It was a dream that no one really expected to happen. That's why there's still shock surrounding the trio of prospects from Fayetteville (Ark.) High School who play college football for the in-state team just down the road.
Quarterback Austin Allen, defensive back Alex Brignoni and linebacker Brooks Ellis had long hoped they'd be able to continue their careers together past high school. As best as they can remember, middle school is when the idea was hatched. It could have been even earlier. The three have been close friends since elementary school.
"I was so happy," Brignoni said. "It's my dream school. Just knowing I have a bright future ahead of me, a great education and going to school with my two best friends."
Admittedly, the opportunity presented to the trio still hasn't settled in.
"I'll be shocked for a while," Brignoni said. "It doesn't seem real yet. It seems like I'm living in a dream. I'm so blessed."
Ellis was there when his good friend got the great news from Arkansas' coaches.
"Oh my gosh, he was jumping all over the place," Ellis recalled. "He was so pumped."
The three took about a day to make up their minds that Arkansas seemed like destiny. They announced their commitments to the world Monday.
"After they offered, it only took one day to talk about it," said Brignoni, who also has scholarship offers from Illinois, Arkansas State, Kent State and Central Arkansas. "It finally came, so we weren't going to let it slip away. So we pulled the trigger."
Allen, who completed 265 of 422 passes for over 4,100 yards and 46 touchdowns last season, had plenty of options as the nation's 16th-ranked quarterback. He holds scholarship offers from several tradition-laden schools, including Auburn, Notre Dame and Stanford. Yet nothing felt quite like Arkansas, especially with his best friends.
"It's pretty awesome," he said. "It's everything I thought it was going to be."
Ellis also had an impressive list of scholarship offers, but playing with his best friends was always a prime consideration.
"Yeah, he's our best friend," Ellis said of Brignoni. "We were always hoping he would get big-time offers because he's a great player. It sped up the decision to commit but it didn't necessarily decide we would go to Arkansas."
The pickup is huge for Arkansas, which is in the unusual position of having an interim coach for the 2012 season. The trio of new commitments didn't seem bothered by John L. Smith's tenuous position. A strong trust in athletic director Jeff Long was the key. The three prospects appreciated how Long handled the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino after he was caught in a wide-ranging scandal involving a female employee.
Ellis said that whether Smith is retained after this season won't affect their commitment. The prospects trust Long to do the right thing.
"Whatever happens, happens," said Ellis, who had 85 tackles, 13.5 sacks and three forced fumbles last season. "We're fine with the decision, whatever is decided."
Now the three can focus on a new dream: playing for the same team in the NFL. They have a pair of Arkansas natives to emulate, as
Minnesota Vikings receivers Greg Childs and Jarius Wright played together at Warren (Ark.) High School, then played for Arkansas and were reunited in the NFL.
Sure, it seems like a long shot, but so did playing for the same college team.