There’s nothing that J.T. Towers can’t handle. Not even a snarling SEC offensive lineman.
Towers’ young life has already been full of tumult and adversity, and he’s still standing. Playing football at Arkansas is a challenge but not near as tough as what he’s faced.
His older brother Zack died of a football-related brain injury when Towers was in grade school. He missed his entire sophomore season due to a horrific car accident that has left him with noticeable scars.
A foot injury nearly derailed his senior season at Joe T. Robinson, but he played through it recently having surgery on his big toe.
A year ago, Towers was a quarterback at Class 3A Glen Rose, but he transferred to Class 4A Robinson for his senior season and found a home at linebacker racking up 171 tackles including 47 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and 5 forced fumbles.
He played with a reckless abandon you’d expect from a guy who shrugs off catastrophic car accidents. Former Arkansas coach Chad Morris didn’t offer him a scholarship, but new coach Sam Pittman re-evaluated in-state recruits and offered Towers.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder chose Arkansas over Utah, Tulsa, Army, and Louisiana-Lafayette, Illinois State and more.
“It’s a day I anticipated for a long time,” emotional Towers told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday. “It’s been a long time coming for me, and being able to put the pen to the paper and getting the recruiting process over with and moving on to the next stage. I’m just looking forward to it.”
Towers is a roll of the dice. You didn’t see any other Power 5 schools on his list. Oklahoma and Texas Tech offered preferred walk-on spots.
However, it appears Pittman is going to have a place in his classes for some in-state diamonds in the rough, reminiscent of former Hogs coach Houston Nutt. Nutt, an Arkansas native, saw value in recruiting and developing in-state players, who he claimed were tougher when the chips were down as they were fighting for their home state.
Nutt transformed skinny Little Rock Parkview receiver Jamaal Anderson into a hulking all-American defensive end. Former coach Bret Bielema didn’t value that as much but did do a nice job of flipping star receiver Drew Morgan from Arkansas State.
The Greenwood native was a staple in the Bielema Era.
Morris did not follow suit, and focused his efforts on blue chip players in his native Texas. From a recruiting standpoint, he turned in a great class. However, so many other problems existed that we will never know how that formula would have worked.
Pittman probably realized from his first tour at Arkansas as Bielema’s offensive line coach that the Hogs will never get as many four- and five-star players as more than half of the SEC.
Even Morris’ stellar class was not atop the SEC.
So, to beat those teams you need to develop players. Players who have a lot of untapped potential and a desire to win. There isn’t a better place to pluck those than inside the state borders.
Like Nutt, Pittman knows you need to snag big-time recruits, too, a lot of times in Texas to balance out the class. This is where Pittman can outshine Nutt.
He has already proven as an assistant to be an outstanding recruiter. He proved it again Wednesday when out of nowhere, he inked Missouri City, Texas, quarterback Malik Hornsby, who is one of the more highly regarded QBs in the nation.
Hornsby chose Arkansas over Baylor, Texas A&M and Purdue among others. He is a big-time quarterback prospect Arkansas needed, but didn’t seem likely considering Pittman’s limited time to recruit.
Pittman was also able to flip talented offensive linemen Jalen St. John and Marcus Henderson. Both seem primed to fill spots quickly.
When Morris left several recruits decommitted and the stock of the class plummeted. Pittman was able to rescue it to around 30 nationally among most pundits.
This should be encouraging for Hogs fans.
Pittman sold a program that was 4-20 the past two seasons and convinced some big-time players to take a chance on him and his staff. That is how you build a program. Pittman laid the first bricks of that foundation.
However, if Arkansas is going to crash the SEC West party like Nutt did a few times, Pittman will need some underdogs such as Towers to bring major contributions.
The more diamonds Pittman mines with a longer list of blue chippers than Nutt’s, the better the chance he will have to bring Arkansas back.