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Tom Hauck for ESPN.com
By Billy TuckerArkansas may have just landed its next Felix Jones or Darren McFadden, and there is a chance even diehard Razorbacks fans don't not even know it. In four games as a junior, Thurgood Marshall High School running back Knile Davis (Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall) rushed for an impressive 425 yards before a fractured collar bone ended his season. Aside from the obvious disappointment, last fall was Davis' first real varsity action, so in terms of recruiting, film for evaluation purposes had been limited.
The aggressive runner with a rare blend of speed and power has garnered more than 20 scholarship offers to date, (Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas made the biggest push down the stretch). We feel an injury-free junior season would have resulted in Davis being one of the more coveted backs in the entire country. In our eyes, Bobby Petrino and the Razorbacks are getting a top-notch player out of this year's talented running back class and may have to fight to retain him down the stretch.
"I believe they did get a steal," said Thurgood Marshall head coach Darryl Phipps. "He has it all; great size, speed and strength. Knile can run away from you, around you or over you.
"He does lack a lot of game experience with the injury, but the real football guys know about him."
Coach Phipps acknowledged that ESPN's No. 19-rated running back prospect may not have a ton of film to assess at this point, but his measurables alone make him one of the top backs in the country.
"I know a lot of people throw out 4.4 40-yard dash times, but I have coached track and football for over 30 years," Phipps said. "Knile is a legit 4.4, he got clocked at 21.76 last spring at his district track meet in the 200 meter.
"What amazes me about Knile is that he has track speed on the football field."
Aside from his blazing straight-line speed, Davis also boasts outstanding natural strength. A 360-pound bench press is impressive for a high school lineman, never mind a 209-pound running back coming off a broken collarbone. Still, what may be most striking about Davis as a prospect is his age and room for physical upside.
"He has over 20 written offers so it's hard to say he was overlooked by everyone," Phipps said. "But I don't think some programs realize how young he is physically. Knile is just 16-years old (he turns 17 in October) and will still mature a lot."
Aside from his injury at a recruited position where Phipps recognizes "great running back prospects are a dime a dozen", Davis' non-flashy running style could also be leading to his lack of great national notoriety on the national recruiting trail.
"Knile has a plain running style; he is a load and prefers to run downhill," Phipps said. "As the game goes on he gets stronger and can wear down a defense. He doesn't have to resort to an elusive style but shows he has it when he needs it."
So how did a mediocre SEC program looking far from dominant this fall land a stud of a running back? Even after witnessing a crushing 49-14 home loss to Alabama last weekend, Davis still felt strongly Arkansas was the place he wanted to play his college football. The defeat may have actually helped steer the power-back to Fayetteville -- as did the program's recent history of first-round draft choices.
"Knile wanted to go to a school where his parents could come watch him play but also knows Petrino likes big backs and saw they didn't have one on Saturday," Phipps said.
Davis' ability to compete for early playing time at a school that has just produced a couple of first-rounders at his position in Jones and McFadden also lured him.
"Coach Petrino was real with me and didn't promise I would start or anything," Davis said. "He did say I had the ability to come in and challenge for early playing time."
Arkansas may have eventually landed one of this year's best college running backs, but a healthy senior season could result in the Razorbacks having to work hard to retain his pledge. How strong is his verbal? Phipps said that he had an in-depth phone conversation with his star running back while Davis was on his official visit; the main subject was whether he would make a soft or strong verbal to Bobby Petrino.
"I told him to be honest and upfront with the coaches if he wanted to still take visits, but he said he didn't and wanted to go Arkansas," Phipps said.
As impressive as he is physically, Davis' most admirable trait in his coach's eye may actually be his humility. We expect this talented runner to have a breakout senior season, but the humbled back does not appear like he will waver from the renewed recruiting attention this fall -- even if it's from more prominent Big 12 programs that he originally had his heart set on.
"I never really got discouraged from the injury; I just worked hard to get back," Davis said. "Things ended up working out for the best with Arkansas."
Due to Hurricane Ike, Davis and his Thurgood Marshall team have been limited to just one contest. In that win, the senior back carried just nine times but for 98 yards and looked back to form.
"He turned the corner down the sideline on one run and I said, 'Good Lord, look how fast he's moving,'" said Phipps.
Recruiters aren't the only ones keeping a sharp eye on Davis' progress this fall. The explosive back is one RB spot away from cracking the ESPNU 150 and should make a strong case for a coveted spot on the list comprised of the country's finest this fall.
To make matters worse for Columbia High School and head coach Kemper Amick, fellow ESPNU 150 safety Chris Payne (Columbia, S.C.), who plays alongside Jeffery in the defensive backfield, suffered a broken ankle a week later."I have never seen anything like this before in all my years of coaching," Amick said. "But I guess that's football, you just never know."
While Kennard, Bonds and Payne look to be done until next fall. Kemper told us on Monday that Jeffery would like to play on the torn knee ligament (which he did for two games without knowing it), similar to what San Diego Chargers' All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman attempted this fall. While his efforts could help the Columbia program this season, prolonging his surgery would likely hinder his ability to play as a true freshman at South Carolina in 2009. How much influence do the Gamecocks have?
"Most of the time colleges of committed prospects work hand-in-hand with the high school in advising how to handle the situation. Many times the college will bring the athlete in the next fall, rehab the player and redshirt him if the injury takes longer to come back from than expected," stated Scouts Inc.'s Bill Conley, who worked at Ohio State for 17 years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.
An uncommitted prospect such as Kennard or Bonds is an entirely different story. We do not expect these exceptional players to lose any attention on the recruiting trail, particularly with the advances in sports medicine, but what about the less-heralded prospect? Unfortunately, those offers can quickly come off the table if there is no verbal acceptance. This can cause a sticky recruiting situation, and as a coach, Conley states you have to be careful not to burn a bridge for the next big name.
"If the injury is serious and the player's future is in doubt, his verbal scholarship offer may indeed be dropped since the athlete has not made a verbal acceptance," Conley said. "A very touchy situation, especially if the player is from the area. As a college coach, you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot for future athletes from that same school."
Karrington Armstrong (Reno, Nev./McQueen) ESPN's No. 85-rated guard attended the Oregon-Boise State game last weekend and despite an upset loss at the hands of the non-BCS Broncos in Eugene, Armstrong still gave a verbal to the Ducks following the game.
There were also several recruits on hand for Auburn's hard-fought 26-21 loss to the defending national champion LSU Tigers last Saturday night. Auburn may have lost the battle on the field, but the weekend concluded with commitments from ESPN's No. 32-rated defensive end Montez Robinson (Avon, Ind.) and guard Steven Jacques (Hollywood, Fla./South Broward).-- Billy Tucker
Texas Tech gains inside linebacker HyderThe Red Raiders have claimed a commitment from Kerry Hyder of Johnson (Austin, Texas) over Iowa State. Texas Tech now has 17 pledges.
The 245-pound Hyder, rated as the No. 21 inside linebacker in Class of 2009, also drew interest from Minnesota, Cincinnati, Utah, New Mexico and Toledo.
"He is tough, very physical and difficult to turn at the point of attack with his great bulk, raw power and hand strength. He actually shows some good short-area quickness and burst for a 246-pounder. His marginal coverage skills and stiffness turning direction could limit him to situational run downs or precipitate a move down to defensive end, where his speed and athleticism may be more suited."
• Hyder's On the Trail archive
Ducks land coveted lineman ArmstrongOffensive guard Karrington Armstrong has committed to sign with Oregon after visiting campus over the weekend, writes the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Programs such as Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, San Diego State, Boise State, Washington, UNLV and Nevada also extended offers to Armstrong, but the Ducks have been atop his list for some time.
Despite the Ducks' loss to Boise State, Armstrong felt good about the atmosphere. "It made me want to suit up right away," he said.
• Hyder's On the Trail archive
• Complete On the Trail updates
Craig Haubert: He's a good athlete -- could help in several ways and if not at QB but as a WR or on defense he could help quickly. If Nebraska wants to develop him as a QB, I don't know if he will be able to have a quick impact and may need some time to develop at that position.
Alex (Greenville, N.C.): What does ECU coach Skip Holtz have to do to attract North Carolina's top recruits to play in Greenville as opposed to other schools in the state or region?
Craig Haubert: Keep winning, basically -- when you are a non-BCS school you will always struggle some against BCS programs, but if ECU can win and get to bigger bowls or crash the BCS party they can steal some guys here and there.
His tools have garnered him a lot of interest; he remains one of the top uncommitted offensive players. Florida and Clemson are two programs that seem to have worked their way toward the top of his list, but programs like Missouri, Oregon and Auburn are not going down without a fight.• Click here to read the full story.
|Arkansas' 2009 verbals|