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April 25, 2012
There are 215 schools in the state of Arkansas that play high school football and new Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn wants a Red Wolf presence in every one of them.
The offensive genius, whose career began on the very same sidelines around the state, has put together his most aggressive play-calling package of his career: The A-State Ambush.
"We're going to recruit this state like it's never been recruited," Malzahn said in a press release.
On Monday, the ambush began. The five-day attack on the state has been met with positive reviews from coaches in the area.
Josh Floyd, a former record-setting quarterback under Malzahn at Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian where Floyd now coaches, said that the plan is a wonderful approach to recruiting.
"It is a great idea," he said. "To hit every single school sends a strong message that they take this state seriously and want to keep kids here.
"For the smaller schools that may not have a top kid, or may not ever have a kid get recruited, it makes them feel like part of the process and will help build relationships with the coaches. It shows they want to get out there and really hone in on the local product."
It is a local product that Malzahn can believe in because he helped cultivate it.
Before his successes at the collegiate level, Malzahn's legend quickly grew in Northwest Arkansas. After starting his career as a defensive coordinator and leading Hughes (Ark.) High to a state finals appearance in his second year as a head coach, he took over at Shiloh Christian and his offense-first mentality propelled the small private school into the national spotlight. After back-to-back state titles in 1998-99, he went to Springdale (Ark.) High, where in 2005 he fielded what many believe to be among the best teams in the history of the state behind quarterback Mitch Mustain, receiver Damian Williams, and many other Division I players.
His ascent in college was as quick and impressive as in high school. In just his second season as a college coordinator at Arkansas, he was named the National Offensive Coordinator of the Year by Rivals.com. He then moved onto Auburn, where he tutored Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and helped the Tigers win a national title.
It is his unique approach to the game that leads Floyd to believe this will be successful.
"He is going to compete for the best kids in the state," Floyd said. "And he is going to go after some kids that he likes that others may ignore. Different things attract different players and with an exciting system like his some may want to go (to Arkansas State) instead of some maybe higher-profile places."
Malzahn acknowledged that the in-state product is important and he wants to grow the number of commitments from the state every year of his tenure.
Arkansas State's 2012 class included 11 in-state players, a high for the program since Rivals.com began tracking in 2002. The program was as low as four in-state commitments as recently as 2008.
"We are big believers in the players here in Arkansas and the coaches here in Arkansas, so that's going to be the foundation of our program," Malzahn said. "We're going to do everything in our power to recruit this state."
Springdale (Ark.) Har-Ber coach Chris Wood says that the task is daunting but accomplishable.
"The state is the right size to accomplish that approach," he said. "The grassroots approach is probably the right one to take for them because people here have deep roots and if he can get that program to be part of the tradition more kids will want to go there."
Wood has been the only coach at Har-Ber since the school opened in 2006. His team won a state title in 2009 and was ranked nationally in the RivalsHigh 100. Wood has not had a player go to Arkansas State, but said he would have no hesitations with sending one there in the future.
This season he may see it happen, as his three-star tight end Nick Byrne is sitting on one offer - from Arkansas State.
If Byrne ends up with the Red Wolves, Wood believes he will be like many other Arkansas players.
"Our state has been sending more kids to college and they have been successful," he said. "I think (Malzahn) sees that there is quality right here and wants to keep it."
With six assistants on the road all week the A-State Ambush could turn quick dividends.
Floyd thinks it will also turn over some stones.
"He will get some kids from some spots that you don't expect," he said. "But when you start talking about playing on the college level it really won't matter what your star-ranking is but whether you can play. He will find the players."