Committing to the Arkansas football program this summer also meant Marcus Wimberly was turning down an opportunity to leave the state and play at Michigan.
For a three-star safety from Bauxite, a town of only 629 people, that’s no small thing. After all, the Wolverines are the all-time winningest team in college football history, have reached the College Football Playoff the last two years and are currently No. 3 in the CFP poll.
More than that, though, Wimberly had to pick up the phone and make a very uncomfortable call to Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh.
Instead of heading north to Ann Arbor, he’ll be heading to Fayetteville when he graduates in 2025. Right now, Wimberly’s focus is on his high school team. The Miners are 8-3 after beating McGehee 42-17 in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs on Friday.
He’s been a big reason for their success, starring on both sides of the ball. Even with teams trying to avoid him, Wimberly still had nearly 60 tackles this season to go along with more than 1,000 yards of offense through 10 games this season. That included 504 yards and 15 touchdowns on 68 carries, 256 yards and two touchdowns on 24 receptions and 243 yards and one more touchdown on 8-of-14 passing.
“I think I’ve done pretty well,” Wimberly said. “I personally don’t think they utilize me enough on the offensive side of the ball. … I think I’m a better running back than I am a receiver. Defensively, no one wants to throw to my side because they know it will be our ball.”
Best of Arkansas Sports caught up with him to talk about that phone call with Harbaugh, as well as what ultimately led to him choosing to stay home and play for the Razorbacks.
(Even though Harbaugh struck out on Wimberly, Michigan has also offered another in-state prospect it’ll be battling Arkansas football for: Greenwood 2026 quarterback Kane Archer.)
Committing to Arkansas Football
BoAS: What about Arkansas made it feel right for you to commit when you did?
Marcus Wimberly: All of those things – coaching staff, atmosphere – played a huge role. Coach [Marcus] Woodson, he’s a great guy and he really connects on a personal level. The biggest thing with me is honesty and it was awesome when my mom got to go up there (for her) first time on The Hill. Coach Woodson just straight up tells her, “We’re going to push your son and we’re going to develop him as a great man and a football player. It’s not going to be easy and I am going to tell him what he needs to hear for him to improve.”
BoAS: Who was recruiting you throughout this process? Can you reflect on the visits you had that really drew you into the program?
Marcus Wimberly: Coach Woodson has been my lead recruiter. I took my first visit in the ninth grade. That’s when I started getting interest from schools. First time on The Hill was crazy. I was just surprised by the college life and ball style at the college level. I will say, though, the more I have gone up there, the more I felt at home.
BoAS: Did you have any conversations with anyone on the Arkansas football team that made an impact on you?
Marcus Wimberly: So I talked to Donovan Whitten. He is a walk-on from Arkadelphia. He’s up there and playing for the Hogs right now. I talked to him a lot. I told him I got offered and he said, “You need to commit because it’s the greatest thing ever (to play for the Razorbacks).” Just to hear him say that even though he’s paying to play up there and walking on and coming from someone I knew and trusted, that meant a lot.
BoAS: Did you have the idea of committing in front of the group at Hog Wild Weekend before going into it?
Marcus Wimberly: After I told Coach [Sam] Pittman I was going to commit, he brought up the idea to do it in front of everyone there. He had mentioned Dylan Hasz did that a couple years ago and Coach Pittman asked me if I would want to do it. I said yes and he told me, “I am going to start talking and I want you to interrupt me to commit in front of everyone.” Man, Coach Pittman is a great guy.
BoAS: What have your in-depth conversations with Coach Pittman been like?
Wimberly: So I have had two really in-depth conversations with Coach Pittman in his office with me and my parents present. Talking to Coach, it’s just like sitting and talking with family that you don’t see that often. We connect on a personal level and he just wants to show he really does care about you both as a player, but definitely as a person.
BoAS: What was it like making that phone call to Michigan to tell them your decision, especially since you were planning to visit there the very next day?
Wimberly: I got in the car after the commitment and I was celebrating with my parents. We got on the road and then I called Coach (Jim) Harbaugh. I didn’t want to text because I feel like in order to be an honorable person, there’s just some things that can’t be said over text. I got on the call and it was a tough call to make for sure because if I was to have waited to commit to Arkansas, Michigan was going to be in my top 2-3 schools of choice for sure, even though I still believe I would’ve been a Hog.
Well I got on the phone, I said, “Hey coach, I am so thankful for the Michigan program to allow me the opportunity to play and represent the University of Michigan. I will never forget the opportunity you guys have given me, however, with that being said I committed to the University of Arkansas.” Honestly, I was expecting a negative response and I was shocked when it wasn’t. All he said was, “Marcus, I am proud of you. I know that’s a dream of yours that you’ve finally achieved. That’s really all I can say about it, but if you ever need anything just hit us up. Michigan will continue to think highly of you. If you ever need anything just call.” That was a relief to hear him say that because I knew how tough of a call it was going to be for me to make.
BoAS: It’s been many decades, but Bauxite has actually produced a pair of legendary Razorbacks. George Cole was an All-SWC quarterback in 1927 before becoming a coach and AD at Arkansas. Leon “Muscles” Campbell played from 1946-49 before becoming the 15th overall pick in the 1950 NFL Draft. Do the people in town still talk about them?
Wimberly: Man, to have my name mentioned in the same breath with those two is an absolute honor. Muscles Campbell and George Cole are two huge names that get thrown out around here and I have so much respect for those two and what they accomplished and meant to the Bauxite Miners and the Arkansas Razorbacks. It’s definitely an honor that I have an opportunity that they had and I am going to continue to work hard and represent my family, hometown and being a Christian.
BoAS: Can you remember any specific moment growing up that drove you to want to play for Arkansas football?
Ever since I came out of the womb, everything has been all about the Arkansas Razorbacks, all sports – football, basketball, baseball, it doesn’t matter what it is. … I always wanted to play for the Hogs, but the thing that did it for me was the Brandon Burlsworth movie, Greater, and what it really meant to be a Hog and after I watched that movie – I think I was in the fourth or fifth grade – I said I wanted to play for them so bad. It’s been a dream of mine to do that.
BoAS How was your visit for the Mississippi State game?
Wimberly: The visit this weekend was great! It’s never a good feeling to lose but Arkansas is still a great place to be! The vibes with the other recruits are good. I hung out a lot with (Warren 2025 wide receiver) Antonio Jordan and tried to recruit him a little bit.
Get to Know Marcus Wimberly
BoAS: Do you have any hobbies outside of football?
Wimberly: I haven’t played basketball since the ninth grade. Outside of school, I am really into music. I love the piano, guitar and drums. Track is something I am into big time. Music, riding 4-wheelers, and hunting and fishing.
BoAS: Which strengths do you believe you have that make you a great athlete?
Wimberly: First, I wouldn’t refer to myself as “great” – there’s always room for improvement. Strengths I would say are my knowledge because when it comes to being a DB, having that high IQ automatically puts you ahead of everybody else in the game. My effort every play and how dedicated I am to the game is everything that separates me. Effort cannot be coached, it comes from desire.
BoAS: Why are you so passionate about playing football? What made you love the game from the beginning?
Wimberly: Obviously, my dad played. He’s well known around Bauxite from his playing days. When I was in second grade, we were in Hamburg where my dad first coached and I played football with the third grade team. After that year, I fell in love with it. It gave me that opportunity to hit someone and not get into trouble for it. My brothers and I were always getting into it and football gave me that opportunity to be physical and not get in trouble for it.
BoAS: Can you share the story about intercepting a pass with a cast on your hand in eighth grade?
Wimberly: We were playing Ashdown. I was running the ball and got tackled. After the play, I went up to my Dad and said, “Dad, I think my hand’s broke” and he said, “Your hand’s not broke, get back out there.” So I go through three weeks and it starts turning purple and swelling really bad, you know, because it was broken. It was cracked all the way down my middle finger bone and into my hand. I got it casted and I think we were playing at Fountain Lake my next game back. I had a friend before the game say, “If you get a pick with the cast on, I will buy you the new Call of Duty (video game).” I mean Call of Duty wasn’t the main focus, but I was able to make a play and get into position and picked the ball off one-handed with my casted arm.
BoAS: What has been your experience with your Dad being on the Bauxite coaching staff?
Wimberly: With me and him, it’s a mutual agreement. He’s a coach on the field and dad off the field. It’s not anything like he’s going to single me out or anything – he just coaches me like any other player. Although, outside of football he’s going to push me to be my best like any dad would.
Insight from Wimberly’s Father/Coach
Best of Arkansas Sports also caught up with Marcus Wimberly’s father, Tommy, who is Bauxite’s defensive coordinator. He gave some good insight on the kind of player Arkansas football is getting in his son.
Here’s an excerpt:
BoAS: What are some of Marcus’ measurements?
Tommy Wimberly: We are more of a repetition type of weight program, but the last max he recorded back in the early summer was 305 on bench. We don’t do maxes on squats, but he did it on his own and pushed a 405 on squat. Repping wise, he did seven or eight reps of 365 on squats. Max on power clean was either 270 or 275. 40 wise, he was 4.4 (seconds) at the Memphis camp and that really turned their heads quite a bit.
With us at Bauxite in the spring he did record 4.37. Those 40 times, that’s what really got me going thinking he could play the next level. He’s been a consistent 4.4, 4.5 everywhere we’ve gone.
BoAS: Are you surprised that Marcus committed so early in the process?
Tommy Wimberly: Man, I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit surprised. He made the decision on the drive up to Fayetteville that he was going to commit that weekend. It’s been his dream to be a Hog. I was shocked when he made the decision to commit because we had plans to go to Michigan the very next day.
But now that it’s over and he’s committed, he’s definitely relieved. With offers on the table going into your junior year, it definitely brings some pressure along with it. I am proud of him though. He did it on his own. I mean, he had guidance from mom and dad, but it’s been on his heart for a while and the decision came strictly from him.
That’s just a small part of the complete Q&A with Tommy Wimberly. Sign up below for the rest in in an upcoming email:
More coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas recruiting from BoAS…