However, several of them admitted to a certain amount of angst when the school's newest head football coach called on them for the first time.
"He'd been on the job for a few days when he finally asked us to come over and see him," Fayetteville four-star quarterback Austin Allen recalled of the meeting he, along with teammates Alex Brignoni and Brooks Ellis, had with Bielema in mid December. "He sat down with us and told us we were good players and he wanted us to remain committed. Ever since then there's been a great relationship with him and I can't wait for it to continue for the next four to five years."
Ellis, one of three linebackers signed by Bielema, admitted he was gun shy going into the meeting. Bielema quickly set his mind at ease. "He said, 'I can't wait to work with you because I'm a linebacker coach,' Ellis recalled. "I trusted him. He seems like a great guy. I'm really blessed."
When the Razorbacks' longtime recruiting coordinator left the staff to coach with Gus Malzahn at Auburn, there were predictions that four-star tight end Hunter Henry would exit the state with him. Tim Horton was a teammate of Henry's dad Mark at Arkansas under Coach Ken Hatfield. He had a solid relationship with the family.
Bielema replaced Horton with another former Razorback, Barry Lunney, Jr., who had spent the previous eight years as the offensive coordinator at Bentonville High School. The Henry family also had an existing friendship with Lunney, Jr. and when Bielema's in-home visit with Hunter Henry was over, there was no doubt that the Pulaski Academy all-stater was going to be a Razorback. On signing day he was already outlining some lofty goals.
"I'm looking forward to getting up there and trying to make a name for myself," Henry admitted. "But it's always going to be about Razorback football and just bringing it back up there and trying to win some championships."
Lunney, Jr. was impressed with Henry's willingness to buy into Bielema's offense, expected to be more run-oriented than the wide open attack he was a part of in high school. His role as a stand up receiver will be expanded.
"Hunter is not contact shy," Lunney, Jr. told the Razorback Nation. "He's not afraid to put his hand on the ground and block. You can see that, the way he plays football."
Lunney, Jr. helped Bielema zero in on the only Arkansas high school signee not already offered a scholarship when Bielema was hired. Osceola running back Corliss Marshall will start out as a safety though Bielema says he can play a number of positions. "He's a very, very good player," Bielema stressed.
Even without a scholarship offer Marshall was going to be a Hog. "They scheduled a visit at the last minute," Marshall revealed. "I want you to know I was going to go anyway because I've been wanting to be a Razorback my whole life."
Forrest City defensive end Tevin Beanum was also committed to the previous staff but his confidence jumped to another level when he researched Bielema's previous commitment to defense at Wisconsin. "I feel like I have a chance to succeed," Beanum affirmed. "They brought in the right coaches. They brought in the right strength and conditioning coach. The program's basically set up for me. All I have to do is come in with the will and the mindset to work."
First impressions are everything to Greenwood High receiver Drew Morgan. He was sold on Bielema the first time they met. "He sat down in his office and he was like, 'I'm glad to meet you,' " Morgan gushed. "I was like, 'I'm glad to meet you too.' It was like, 'Oh my gosh.' He had a lot of good things to say about me and I had a lot of good things to say about him. I think we're going to kick it off on the right foot."
The final piece of the in-state puzzle started with longtime Razorback assistant coach Bobby Allen, who has moved into a new role as the team's Director of High School Relations. Bielema was looking to sign a couple of linebackers who could play right away. Allen suggested 6'0". 220-pound Martrell Spaight out of Coffeyville Community College.
"It turned out that he was from North Little Rock," Bielema said with a smile. "We met with the family and I could tell that Martrell was raised the right way. With him I hope we can set up a pipeline to North Little Rock for many years to come."
The thing I love about Martrell is this," Bielema continued. "He wanted to be a Razorback. He had to do some extra things just to be here. I think he's going to represent everything that you want. He's truly a special, special kid."
In his first recruiting class at Arkansas Bielema and his staff made some major inroads into South Florida with the promise of a much stronger effort in Texas for 2014. With his Wisconsin ties, Bielema's even looking into non-traditional areas like the Northeast and the upper Midwest.
Still, by landing seven of the state's top eight high school recruits, Bielema has made good on a promise he offered the day after he was hired, a pledge to throw a rope around Arkansas' best each and every year. It's a strategy that goes back to the beginnings of Razorback football, a tradition that is not changing.
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