The Bizarre Battle for Fred Bledsoe

Fred Bledsoe

Fred Bledsoe went to bed in his Little Rock, Ark., home Tuesday night with Tennessee on his mind, but he awoke Wednesday morning to a sign from God that told him to forsake the Vols for the call of the Hogs.

"I went down and I prayed before I went to sleep and I thought about Tennessee," Bledsoe told a reporter from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I had Tennessee on my mind. When I woke up this morning, my dad opened my blinds and I saw the shadow of a hog on my wall. God just showed me the light."

The divine sign of the swine swayed Bledsoe to ink with the oinkers and a few hours before Wednesday's afternoon press conference, he called to inform Arkansas' coaches of his decision. The reversal probably caught Tennessee's coaching staff off guard in light of the fact the Vols told Georgia defensive tackle prospect Neil Brown, who signed with Auburn on Wednesday, they were out of scholarships on Tuesday.

Bledsoe played out his hand at the press conference by opening his jacket to reveal an orange Tennessee T-shirt. He then pulled both the jacket and shirt and was wearing a gray Arkansas T-shirt. Had he known ahead of time he would feature the Arkansas shirt, he could have shopped for one in Razorback red.

"I just it for the people," Bledsoe said of his flair for the dramatic. "They've been really supportive of me."

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound, Bledsoe is ranked No. 24 nationally at defensive tackle by The Insiders and he earned Houston Nutt's praise for his talent and decision.

"I've been left at the altar before — Cedric Houston, Brett Smith," Nutt said in reference to two No. 1 players from Arkansas that Tennessee successfully recruited. "But I trusted Fred. He had a plan, and I had a lot of confidence in his mother and father.

"The sky is the limit for him. We haven't had one like him in Arkansas in a while, a player with that kind of body who runs like a deer."

Nutt couldn't let the issue go without rehashing claims he made last year that Tennessee and other schools were using negative tactics to create doubt in the minds of prospects by talking about an ongoing, three-year, NCAA investigation that threatened Arkansas' status as a bowl and title contender. The investigation concluded last April when the NCAA accepted self-imposed scholarship cuts without handing down further penalties.

"This time (opposing coaches) couldn't do that," Nutt said. "You just felt like the burden was off your back, because no one could say we couldn't go to a bowl game or couldn't play for a championship.

"We built a fence and got 99.9 percent of everybody we wanted. I'm glad that fence was built very, very high."

Ironically, the fence was so high that even Nutt couldn't get a prospect out of Arkansas. You see, when he was offered the Nebraska job last month one of the first things he did was to call Peyton Hillis of Conway, Ark., to see if the big fullback would go with him to Lincoln. Hillis, who had already committed to Arkansas, wasn't interested in playing for the Huskers and declined. Nutt eventually accepted a salary increase from Arkansas and turned down the Nebraska job. Hog fans were seemingly so glad that he stayed they didn't even question Nutt's attempt to steal the state's top gridiorn star.

However, the fence wasn't built so very, very high that the Razorbacks couldn't get 18 out-of-state prospects into Arkansas and since they signed 12 of 13 in-state prospects they offered, Nutt's 99.9 percent figure just doesn't add up. But what can you expect from a program that awards 30 scholarships when it only has 23 scholarships available.

Given the dynamics, mathematics and histrionics that surrounded the recruitment of Fred Bledsoe, it wouldn't be surprising if the hog shadow turned out to be a pizza stain.

The moral of this wacky recruiting tale: Even a nearsighted Nutt can stumble upon a Hog.

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