Arkansas’ football program won’t have to wait until next summer to start getting better.
At least six high school players and a few junior college transfers could be in place in January as early enrollees and thus able to go through off-season workouts and 2019 spring practice.
That includes quarterback KJ Jefferson (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), wide receivers Trey Knox (6-4, 210) and Shamar Nash (6-1, 198) and defensive ends Zach Williams (6-4, 225), Eric Gregory (6-4, 270) and Mataio Soli (6-3, 227).
The Razorbacks are also the leader for Mission Viejo (Calif.) Saddleback College offensive linemen Tim Anderson (6-5, 270), who is a mid-term graduate, and are also looking at other junior college linemen and defenders.
Getting newcomers on campus early is something that Arkansas coach Chad Morris is certainly in favor of now that he is at Arkansas and trying to rebuild the Razorback program.
“I think any time that you can add to your roster at mid-term that it allows those young men obviously in the development of being a college student and the transition that it takes,” Morris said, “and also the opportunity in learning the offense and learning the defense.”
It’s a popular trend that is growing each year.
In 2016, all but four Power 5 teams had at least one early enrollee and there were 250 overall, an average of about four per school. Those numbers grew to over 500 in 2018 with Alabama having 52 between 2013-2018
Jefferson is a prototypical RPO (run-pass option) quarterback who passed for over 3,000 yards and 39 touchdowns and rushed for 1,300 yards and eight more scores as a junior and is headed toward those numbers again halfway through his senior season.
Getting Jefferson on campus early will give him the opportunity to challenge current quarterbacks Ty Storey, Cole Kelley, Connor Noland, John Stephen Jones and Daulton Hyatt, presuming all those signal callers remain in the program.
Jefferson made it clear recently that he hoped to come in and get a shot at seeing significant time next season.
“As far as myself, I feel like any quarterback who commits to a school should come in and be ready to compete for the job and if he is the best for that time, get to play,” Jefferson said.
“It shouldn’t be handed to him, but if he is the best and can put the team over the top, then it is time to go ahead and play him. I am just planning on coming into Fayetteville and working my butt off from day one and start working my way up the depth chart.”
That should be the attitude of all freshmen, but those who are arriving in January at a place where Morris and his staff have made it clear that if they are ready to play, they will be on the field.
That got across to Knox, who chose Arkansas over Ohio State, Florida, Tennessee, Penn State and others.
“I feel like I can thrive in the offense they play,” Knox said. “They said I could play as a (true) freshman. I can’t turn that down.”
Dudley Dawson is the recruiting editor for Hawgs Illustrated magazine.