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Andy Hodges

Bielema delivers strong message on Razorback program



HOOVER, Ala. — It’s hard to really get a handle on what goes on at these SEC Media Days.

Some of the questions are about the players and, let’s face it, every coach says his team is improved, the players are bigger, stronger, faster and, by golly, his team should be better this year.

Oh, and we should all remember everybody is undefeated in July. Barring a suspension or major off-season injury, there’s not a whole lot of valid information to be divulged and you get a lot of coach-speak.

Bret Bielema is a prime example.

The video above is from the TV/Internet session the coaches go through. It’s a little different from the big press conference area for the general media where the coach delivers an opening monologue, then answers question from everybody in the country.

On Wednesday, Bielema pretty much stayed on topic, but there was a central theme in all of his conversations: Arkansas is heading up and they are doing it his way. He is one of the best in the country and promoting his program and what he’s trying to accomplish.

In his three years, the Razorbacks have gone 0-8, 2-6 and 5-3 last year in the SEC.

“It’s because the players in the program and coaches we brought in make a huge difference,” he said in one of the interviews.

The three players he brought with him to Media Days — tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, linebacker Brooks Ellis and defensive lineman Dietrich Wise — were all examples he used.

On Sprinkle:

“I remember the crossroad his sophomore year when he wasn’t doing what I wanted him to do in the classroom, off the field, A to Z,” Bielema said. “So I did the simple thing. I called his dad and say can we have a meeting. We sat down with his dad and talked with Dad about where he wanted to be, if he wanted to do it. From that point forward, he’s been a different guy.”

On Wise:

“I sat him down and just simply: Hey, do you want to be just involved in a lot of different things or do you want to be great at a few things?” Bielema said. “We talked about taking a few things off his plate. We had conversations with his parents. We took track out of his life until he got a better GPA.

“The result is he could probably be one of the best premier lineman. He already has a degree in his hands. Both he and Jeremy already graduated. They already have a diploma in hand going to their senior year.”

On Ellis:

“I knew he wanted to be a Hog. He committed before I got there. I sat in that hom,” Bielema said. “He is sitting there with his mom and a dad. There was a grandma that talked about her husband, who is Brooks’ grandfather who played at the University of Arkansas, and the whole room got quiet when she talked about who he is and what he represented to the family.

“Brooks made a lot of tackles, did a lot of good things. He probably at one point didn’t think he would be as
good of a player as he is today. A guy that’s up for the most elite awards for linebacker play, a four-year starter, but he’s also a pre-med student, did an internship in Belize, did so many different things that did not pertain to football that will give him success forever.”

Those are the recurring themes in nearly every conversation Bielema gets to have about his team out of season. He is involved with them, and wants them to succeed off the field as much as on the field.

It’s an approach that is not commonly known if others are doing it. That’s the only reason you can’t say it’s completely unique because there are some others that care, too.

But they aren’t as public about it as Bielema is.

Nick Saban recruits his way. Bielema recruits his way.

Make no mistake about it, with the SEC Network covering nearly every word uttered, this is a massive recruiting platform for the coaches and their programs.

Every coach uses it to what he hopes is something talented players will see and want to be a part of.

And every coach is recruiting a particular kind of player.

Only time will tell if Bielema’s method produces championships.

It’s just one more reason this is such a crucial year for Bielema.


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