UA football’s class of 2008: So far, so greatby Anthony Gimino on Oct. 23, 2009, under Sports
Arizona’s 2008 football recruiting class was ranked 39th nationally by Rivals.com and Scout.com. Eh. The Wildcats would like to live in a better neighborhood, but you know what coaches always say — you need three or four years to truly evaluate a class.
In UA’s case, let’s chop that time frame down to about 18 months.
Arizona is 4-2 at the halfway point of the 2009 season, and, barring an upset, will go to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-10, which would make the Wildcats a legit contender for the conference title (and the program’s first Rose Bowl … but you knew that).
The Cats get UCLA on Saturday and then, after a bye, Washington State. Both games are at home. Those two opponents are a combined 0-7 in the Pac-10.
One of the reasons the Wildcats are doing so well is that 2008 recruiting class. The UA signed 23 players in that class, and then added another guy late in spring. You might have heard of him. Quarterback Nick Foles, a transfer from Michigan State.
The Wildcats would be in a bad way (or at least a not-as-good way) if the coaches hadn’t successfully plugged holes with junior college transfers. After all, that’s why you recruit those guys in the first place.
It’s often hit and miss with junior college recruits, but Arizona “hit” with offensive linemen Mike Diaz, Phillip Garcia and Herman Hall, and linebackers Vuna Tuihalamaka and Sterling Lewis. Not only are they starting-level players (a combined 21 starts this season), they successfully bridged the recruiting gap so UA could develop younger recruits who will be ready to take over next season.
The only JC transfer miss was offensive lineman J’Marcus Webb. He was the highest-rated of the bunch but was the only member of the entire class to not qualify. He is now at lower-division West Texas. Anyway, it’s a blessing to hit so well on five of six junior college recruits.
Among the high school kids in that class, Arizona is already getting key production from running backs Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko. At receiver, David Douglas (25 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns) and Juron Criner (23 catches for 301 yards and three touchdowns) are key members of the rotation.
Robert Golden is the starting strong safety. Vaughn Dotsy was starting at right guard before suffering a concussion and is back at least as a key member of the playing rotation.
It’s hard to know what to make of the future of quarterback Matt Scott, who was supplanted as the starter after three games by Foles, who shows no intention of giving it back. Foles, because of his late transfer, wasn’t factored into the UA’s class ranking in 2008 … which shows one of the inherent flaws of banking opinions on recruiting rankings.
Other members of the class, such as OL Trace Biskin, LB R.J. Young and DT Jowyn Ward, seem ready to emerge next season.
There’s another trend at work here.
Call it the Rise of the Two-Star Recruits.
(That’s another reason to not get all aflutter over football recruiting rankings.)
USC gets all five- and four-star recruits, and good for them. You’d rather take your chances with those kind of guys than a team filled with two-star prospects. Arizona’s recruits tend to be of the three-star variety, with a few bigger stars mixed in.
But take a look at the players signed by UA coach Mike Stoops who were rated only two stars by either Rivals.com or Scout.com, or both:
DL Yaniv Barnett
OL Joe Longacre
DB Dominic Patrick
CB Antoine Cason
LB Spencer Larsen (coming back from a church mission)
DT Lolomana Mikaele
CB Trevin Wade
WR Bug Wright
RB Greg Nwoko
WR Juron Criner
WR David Douglas
OL Herman Hall
That’s a major-award winner and a first-round draft pick (Cason), a first-team all-conference linebacker and valuable 2008 NFL rookie (Spencer Larsen), a 40-game starter on the offensive line (Longacre) … and several players from 2006 to 2008 who look to be significant contributors for a few more years.
When I was recently doing a story on Wade, I asked defensive coordinator Mark Stoops about finding those kind of gems.
“Certainly, some kids get so much hype and so much recruitment that it’s undeserved,” Stoops said. “And other kids, you find that they’re just good ball players.
“We don’t have the bells and whistles around here to go get a bunch of four- and five-star recruits. It’s just not going to happen. So we have to do a great job of evaluation and do a great job of developing.
“We’re always going to go after them (the four- and five-star recruits) — and not just because they are four- and five-star guys. We’re going to recruit the best players we can get. But there are a lot of good programs out there, and we have our obstacles that we must overcome.”
Getting back to the original point … it seems as if Arizona overcame everything just fine in its modestly ranked but high-performing 2008 recruiting class.