FAYETTEVILLE — Rion Rhoades was a very successful head football coach at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College before accepting a job with Sam Pittman.
At Arkansas, Rhoades will coach linebackers. However, before he even coaches a game at Arkansas he has made a strong impression on Pittman while on the recruiting trail.
“Rion Rhoades proved that you don’t have to have experience at the D-I level to be an elite recruiter,” Pittman said. “He went out there and we really addressed that linebacker and that D-line positions.”
One of the linebackers headed to Arkansas is former Oklahoma Sooner Levi Draper. He will graduate from Oklahoma this spring and then head to Arkansas with two seasons to play and have immediate eligibility. Draper was a four-star standout from Collinsville (Okla.) High School.
“He has got two sisters that are in school at Oklahoma,” Rhoades said. “They had a really convenient setup with all three being in Norman. The relationship with Coach Pittman has something to do with it (coming to Arkansas). Then we had good interactions to start with. When he got on campus it was really easy to tell pretty quick there was some chemistry there between us. I was really excited that he decided to come to Arkansas.”
Rhoades and Arkansas are hoping a change of scenery does him good.
“Levi dealt with a coaching change at least once that I know of at Oklahoma of position coach and coordinator,” Rhoades said. “I think they may have even had three coordinators while he was there. That’s always challenging it just is. You have a guy that recruited. He recruited you and knew you well. Did his homework and had a good idea what your skill-set was and how it would fit in defensively.
“And then things change. That makes it tough. Sometimes guys can get lost in the shuffle of coaching change and I think might have been a factor for Levi. A change of scenery does him really well and he’s gonna get to play for the guys that recruited him here. I think there’s a lot of value to that.”
Arkansas signed five players listed as a linebacker on the National Signing Day release. Rhoades talked about getting the numbers up at that position.
“It was important,” Rhoades said. “We initially didn’t plan on taking that many. But what became apparent after we looked at best available guys after that early signing period was that there was some linebackers out there who were good, could help and improve our team as a whole. Even though we might not have have planned originally to go as heavy as we did it was easy to warm up to that idea when we saw the quality of players that we had a chance to get.
“We wanted to kinda improve the framework, the body-type wise of the guys in our room. We were able to accomplish that. We definitely always place a premium on fast and physical guys. We found some really body types. There’s some guys in there that will grow and develop from the strength phsycially from that standpoint during their time here. You can’t coach 6-3, you can’t coach 6-4 and great wing span and tackle radius. Those are things that we wanted to recruit and we were fortunate enough to do that. That group of guys I love their makeup in terms of character. The type of people they are. They come from great families and I think we got some really good football players who are really good people in that room.”
Another grad transfer Arkansas added was defensive back Jerry Jacobs, who played for Rhoades at Hutchinson prior to transferring to Arkansas State for the 2018 season.
“Jerry played for us at Hutch,” Rhoades said. “He redshirted and played a year. Really, really talented young man. He’s a guy that played safety initially for us and then ended up playing corner. He went to Arkansas State and had a really good first year there for them then got hurt this past year. Had done really well academically both at Hutch and Arkansas State and was able to graduate in December.
“But in terms of the type player he is Jerry is versatile. He’s got great man-coverage skills. He’s very physical. He’s a really strong kid and when you kinda look at his body type and see how he’s put together he’s really lean, heavy-muscled guy. High hipped. Very athletic build, but he’s a physical kid too. He embraces that the tackling part of playing DB. Not all guys do, but he really does. Again, he has really, really good cover skills.”
Since he has played both safety and cornerback in college does Rhoades know where he will play for the Hogs?
“We don’t know for sure,” Rhoades said. “But we feel like he can do a lot of things. Wherever we put him on the depth chart we do understand we’re gonna try to utilize his talents as a physical tackler and cover guy.”
Rhoades also addressed Pittman’s praise of him this past Wednesday.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here,” Rhoades said. “The best division of college football in the country so I don’t want to discount that, but I’ve been in some competitive recruiting situations in my career. I feel like we’ve always had a pretty good ability to close on guys.
“I think the secret to that is when you find guys that are your type of guys from a character standpoint obviously you’ve evaluted the film and you wouldn’t be in front of them if they weren’t good enough as a player. When you find that type guy it’s easy to build a bond with them. I think relationships can escalate quickly when you find your type of guy. I think that has a lot do with it. We were fortunate to find those type guys. JT Towers, Jacorrei Turner, Eric Thomas Jr. and Levi Draper. Those were guys it didn’t take me a lot of time to figure out they’re our type of guys, they’re Arkansas-type of guys.”
(Editor’s Note: This is Part 4 of a 10-part series on the assistant football coaches at Arkansas)
Click here for Part 1, Jon Cooper
Click here for Part 2, Sam Carter
Click here for Part 3, Jimmy Smith