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July 13, 2011
The University of Arkansas got a huge pickup Wednesday with the commitment of Tallahassee (Fla.) Godby outside linebacker Jakarri Thomas, and his coaches think Arkansas got one of the biggest steals in the country out of the future criminal justice major.
Godby head coach Ronnie Cottrell is a former college assistant coach. He coached at Alabama and spent a good deal of his career at Florida State. Thomas is about to be a fourth-year starter and has lined up at defensive tackle, defensive end and outside linebacker in his time at Godby.
"He has a unique ability because he can run. He was on the 4-by-100 team here at Godby High School. We won the state championship in track in Florida, and he's a 4-by-100 guy at outside linebacker. That speaks volumes," Cottrell said.
"He's started since he was a freshman. He's been a four-year starter here. I came here in April a year ago. Last year he played outside linebacker and defensive end. But right now he's playing outside linebacker for us, and that's what they're recruiting him for. They're recruiting him for what they call SAM linebacker.
"When I was at FSU, we would take Derrick Brooks from linebacker and put him at defensive end to rush the passer. Jakarri has a tremendous ability to rush a passer. He's relentless, and I know Coach Robinson will find ways to use him with schemes to continue to rush the passer even from linebacker."
Last season, Thomas, 6-2, 190, 4.5, racked up 111 tackles with 9 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries. He picked up scholarship offers from the likes of Arkansas, Duke, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Vanderbilt and others. He has a 3.8 GPA.
"Jakarri is a really athletic linebacker who can cover a lot of area sideline-to-sideline pretty quickly or line up and come off the edge," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Chris Nee said. "He is very physical at the point-of-contact and a sure tackler in space. On a talented Godby squad he will be a four-year starter who has contributed at every spot along the front seven during his career."
Robinson does great job recruiting
Willy Robinson, the Razorback defensive coordinator, has been the lead recruiter for Thomas. It was a good fit because Robinson's approach to recruiting is very straight-forward. Robinson has always said Arkansas has a great product and it just has to be presented. Typically to land a player of Thomas' caliber the Hogs need to get him on campus so he can see for himself, but Thomas' relationship with Robinson, the way Robinson painted the picture of Arkansas and the fact that the UA had what he was looking for academically were overriding factors.
"First and foremost, it was criminal justice," Godby assistant head coach Cleon McFarlane said. "This kid is a very focused kid to where every time you see him he's got a book in his hands. When he's not playing football, he definitely has a book in his hands. The next thing was Coach Willy Robinson just really, really did a tremendous job selling him on the Arkansas program, not necessarily the coaches themselves just the Arkansas program."
Cottrell, who has family in Camden (Ark.) and Hampton (Ark.), feels Robinson was the overriding factor.
"Willy Robinson recruits our school, and he has been on their list," Cottrell said. "Arkansas has done a good job of recruiting him as far as being aware of him. But when he came in the spring, we had every school?we had 70 schools come in here recruiting our guys?and most of them recruiting [Thomas] and T.J. Davis. We've got a tight end that's committed to Oklahoma. Coach Robinson, I think, was most impressed with him in the spring and made the decision then that he's going to be a priority for him.
"He was really interested in the criminal justice program there at Arkansas, but it's my opinion that the difference was Willy Robinson," Cottrell said. "Willy did a great job recruiting him, and they developed a good rapport. Everybody that meets Jakarri realizes what a special individual he is."
Davis is also a highly recruited prospect who is rated the No. 28 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com and also sports an Arkansas offer. Laith Harlow is a four-star tight end out of Godby High School who committed to OU in May.
It is clear the coaches at Godby have a tremendous amount of respect for Thomas as a football player, but where he really shines is in the character department.
"He's a very tenacious player. He's a kid that's been a four-year starter. He has a high motor, and he's a better person than he is a football player or anything else. The whole time he was talking about committing, it was solely about what the school could offer him as far as his degree is concerned," McFarlane said.
"At Godby High School, we have great teachers here, and Jakarri is an outstanding student," Cottrell said. "I think if he told you, it came down to Stanford and Vanderbilt, Maryland and Arkansas. He had a lot of really good choices, but the academics were always a priority for Jakarri.
"Miami made a strong push there at the end, but he stuck to his guns and committed to Arkansas."
More from McFarlane
Cottrell has been at Godby just over a year, and although McFarlane is the offensive line coach he probably knows Thomas the best since he is a holdover from the previous coaching staff at Godby.
"He's definitely the unsung hero of the team," McFarlane said. "He's 190 pounds, and he's in the land of giants. He's in the land of giants every single time he goes out on the field.
"He wanted forensic science, but he didn't realize criminal justice at Arkansas kind of goes hand-and-hand, so he's very excited now that he's going to one of the premiere criminal justice universities in the country.
"I knew that if he ever heard what he needed to hear as far as his academics were concerned that he would commit. Arkansas just put their best foot forward and really wooed him with what their criminal justice program has to offer."