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Nate Olson

Morris shouldn’t be forgetting home-state players in Arkansas

Keeping players home big for Morris, but he should also be looking at some of the state’s players that aren’t exactly being chased by a lot of the big-name schools this year.

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Arkansas’ football program will have a Texas flavor as long as Chad Morris is the coach.

After all, that is one of the main reasons he was hired, right — his ability to recruit Texas, a state that produces some of the finest prep football talent in the nation.

Morris, the former ultra-successful Texas high school coach, proved himself as an offensive coordinator at Clemson, but he hadn’t fully completed the reclamation process at SMU. The Mustangs were not the new mid-major darling such as Boise State and now Central Florida.

No, he hadn’t proven he could win consistently as a head coach, but his relationship with Texas high school coaches was proven. The former Texas prep coach was leading quality talent to SMU.

Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek was intrigued with how that relationship may be leveraged at an SEC program that is a Lone Star State neighbor.

And that’s one of the big reasons Morris got the job. It was the major reason I defended the hire. Arkansas coaches have tried and tried to tap that market. Some have done better than others.

Morris seemed to have the connections to top them all. If he could bring in the top players in Texas, he certainly could rebuild the Hogs.

So far, so good.

On the strength of his Texas ties, Morris has amassed a top-notch recruiting class. We won’t know how all of that talent will translate or how well Morris will call games under the immense pressure of the SEC, but a foundation is being laid.

The recruiting class has been the shining light of hope in what otherwise has been a dismal year, which included a school-record 10 losses.

There is something Morris should keep in mind, though, as he scours the nation for talent. He has some good players residing in his back yard, some players who have dreamed about playing in Fayetteville for a long time.

It’s true that Arkansas is not loaded with NCAA Division I prospects. It’s also true that most years Arkansas is among the top 10 states producing D-I talent per capita.

Some of Arkansas’ better teams have included starting lineups dominated with Arkansans. I point to the Houston Nutt Era as one example.

Nutt has his critics, but one of his strengths was a knack for recruiting diamonds in the rough such as defensive end Jamaal Anderson and developing them over time.

He recruited players because they were from Arkansas. Sometimes he may have turned down more talented players from other states to sign a native.

No one is asking Morris to do that. Clearly, he has the pipeline to some major talent in Texas, and other states, that Nutt didn’t have access to. Sometimes Nutt’s only option was to lean on in-state ties, but there is something to be said to have multiple key players that have state pride.

Out-of-state players learn the customs — the Hog Call, Running through the ‘A’, but do they have the devotion of a Peyton Hillis, Drew Morgan or Jake Bequette? Maybe not.

The Arkansas players can be the glue guys, and that is an important part of building a program. A program overhaul isn’t complete without team leaders. Players who are examples on the field, in the weight room and off the field.

Currently, Morris has five Arkansans included in the 2019 recruiting class. There are several other in-state players that will play Division I football for other programs. Maybe Morris should have offered some of them.

Players such as North Little Rock three-star recruit Oscar Adaway, who is committed to North Texas — which beat Arkansas this season. Another prime prospect is Bryant defensive tackle Kajuan Robinson, who has offers from Louisiana Tech, Memphis and others.

Morris ID’d one of those diamonds in Pulaski Academy star receiver J.D. White, whose father was a standout golfer at UA. White has been recruited as a preferred walk-on.

Having seen him play numerous times the past two seasons, his speed and hands should outweigh his smaller stature. Add the fact that he played for one of the nation’s top prep offensive minds in Kevin Kelley, and he’s got all of the attributes needed to beat the odds.

If not at Arkansas, White will be a standout receiver for a D-I program. If he had a scholarship offer from UA, he may be guaranteed to do it in Fayetteville.

I know the pressure on Morris to produce has become greater after a poor 2018 season. He’s evaluating graduate transfers and junior college players to speed up the process. He is targeting players with an abundance of stars. I get that, and he may need to go that route.

However, he should give more Arkansas players a chance.

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