In introducing his first signing class at the University of Central Arkansas, new coach Steve Campbell used these words and phrases early and often: “bigtime, hot motor, relentless, playmaker, speed, goes high or gets around the ball, hitter, smart.”
In showing video highlights of the recruits to media and fans assembled at Wingo Hall, Campbell would frequently point to the screen to a circled player about to make a block or tackle and say, “Watch now, Boom?, Watch this, “Bam!”
The video almost needed to be accompanied by those cartoon “Bam, Boom, Smash, Zap” bubbles from the old Batman TV series.
During a question-and-answer session after Campbell’s general analysis, he was asked which players in a signing class of 26 would contribute as first-year players in the fall when the Bears should field a veteran lineup.
“I’d have to say everyone contributes, whether it is playing 60 snaps or on the scout team,” he said. “But from watching the videos, I cannot tell you one guy who will not have a chance to come in and compete for playing time.”
Campbell has never had a losing season in his coaching career, One reason he knows what he is looking for to fit his system and he aims high, Wednesday’s class represented 10 states, tapping into Arkansas, his strong roots in Mississippi, traditional UCA out-of-state areas in Louisiana and Texas but expanding into Florida and California and even bringing in a player, a member of a military family, who had played primarily in Europe.
Most of the out-of-state players came from connections with his new staff, which reflect stops at several institutions in different parts of the country,
He noted the UCA recruiting board was like a church potluck, “Everyone brought something to the table.”
You have to admire the energy and efficiency of Campbell, who was officially introduced on Dec. 20. In slightly more than a month, he hired seven new assignments, retained two (Nathan Brown and Robert “Boomer” Cunningham) from the previous staff and got another of Clint Conque’s assistants, Dan Augustine, to decommit from following Conque to Stephen F. Austin.
“Mississippi is very familiar territory to me but I feel it is under-recruited,” said the coach who came to UCA from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and once led Delta State to a Division II national title.
The new staff had to primarily rely on old connections and did not have the time to solidly establish itself in Arkansas, which Campbell maintains will be a primarily emphasis during the spring recruiting period.
He’s already devising a formula for sending out the 10 coaches who are allowed to recruit to Arkansas and adjacent areas.
“With 10 coaches, if you arrange it right, one coach can visit six schools a day, that’s 60 total in a day,” he said. “In 10 days that’s 600 schools. And we intend to follow up every lead. In recruiting, you never know where the next great player will come from.”
Understand this. No college coach on National Signing Day is not excited or optimistic about his signees.
It’s inevitable a few will not develop as planned; some will exceed expectations; some will develop at different paces.
It’s an inexact science. It’s more about fit than formula. For years, I’ve been convinced that player development and relationship to a coach is more important that stars assigned by various people of services.
A signing class is like cheese or wine. It has to age before it can be fully evaluated.
But from our first look at the potential product, it appears fortifying.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)