FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football coach John L. Smith understands the Razorbacks are facing some challenges on the recruiting trail this year.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football coach John L. Smith understands the Razorbacks are facing some challenges on the recruiting trail this year.

It’s all part of the fallout of former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino’s dismissal and the turmoil that surrounded it in April. But Smith said nothing steered the Razorbacks from their goal as assistant coaches roamed the road following spring practice.

“You’ll sit down and make out a recruiting plan,” Smith said before addressing the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club’s spring banquet on Wednesday. “We have a gameplan of how many in each position, but in front of that plan goes the fact that if we can get the guys that we want in state in the boat. We need a bell cow. That’s what we’re trying to do is get those in-state guys together, get them in the boat, and then have them sell the program to everybody else. That’s crucial.”

Arkansas took a step toward achieving that earlier this week, when a trio of Fayetteville High players made verbal commitments to the Razorbacks.

Oral commitments are non-binding, but quarterback Austin Allen, linebacker Brooks Ellis and safety Alex Brignoni said they intend to be Razorbacks. And Allen — who is the son of Arkansas cornerbacks coach Bobby Allen and younger brother of quarterback Brandon Allen — told Northwest Arkansas Newspapers the trio plans to lead the way as Arkansas concentrates on in-state recruiting first.

“Coach Smith told us to be the bell cows for the rest of the state,” Allen told the newspaper. “He wants us to be the bell cows and recruit the rest of Arkansas and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The three players bumped Arkansas’ verbal commitment total to five since Smith’s arrival. They join Louisiana high school running back Kaleb Blanchard and tight end Deondre Skinner.

The Razorbacks are still well behind in the number of offseason commitments compared to most other Southeastern Conference schools. For example: Florida, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Missouri, Ole Miss and Alabama each have more than 10 players who have made verbal commitments.

But defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell believes Arkansas is making an impact on the road and those efforts have started in the state first.

“Those are the guys that have to set tempo or lead the way,” Caldwell said. “You’ve got to get your in-state guys to come together. That sets a great example for all the other guys all over the country. Everybody’s waiting to see what happens in-state first, and if we can get those guys to get on board, we’ll do a good job recruiting the other guys around the rest of the country.”

Arkansas had success recruiting in-state players during the program’s last coaching change, when Petrino was hired to replace Houston Nutt in 2008.

Petrino and his coaching staff — led primary by running backs coach Tim Horton’s efforts — were able to sign players like quarterback Tyler Wilson, receivers Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, and running back Dennis Johnson. The group played a big role in Arkansas’ success the past four years.

So Arkansas would like to mimic the success now.

“There have been questions asked, of course. A little bit of uncertainty out there,” Smith said about the reaction on the road. “But what we have to do is take away that uncertainty and make them understand it’s a program, not an individual.”

Caldwell said he hasn’t gotten many questions from recruits or their families wondering who will be Arkansas’ next coach. But for anyone who does ask, the Razorbacks don’t hesitate to answer.

“John L. Smith’s the head coach, and we’re planning on being here a long time,” Caldwell said.