Sully Says: The power of Homegrown Hogs
Dave Van Horn knows all about the power of Natural State kids playing for the Natural State's team.
Look at the 2018 roster. A 1-2 starting pitching combo of Blaine Knight ( Bryant) and Kacey Murphy ( Rogers Heritage) with Jake Reindl ( Shiloh Christian) a big contributor out of the bullpen, and the best lineup in college baseball featuring Lonoke's Casey Martin and two former Fayetteville high stars, Carson Shaddy and Grant Koch.
The Arkansas guys were the core of the team that came oh so close to winning a National Title.
To his credit, DVH has also landed some big time talent from outside Arkansas. Heston Kjerstad ( Texas) , Dominic Fletcher ( California) and Luke Bonfield ( New Jersey) were all highly regarded recruits. For a long time, college baseball was driven by the California kids. Like Texas and Florida in football, California cranks out a ton of high-level baseball talent. Dave Van Horn has long said, "Not all California kids want to stay in California, and if we can get the ones who don't to come to campus, we stand as good a chance as anybody of getting them."
But that narrative is changing. College Baseball is a quickly growing sport, the best television ratings in nearly 10 years at this year's College World Series are a great indicator of that, as are the sheer number of games on television. When the Diamond Hogs went to the College World Series in 2009, we at Channel 7 had to come up with a way to record a constantly-buffering University of Oklahoma in-house internet broadcast just to get highlights of the Razorbacks winning a NCAA Regional. This year? No problem. Every regional was on National TV. Interest is at an all-time high on the national level for college baseball, and with the Big Leaguers deciding to play a game in Omaha to open CWS week next year, it looks like it's only getting bigger.
But in Arkansas, we do things a little bit differently. Baum Stadium isn't some newly renovated palace because of a rise in baseball interest. It's been the crown jewel of college baseball stadiums for years, finally being recognized as the #1 Ballpark in America this season. Arkansas fans have been battling LSU fans for the national attendance crown for years, too. Seeing 10,000 red-clad Arkansans Calling the Hogs on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the spring isn't new here.
Dave Van Horn helped build that. He gave Arkansans what they wanted, a consistent winner and a classy program in a sport that hasn't been hurting for popularity at the little league and high school levels in Arkansas. After all, we're home to Big League legends like Brooks Robinson, Dizzy Dean, George Dickey, Torii Hunter, George Kell, Cliff Lee and AJ Burnett, just to name a few.
But what makes DVH OUR COACH is his understanding of Arkansas. He played here for Norm DeBriyn. He, like many who came before and have come after, learned what it means to be a Hog by living it; by wearing the Cardinal and White. It just means more to him.
So when Dickey-Stephens Park opened in North Little Rock, Coach recognized the opportunity: Take Razorback baseball to the entire state. So he did. And it grew even more than it already had.
Because as great as Dave Van Horn has been at getting the California Kids to come take a look at Arkansas and become lifelong Razorbacks, he knows its the Arkansas Kids that make the program go. It's the Carson Shaddys and Blaine Knights coming back to be Hogs one more year and make a run at a National Championship. It's the Casey Martins forgoing a chance to make a paycheck because the chance to be a Hog means that much more. It's the Kacey Murphy's growing from bullpen guys to Saturday night starters in the SEC. And it's not just baseball.
Think about any recent success Arkansas has had in basketball and football.
Houston Nutt won two SEC Western Division titles led by Arkansas Kids. Matt Jones (Fort Smith Northside), Shawn Andrews (Camden) and Jeb Huckeba (Searcy) formed the nucleus of the 2002 team. Darren McFadden (Oak Grove) and Peyton Hillis (Conway) equaled two-thirds of the best backfield in football in 2006, with Jamaal Anderson (Parkview) wreaking havoc on defense. Bobby Petrino's two best teams were littered with play makers we featured on Friday Night Touchdowns. Tyler Wilson ( Greenwood) , Joe Adams (CAC). DJ Williams ( CAC), Jarius Wright (Warren) , Chris Gragg ( Warren) ,Dennis Johnson (Texarkana), Greg Childs ( Warren) , Jerry Franklin ( Marion) and Jake Bequette ( Catholic) were the foundation for two good years of Hog football. Ryan Mallett may have counted as an "out-of-state recruit" from Texarkana, Texas, but we can count him as one of ours since he grew up in the Natural State going to Razorback Football games as a kid.
Mike Anderson's best teams have also had a definite Arkansas flavor. Bobby Portis ( Hall), Daniel Gafford ( El Dorado), Dusty Hannahs ( PA) and Daryl Macon (Parkview) are the first names that come to my mind. Other Arkansas high school stars like Ky Madden ( East Poinsett County) , Alandise Harris ( LR Central) , Anton Beard ( NLR) and Trey Thompson ( Forrest City) played supporting roles for the Hoop Hogs. John Pelphrey's lone NCAA Tournament team was led in scoring by West Memphis product Sonny Weems. Even Stan Heath got in on the act, with Ronnie Brewer (Fayetteville) and Jonathon Modica (Smackover) leading his two NCAA teams.
For Chad Morris, his success will depend on his ability to get kids out of Texas. Mike Anderson will continue to need to go outside the state to fill out his rosters, too. And Dave Van Horn won't stop trying to entice the Dominic Fletchers and Andrew Benintendis of the world to consider Calling the Hogs. Those from elsewhere who see how special Arkansas is will always be Hogs for Life. Clint Stoerner and Scotty Thurman came to Arkansas as teenagers and have been Arkansans ever since. Dave Van Horn has Razorbacks now dotting the rosters of the Big Leagues, but they all put #WPS in their Twitter profiles.
Once a Hog, always a Hog, it's true. But, there's no question, for Morris, Mike and DVH to succeed at the highest levels, it will always be about the Homegrown Hogs. They almost got DVH his Championship this year. Rest assured, when that title comes, it'll be Arkansas Kids leading the Hog Call and hoisting that trophy.