the upcoming 2023 class.
The Longhorns pulled out a late win on the hardwood by landing five-star forward Ron Holland, but the Razorbacks are hoping for a better outcome on the gridiron, as both schools are now going after West Virginia commit Justin Benton.
Making the trip from Covington, Ga., where he attends Newton High School, the high three-star defensive tackle was in Fayetteville for an official visit last weekend and head coach Sam Pittman got to sell him on the idea of playing at Arkansas.
“The greatest part of the visit was Coach Pittman, just the kind of person he is,” Benton said. “You can tell while sitting down and talking with him before the game how genuine he was and how genuine he felt about me as a prospect, being a guy they’re trying to finish the 2023 class and they thought highly enough of me to bring me on an official visit and show me Arkansas and show me what they have to offer.”
It was a weekend that Arkansas football fans would probably like to forget because the Razorbacks lost to No. 23 Liberty 21-19 on homecoming, but it was a memorable experience for Benton.
Not only did the 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle get to talk to Arkansas’ coaches, but he also got an up-close look at what it’s like to play a game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“Just how everybody loves Arkansas football in Arkansas, you could just tell when the players were coming onto the field,” Benton said. “The atmosphere around the stadium, who wouldn’t want to play in that? Everybody loves the football team.”
Although he’s been committed to the Mountaineers since the middle of June, Benton hasn’t yet made his final decision. He plans to use another official visit to check out Texas, which extended an offer a few days after Arkansas last month, and then make up his mind in the next couple of weeks.
Benton has already announced that he’ll graduate high school in December. That means he’ll sign during the early signing period, which is Dec. 21-23, and enroll at whichever school he picks in time to go through spring ball in a few months.
Arkansas Baseball’s Top-Ranked Class
The early signing period for all sports other than football actually opened up Wednesday. No coach on campus — and arguably anywhere else — has a class quite like what Dave Van Horn has put together for 2023.
Best of Arkansas Sports first wrote about the group back in August, but the Razorbacks have since added two more top-100 recruits to give them 12 total in the class. That is by far the most in the country, with Vanderbilt and UCLA tied for second with seven.
Making that total even more incredible is the fact that only one of those 12 — Ty Waid from Texarkana — is an in-state prospect. The remaining 11 are from California (2), Missouri (2), Texas (2), Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina and Wisconsin.
“I think that good players want to play with good players and they want to feel like they are going to a program that can win and win big,” Van Horn said. “We have had some good years, guys saw where some guys were coming to play here and wanted to jump in.
“We got in the middle of it and got them on campus and with the facilities that we have and all we have to offer here, the fan base and support, I think it added up to be the right choice for a lot of them.”
Perfect Game and Baseball America have each declared Arkansas’ 23-man class as the top in the country, which is the first time the Razorbacks have ever had a No. 1 ranked class in the big three sports during the recruiting rankings era.
The class is headlined by Aidan Miller, an infielder from Florida who is ranked No. 3 overall by Prep Baseball Report and No. 4 overall by Perfect Game. Of course, actually getting him — and the other talented players in the class — to campus is a challenge because they’re eligible for the 2023 MLB Draft and could choose to skip school.
Miller was recently tabbed the eighth-best prospect in the upcoming draft, a list that also includes college players, by Perfect Game. He won’t be the only player Van Horn is sweating out next July.
“The future is bright and we know we are going to lose some of these guys, but you can’t get them (to school) if you don’t get them (in recruiting), so you have got to try and get them and see what they do,” Van Horn said. “If they get here, it could be really special.”
Signing Day for Other Arkansas Sports
They don’t get as much attention as the big three sports, but Arkansas has also announced the signing of several other players in the other sports on campus. Here are a few nuggets you may have missed:
- It’s a small group, but all four players Arkansas softball signed in the 2023 class are among the top-100 recruits in the country, according to Extra Inning Softball: catcher/utility Kylie Brockman (No. 19), infielder/utility Jayden Wells (No. 27), pitcher/utility Kasey Wood (No. 36) and catcher/infielder Kennedy Miller (No. 57). Wells and Wood are in-state prospects from Paris and Bentonville, respectively.
- Mike Neighbors signed a pair of players for the women’s basketball team. Forward Jenna Lawrence is the headliner, considering she’s an in-state player now at Farmington and No. 61 overall in the class on ESPN. The other is guard Maryn Archer from Derby, Kan., who is actually graduating in December and will be a midyear enrollee.
- Arkansas gymnastics signed four athletes: Hailey Klein, Priscilla Park, Dakota Essenpries and Chandler Buntin. The top gymnast out of that group is Park, who is the highest-ranked four-star in the class, according to CollegeGymNews.com.
- The biggest class, in terms of sheer size, outside of baseball belonged to Colby Hale and the soccer program, which signed 13 players. Most notably, the Razorbacks signed Kate Carter from Bentonville, who was the 2022 Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year and a high school All-American.
- Of the five players the Arkansas volleyball team signed, three of them — Lily Dudley, Logan Jones and Ava Roth — were named honorable mention All-Americans by the AVCA following their season seasons. The Razorbacks’ other two signees are Aniya Madkin and Olivia Ruy.
- The men’s golf team signed a trio that included in-state prospect Thomas Curry, who won the 2022 Arkansas Junior Amateur. He is from Texarkana, Ark., but attends Texas High on the Texas side of the border town. The Razorbacks also signed Rex Hargrove from Houston and John Driscoll III, a transfer from Northwestern.
- The only women’s golfer Arkansas inked Wednesday was Maria Jose Marin Negrete. The Colombia native is ranked No. 64 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and No. 22 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Other Arkansas Recruiting Nuggets
- In his final regular-season high school game, Arkansas defensive tackle commit Stephen Johnson was a dominant force, racking up 14 tackles — including two tackles for loss and a sack — and forcing a fumble. His team, Whitewater High in Fayetteville, Ga., needed every bit of that to pull out a 14-6 win over Starr’s Mill. The win clinched the Wildcats a spot in the playoffs, where they’ll take on Benedictine in the first round of Georgia’s Class 4A playoffs on Friday.
- Arkansas four-star cornerback commit Jaylon Braxton also had a memorable final regular-season game, blocking a field goal in Frisco Lone Star’s 37-7 win over Frisco Heritage last Thursday. The Rangers will now take on Richland in the first round of Texas’ Class 5A-DI playoffs on Friday.
- Landing top-100 prospect Kavion Henderson, a defensive end in the 2024 class, on Sunday softened the blow, but the Razorbacks did lose out on another Alabama product, as 2023 four-star offensive lineman Vysen Lang committed to Tennessee on Tuesday. The Razorbacks had long been thought to be the leader, but that changed in the last few weeks, so it wasn’t a particularly big surprise.
- Among the recruits on campus for last weekend’s loss to Liberty was Colton Yarbrough, a Class of 2026 athlete from Durant, Okla. Despite being just a freshman, he already has offers from Arkansas, Miami (Fla.) and Michigan State.
- Another visitor was Liam Evans, who is ranked as the No. 10 kicker in the 2024 class by Kohl’s Kicking. Interestingly, he’s from Moore, Okla. — the same hometown as current Arkansas kicker Cam Little.
- A pair of top 2024 targets will be in Fayetteville for unofficial visits during the LSU game: four-star offensive lineman Max Anderson from Reedy High in Frisco, Texas, and four-star quarterback Josh Flowers from Baker High in Mobile, Ala.
- Ninth-grade phenom Kane Archer came off the bench and nearly led Greenwood to yet another a huge comeback, completing 10 of 13 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns, plus adding another 45 yards and a score on five carries, all in the second half. After trailing Little Rock Christian 40-14 in the third quarter, he managed to pull the Bulldogs within 43-35 late in the fourth before falling 49-35. Little Rock Christian junior Walker White, a four-star recruit in the 2024 class, accounted for 339 yards and four touchdowns.
- Major Arkansas basketball targets Baye Fall and Assane Diop, five- and four-star big men, respectively, are set to announce their college decisions at 5:30 p.m. CT Tuesday. Fall is also considering Auburn, Rutgers and Seton Hall, while Diop is also considering Colorado and Seton Hall.
More coverage of Arkansas recruiting from BoAS…