Last October, Braylen Russell, one of the best players in prep Arkansas football, decommitted from the Razorbacks after pledging the previous winter as only a sophomore.
Russell seemed like every ounce of a die-hard Razorback fan growing up and through the early part of the recruiting process, but backed away from his commitment following a three-game losing streak and blowout loss to Mississippi State. Russell had picked up a few offers from other big programs like Ole Miss and Tennessee and was interested in going on trips to those places to see what they had to offer. He was still only a junior, after all.
After exploring his options, the young running back out of Benton eventually came back into the fold for his home state flagship program, recommitting to Arkansas this past July after choosing Arkansas over South Carolina and Tennessee. It was a case of the temporarily prodigal son choosing to come home.
Now, Arkansas football fans hope history will repeat itself after the recent decommitment of Courtney Crutchfield, formerly one of the crown jewels of an Arkansas recruiting class of 2024 that was flirting with national Top 20 status.
Crutchfield, an electrifying 6-foot-2 wide receiver, is ranked by 247Sports as the state’s No. 1 recruit. This past Saturday, two weeks after an ugly 7-3 loss to Mississippi State and moments before kickoff against Florida, he announced he was re-opening his recruitment. “You get one recruitment process and I want to take the time to carefully consider all of my options without restriction,” the Pine Bluff native Tweeted. “I have the utmost respect for the Arkansas staff and appreciate them for everything.”
Today, in his first X (formerly known as Twitter) mention of a school since the decommitment, he broadcast some love for West Virginia:
However, most recruiting analysts believe it’s Missouri football that’s now the front-runner to sign Crutchfield when the early signing period for football begins on Dec. 20. 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong has him as a 100% crystal ball prediction to the Tigers. When it comes to Arkansas recruiting reporters, however, the opinions on how likely it is that Crutchfield would pull a Braylon Russell are divided.
Courtney Crutchfield Opinions
On Sunday, Pig Trail Nation’s Otis Kirk said he feels like Missouri “probably has the inside track” for Crutchfield because, in part, fellow Pine Bluff High football player Austyn Dendy committed to the Tigers in October. Crutchfield also has another former teammate in Jordon Harris who now plays for the Tigers in Columbia. “I look for Missouri to land him,” Kirk said on his Arkansas recruiting feature.
Since Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz grew up in Alma and attended Arkansas Tech, he’s usually a threat to land recruits from the state and had already done so this summer when he got the commitment of standout linebacker Brian Huff from Jonesboro.
HawgSports’ Danny West doesn’t see Crutchfield coming back to Arkansas since there are only six weeks to go until early signing period. That’s a lot shorter timeline to kick the tires on other schools than it was for Russell, who decommitted about 14 months before his class’ early signing period.
The vibes West is getting more resemble those around the recruiting situation with Joshua Frazier played out in 2013. Frazier, a star defensive tackle with Springdale Har-Ber, waited until almost right after a late-season loss to Mississippi State (yes, that school again) to announce he was choosing Alabama over Arkansas among others.
“I don’t have super high expectations of Arkansas’ chances of getting this one back on board,” West said Wednesday on Hit That Line. “I just think Missouri is making a really, really strong case for it and Arkansas may be up against it on this one.”
The Arkansas Recruiting Dissenter
However, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Richard Davenport isn’t so pessimistic.
For one, he puts stock in Courtney Crutchfield having grown up an Arkansas football fan and wanting to play for the Razorbacks. He’s always enjoyed his visits to Fayetteville.
“Arkansas has down-to-earth coaches,” he told Best of Arkansas Sports in the summer. “They get me. Coach Pittman is funny when we have FaceTime. They all know who I am.”
No doubt, the lack of certainty around who exactly will be on staff next season became a bigger issue as the Razorbacks’ losing streak mounted. However, as of this week, things appear trending back in favor of Arkansas since new interim coordinator Kenny Guiton was a hit in his first game as OC against Florida.
So much so, Davenport pointed out, that after that Florida win, Crutchfield talked to the Arkansas coaches and plans to visit for the home game this Saturday afternoon vs Auburn.
“I just tend to think that he’s always wanted to be a Razorback and just tend to think that if things go well with him in Arkansas, that he’ll be back in the fall,” Davenport said Wednesday on Hit That Line.
“At the end of the day if Arkansas continues to recruit him hard and shows him love, I think he’ll be a Razorback.”
Even if that does end up happening, there’s no doubt this is a less than great look.
Arkansas Football Perception
“I think it hurts your perception, which we know can be a real deal in recruiting,” Danny West added. “Perception goes a long way with a lot of kids, so when you see the number-one kid in the state going somewhere else, it makes it more difficult in a lot of ways to go out and get the next one coming up.”
Right now, Arkansas’ perception is in flux.
An Auburn win would continue to swing it back in Arkansas’ favor and probably continue to strengthen the case for Kenny Guiton, the former wide receivers coach, as the full-time offensive coordinator.
That matters if other schools are now ready to try to flip Charleston Collins, Arkansas’ top-rated commit according to Rivals. That outlet’s Adam Gorney put Collins, who is close to Crutchfield, in its rumor mill roundup today: “LSU and Ole Miss were the frontrunners when Collins made his commitment to Arkansas in April and now it looks like the Rebels are very much back in play.”
Based on the below retweet, it looks like Collins is sympathetic to those who would want Crutchfield to not make a final decision on Arkansas until he sees how Guiton does:
Hear more on Arkansas football rcruiting below. Danny West discusses:
- Incoming QB KJ Jackson, and what about him stands out so much that they don’t go after Walker White at the 5:50 mark
- On the remaining committed receivers – at 8:20
- Why Arkansas currently doesn’t have an offensive tackle in its 2024 recruiting class – at 10:47
More on Arkansas football and Arkansas recruiting from BoAS: