YUMA, AZ (ArkansasSports360.com) - Interstate 8 stretches nearly 350 miles between San Diego and Casa Grande, Ariz. Motorists can peer over the United States border into Mexico in some spots along the desert- and mountain-lined highway.
Yuma, Ariz., home of Arizona Western College, is essentially the midway point of Interstate 8. And it's there you'll find a billboard — 10-feet, 6-inches tall and 36-feet long — that reads:
"ARKANSAS FOOTBALL. VISIT THISISARKANSASFOOTBALL.COM."
If this strikes you as an unusual spot for Arkansas to advertise its football program, then you haven't been paying attention. This is Arkansas football under Coach Bobby Petrino.
Petrino has established he and his assistants are willing to go anywhere for football prospects. Petrino and a number of staff members, including defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, offensive line coach Chris Klenakis and wide receivers coach Kris Cinkovich have ties to the Western portion of the United States. They've succeeded in locating players out there and have every intention of finding more.
No prospect is from too remote of a locale. Consider that Arkansas' 2011 recruiting class has players from 13 different states and Canada. Seriously, they signed a kid from Canada.
Yuma, Ariz., seems perfectly normal by comparison, right?
This year's 30-man class includes seven players from inside the state of Arkansas. Texas contributed five. Third on the list? Arizona, home of four three new Razorbacks.
Ever think you'd see the day that two members of the signing class hailed from California, while none came from Mississippi?
Back in 2009, Arkansas signed four players from California. Only linebacker Anthony Leon really panned out from that group, but how is that success rate much different than players mined from elsewhere?
Robinson said on National Signing Day he envisions even more of a push out West in the future. He and the coaches with ties to the areas are getting tipped off to players through their connections and haven't "started beating the bushes for a kid."
"By word of mouth eventually [Arkansas will] get out there more and more," Robinson said. "There is a lot of talent out there. … We're still going to hit this area as hard as we can."
Which is why you'll find a "This Is Arkansas Football" billboard in Yuma, Ariz. Recruiting coordinator Tim Horton said the idea sprung from a couple of recruiting trips he made to a town in Florida where New Jersey-based Rutgers University had erected a billboard touting its football program.
It should be noted that Arkansas didn't wind up with the offensive line prospect it wanted from Arizona Western. He chose Alabama.
If it seems like the billboard failed, you're missing the bigger point here: Petrino and his staff aren't willing to concede prospects to "power" programs. Alabama is going after a kid, so what? Arkansas will fight for him.
Scan the offer sheets of the Razorbacks' latest class. You'll see players chose Arkansas over the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Miami.
Sometimes prospects will choose to go elsewhere. Arkansas lost a highly coveted tight end to Michigan. But if the Razorbacks don't pursue a kid, they have zero chance of landing him.
So if that means spending $1,704 to put up a billboard in a state 1,400 miles away, Arkansas will do it. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn't. But the Razorbacks aren't going to let other programs snatch up top players without a fight.
"You can't be afraid to try things you haven't done before," Horton told me Wednesday. "Most importantly, you can't be afraid to go after the players. There might have been a time in the past when Arkansas didn't go head-to-head with schools to fight for [a prospect]. Not any more."