FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — The best recruiter for the Arkansas Razorbacks might not even be on campus yet. In fact, he’s more than a year away from arriving.
Connor Noland spends a little time every day talking, texting or going on social media to encourage fellow high school athletes to become Hogs. And he’s doing it in 2 sports. A junior, Noland is a 4-star quarterback and pitcher at Greenwood (Ark.) High, about an hour south of Fayetteville. He committed to Arkansas over the summer in both sports and, between quarterback camps and pitching sessions, he spent a good chunk of his free time recruiting.
“Pretty much every day I’m talking to someone,” he said. “Trying to get some guys to come to Fayetteville.”
Noland turned down offers from other schools in recent months. His junior football season ended in the Class 6A state championship game in a loss to Russellville. Almost immediately he started preparing for baseball — he’s the ace of the Bulldogs staff and they, too, have visions of a state title.
When you’re a star recruit in 2 sports, there is no taking time off one to do the other. Greenwood’s baseball season starts Feb. 27 and Noland is preparing for spring football camps, including ones with Under Armour and the Nike Elite 11.
Balancing jobs as an adult isn’t easy. Balancing passions — ostensibly unpaid jobs — as a 17-year-old high-school junior is even tougher. Noland credits his football coach Rick Jones and baseball coach Trey Holloway in helping him even out his time.
“The coaches do a lot of that work. They’re really good at scheduling and trying to keep my arm fresh,” Noland said. “Obviously I don’t want to burn out my arm when I’m 17 years old. And I’d like to say I have 6 months and 6 months, but right now I’m throwing baseballs and footballs.”
Holloway is a former Arkansas pitcher himself. He was on the staff from 2004-06 and helped coach in 2007 and 2008. Holloway was at Arkansas for Nick Schmidt (a first-round MLB pick), Dallas Keuchel (a Cy Young Award winner), Drew Smyly and Mike Bolsinger. The latter have been staples in the majors the past few seasons.
Arkansas tight end coach Barry Lunney Jr. knows Noland’s life, too. Lunney was a quarterback and pitcher during his time at Arkansas in the 1990s.
Between Holloway and Lunney, Noland has gained a wealth of knowledge as to what to expect when he arrives to Arkansas.
Not that he needs too much, Holloway said.
“He understands it,” Holloway said. “It’s a given. He knows to do both sports he is going to have to work. To be a quarterback in the SEC and to be able to play in the SEC for baseball is hard to do. I think he understands that.”
Keeping his focus
It’s hard to say which sport is brighter for Noland’s future. He laughed when asked to pick one or the other. Couldn’t do it. Noland won’t be available to enroll early despite his early commitment because of his ability as a baseball player. He said he wants to finish his senior year of high school baseball, which falls during college football spring practice.
The truth is, Noland will surely be taken in the MLB First-Year Player Draft in the summer of 2018, the summer after his senior year. As to whether that might stop him from coming to Arkansas, well, never say never — but probably not.
“It would have to be life-changing money, really,” Noland said. “I’m not going to go for $500,000 to go play baseball. It would have to be a big sum. (It’s more important) going to get your education and having that college experience.”
How many 17-year-olds already know they’d turn down half-a-million dollars guaranteed? Such a signing bonus would likely mean Noland would be drafted in the third round or so. He’d rather go to Arkansas than do that.
Holloway isn’t surprised. And a career at Arkansas could open several others paths — even more lucrative ones, in either sport. That’s part of what makes him so valuable, even now, as a recruiter.
“He’s great,” Holloway said. “You can talk the talk, but if you don’t put int he work, people aren’t going to follow you. That’s how he is. That goes back to putting in the work and putting in the time.”
Noland paid close attention to the Diamond Hogs’ opening series. He was excited about what Razorbacks pitchers did, striking out 36 in the sweep of Miami (Ohio). When Blaine Knight hit 99 mph on the radar gun, Noland noticed. He also noticed when his future coach, Dave Van Horn, wasn’t thrilled about the radar gun being high by 4 or 5 mph.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Noland said, laughing. “He’s old-fashioned.”
With Noland’s work ethic, the same could be said of him.