Right after the news about Bobby Petrino hit the airwaves, things got ugly for Arkansas on the recruiting trail.
Austin Bennett, a 6-foot, 170-pound wide receiver from Manvel High (Texas) rescinded his non-binding verbal commitment to the school. Just 24 hours before the firing, he said he was taking things “one day at a time."
But the talented receiver, who hauled in 42 passes for 770 yards and six touchdowns as a junior, officially decommitted after Arkansas Director of Athletics Jeff Long met with members of the media Tuesday, releasing the results of an investigation that resulted in Petrino's termination.
“We have talked as a family and have decided to take a step back,” Bennett said. “I am going to decommit from Arkansas. I don’t feel I can stay committed to the program when the coach who offered me is no longer there.”
Recently, Prestonwood Christian Academy (Texas) tight end Christian Morgan, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound Scout.com Top 300 prospect, narrowed his focus to two schools: Arkansas and Baylor.
He was closing in on making his final decision and it may have been a matter of days before it was done. It now looks like he is tapping the brakes on his own decision-making process.
"Right now, it just makes me think I need to slow down,” Morgan informed Scout.com. “If Paul Petrino is still the offensive coordinator, I still have an interest in Arkansas. I still like Arkansas as a school. Obviously the coaching staff plays a big part, though. If they clean house, that changes a lot of things. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens."
And things could go from bad to worse in Fayetteville if prospects from the Class of 2012 start asking the University for a release from their signed National Letter of Intents. So far, emotions have been mixed with the 2012 signees as well.
Scout.com three-star wide receiver Eric Hawkins, a 6-foot, 175-pounder from Longview High in Texas, is still fired up to be a Razorback.
“I kind of wish that there could have been something done," Hawkins said. "I liked Petrino and the man made a mistake. I mean, you know that everybody makes mistakes.”
Scout.com four-star defensive end Taiwan Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Manvel (Texas) High was “bummed” about how the situation has played out thus far, but would he go as far as asking for a release?
“I think he was shocked and a little disappointed,” said Scout.com Texas recruiting analyst Ahmard Vital, who spoke with the standout defensive linemen just hours after the news.
“I think he just made a critical decision in his life and before he can even step on campus, his head coach is gone and if that was not bad enough, I think he was really looking forward to having his teammate with him and it made him feel even worse when he heard Austin Bennett was going to open things up," Vital said.
“I think he is looking at the situation closely of seeing who the next guy who is going to be brought in. I don't think he would seek a release.”
The NCAA rules state that a prospective student-athlete must initiate the release process by requesting a release from the university, and then the school has 30 days to make a decision on whether or not to grant the release.
It's hard to see any silver lining in this situation, but the school's 2013 efforts were not off to a particularly fast start. They had only secured two commitments thus far, leaving a large majority of the class wide open for the new coaching staff to fill in the available spots with whatever styles of player it envisions in its system.
But not every recruit has received an ill impression of the program from the whole episode.
Scout.com's No. 23 rated defensive end Jamone Boyd, a 6-foot-4, 245-pounder from Lee's Summit West High School in Missouri is a recruit Arkansas has been pursuing pretty vigorously and he says the change will not affect his decision making process at this point in time.
“I've never really talked to coach Petrino,” Boyd explained. “I've been talking to Paul Petrino, so as long as he's still there I am good.
“I'm still liking Arkansas.”
Scout.com's Greg Powers, Ahmard Vital, Erin Hartigan and Aaron Cedeno contributed to this report.
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