Linebacker Spencer Larsen arrived at the Arizona football practice field in 2002 with little acclaim and few expectations.
Many of the Wildcats’ 2009 recruits will resemble the former UA star when they sign letters of intent Wednesday.
The 23-player class boasts only three 4-star players – Palo Verde safety/receiver Adam Hall, linebacker Trevor Erno and tailback Daniel Jenkins – and the group is littered with 3-star prospects (16) and four 2-star guys.
There are no 5-star players – USC, LSU and other powerhouses will get those big shots. But in the long run, UA might benefit from molding hungry players with a lot to prove.
Take Larsen, for example.
After excelling at Gilbert High, he rated two stars by Rivals and only one by Scout.com (by virtue of having a profile on the Web site). ASU didn’t pursue him. UA took the chance on a relative nobody. Larsen played one season here and then went on a two-year Mormon mission before returning to UA in 2005 with another Rivals’ two-star rating.
Three years later, he led the Pac-10 in tackles, was the physical and emotional leader of the Wildcats’ defense and has already made a mark in the NFL with the Denver Broncos.
Larsen became only the fourth NFL player since 1990 to start on both sides of the ball when he appeared as a linebacker and fullback against Atlanta this season. And he was a rookie.
The Wildcats can go a long way with players such as Larsen and Antoine Cason, a 3-star prospect who developed into the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner for the nation’s top defensive back.
UA coach Mike Stoops is learning how to turn lower-rated players into draft picks, much like former coach Dick Tomey did with Tedy Bruschi, Rob Waldrop and others.
Stoops’ most-decorated recruit, 5-star defensive end Louis Holmes – came here in 2006 as the nation’s top junior college player out of Scottsdale Community College. But he finished with only six sacks in two years at UA.
Current UA defensive end Brooks Reed, a 3-star prospect out of Sabino High in 2006, led the Wildcats with eight sacks this season.
Fans and coaches sometimes take too much stock in the number of stars a player receives.
When The Associated Press reviewed the top 50 recruits as named by Scout.com and Rivals.com from 2002-04, it found that when picking the 10 players with the brightest football futures, the services were right a little more than half the time. It was based on whether a player started 20 games or more in college, his recognition for awards or whether he made it to the NFL. When it got to picks 11-50, the services were even more hit and miss.
“It’s not an exact science, period,” Bobby Burton, co-founder of Rivals, told AP. “Part of the reason why is kids are 17 years old and you’re trying to predict what’s going to happen when they’re 21 years old.”
Want local proof?
Former UA tailback/receiver Marcus Thomas and quarterback Richard Kovalcheck were 4-star prospects in Stoops’ 2003 class. They were busts, for the most part, just like 4-star defensive tackle Gabe Long, who couldn’t enroll at UA in 2006 because of academic issues.
The reviews of UA’s 4-star prospects in 2005 are mixed. Offensive tackle Eben Britton, school record-holding quarterback Willie Tuitama and safety Michael Johnson all panned out, and then some.
But injuries or other circumstances didn’t enable lineman Adam Hawes, tailback Terry Longbons and receiver B.J Vickers to live up to their potential. And tailback Derke Robinson and defensive back Mike Turner have not lived up to the hype.
There’s still much to prove for 2006 4-star prospects offensive lineman Jovon Hayes, cornerback Devin Ross and tight end A.J. Simmons.
Rob Gronkowski was only a 4-star tight end. His omission as a 5-star player points out flaws in the rating system.
Gronkowski has caught 18 touchdown passes in two years. He snared 47 passes for 10 scores this season despite missing three games.
Quarterback Matt Scott, in the running for the starting job in 2009, was a 4-star player.
But UA leading rusher Nic Grigsby had three stars – as did receiver Delashaun Dean, and defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Reed. All three are starters.
Cornerback Trevin Wade, the likely replacement for starter Marquis Hundley, was given two stars.
Maybe Wade will end up being the next Larsen.
John Moredich’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UA’S 2009 RECRUITING CLASS
Pos. Player (Rivals’ stars) Ht. Wt. HS or JC/Hometown
OL Jake Baratz (2) 6-4 275 Naperville (Calif.) North
TE Jack Baucus (3) 6-6 235 Mundelein (Ill.) Carmel
CB Marcus Benjamin (3) 6-1 200 Arizona Western JC
TB Kylan Butler (3) 5-6 180 Concord (Calif.) De La Salle
WR Travis Cobb (3) 6-0 180 Blinn (Texas) JC
LB Trevor Erno (4) 6-0 225 Lakewood (Calif.)
LB Jake Fischer (3) 5-11 225 Ironwood Ridge (Tucson)
LB Cordarius Golston (3) 6-1 220 Lancaster (Texas)
ATH Adam Hall (4) 6-4 195 Palo Verde (Tucson)
TB Daniel Jenkins (4) 5-9 170 Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde
OL Jack Julsing (3) 6-8 315 Palm Desert, Calif. (Col. of Desert JC)
TE Terrence Miller (3) 6-4 215 Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde
CB Ryan Milus (3) 5-10 155 Chandler Hamilton
QB Richard Morrison (3) 6-0 170 Royse City (Texas)
LB C.J. Parish (3) 6-2 238 Brenham, Texas (Blinn JC)
WR Dewayne Peace (3) 6-0 177 Grand Prairie, Texas
DE Jackon Powell (3) 6-5 235 Newbury Park (Calif.)
OT Chris Putton (3) 6-4 275 Glendale Cactus
ATH Derrick Rainey (2) 6-2 185 Houston Northbrook
DT Sione Tuihalamaka (3) 6-2 275 Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra
DE Taimi Tutogi (3) 6-1 260 Chula Vista, Calif.
DE Justin Washington (2) 6-3 260 Cypress, Texas
OL Shane Zink (2) 6-7 290 Redding, Calif. (Shasta JC)