NORTH LITTLE ROCK First-year Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema and his staff on Thursday made their first appearance in central Arkansas since signing his first Razorbacks recruiting class.
Bielema held a media session prior to meeting with fans and boosters at a dinner in North Little Rock's Verizon Arena to celebrate and break down the 2013 signing class, which includes four in-state players — five if you include Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College transfer Martrell Spaight, a former North Little Rock High School standout.
"My early indication on Little Rock is that the arrow is up [in talent]," Bielema said.
In his address to the media, Bielema expressed his excitement for the newest group of players, especially the in-state players. He cited Arkansas Director of High School Relations Bobby Allen in helping bridge the gap for relationships when Bielema first arrived.
One of the biggest talking points was the saga of the now-signed Alex Collins and his mother taking his National Letter of Intent from him on National Signing Day.
In the press conference, Bielema was asked about the allegations from Collins's mother that Arkansas could possibly be swaying her son to come to Fayetteville with some illegal activity.
"The part that I've always carried through my whole life is that if you always tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you said," he said with a smile. "[It's] kind of the same thing in recruiting ... So no, there wasn't anything other than the standard operating procedures [occurring]. I know that she was kind of throwing that scenario out there. I know I'm confident in what myself and my coaches and my university....We dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's."
Arguably two of the biggest signees for Bielema and the Hogs came late in the process, with Collins and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland. Both were rated as four- or five-star recruits by various publications. Kirkland, out of Miami Booker T. Washington High School, chose Arkansas over Miami.
The Kirkland signing capped a haul of large offensive lineman for Bielema, all of which are at least 6-3 with all but one over 300 pounds. The lone lineman not over 300, Dan Skipper, comes in at 6-10, 295 pounds. It's a group that's important to the coaches, especially since they will be used to support Bielema's punishing running style.
"Coach [Bielema] comes in here pounding the ball from the Big Ten," Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney said. "I get this wrap of the pass-happy cat from Tennessee. The reality, the harsh reality, of the SEC is it's a size and speed conference. You have to have the stature in the front to play."
Bielema and his staff were also asked about the junior college signees, four of which are junior college All-Americans. Bielema said that while getting talent was definitely the main reason, it was important to make sure the players fit not only with the team but the community as well.
The staff will take the night to meet and greet fans in the area to discuss the newest players before heading back to Fayetteville to begin preparations for spring practice.