Criner’s development another sign of Stoops’ eye for talentby Anthony Gimino on Sep. 09, 2010, under Sports
I can imagine it’s a daunting task to rank all the senior wide receivers in high school, but it’s nearly impossible to fathom that Juron Criner was rated the nation’s 167th-best wideout after the 2007 season.
Yep. That was the judgment of Scout.com, which gave him a two-star rating, which is pretty much the basement-level rating for any recruit that signs with a major-college team.
You know who else was once a two-star recruit? Arizona junior cornerback Trevin Wade (by Rivals.com) in the 2007 class.
I was thinking about all this while contributing a story on Criner for FoxSportsArizona.com — Criner making the leap to elite receiver. There are some kids the recruiting services just miss on, for whatever reason.
But I think it’s worth noting that while fans cheer, puff out their chests and mock their rivals when their team signs four- and five-star recruits, a good eye for talent and player development is an acceptable substitute.
This is where Arizona coach Mike Stoops and his staff come in.
Make a list of UA’s best players. Criner and Wade we know were two-star recruits, almost ignored by one of the major recruiting services. Seniors Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore are now arguably the best pair of defensive ends in the Pac-10. Reed, back in the 2006 class, was Scout.com’s 80th-best running back; Elmore was the 79th-best defensive end.
Center Colin Baxter was the nation’s 76th-best offensive lineman in the 2006 class.
In 2007, Nick Foles was merely a middlin’ three-star quarterback headed to Michigan State. Nic Grigsby was the 99th-best running back in the country.
Not a four-star recruit in the bunch. Their signings mostly drew a collective shrug of the shoulders from fans.
Anybody would love a team filled with five-star guys like Rob Gronkowski. But Stoops has certainly developed a nice eye for talent, no matter the rating, and then strength coach Corey Edmond has to be given a huge assist in terms of molding that talent.
“Evaluation and development are two areas that you have to be good at if you want to continually improve your team,” Stoops said.
Let’s look at Criner. It’s not as if he was a super sleeper in high school. He caught 25 touchdown passes during his senior season at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas. At 6 feet 4 inches, he had size. He was working on his speed. He had what coaches call “ball skills,” the ability to have the body control to go up and out-maneuver a defensive back for the football, a product of his basketball-playing ability.
Dave Nichol, Arizona’s outside receivers coach, was one of the team’s grad assistants when the Wildcats were recruiting Criner.
“You look at a 6-4 guy who has good ball skills, you know that’s kind of an easy find. You could tell that if he grew and matured and we could get the rawness out, he was going to be pretty good,” Nichol said.
“You just saw him and it was like, ‘I can work with that kind of stuff.’”
Criner wasn’t a plug-and-play kind of recruit. He did play as a true freshman, but caught only seven passes. He began to emerge in the second half of last season, becoming Foles’ go-to-guy. He finished with 45 catches for 582 yards and nine touchdowns.
Basically, he worked and grew confident. And now …
It has taken him a couple of years, but he appears to have caught up to the consensus top receiver recruits from the 2008 class — Alabama’s Julio Jones, Georgia’s A.J. Green, Ohio State’s DeVier Posey, Southern Miss’ DeAndre Brown, Pitt’s Jon Baldwin and Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd.
From No. 167 to ranking with the best.
His huge opening game against Toledo — 10 catches for 176 yards and two Plays of the Day on SportsCenter — marks what should be a breakout season for the former two-star recruit.
“I think Juron has made a lot of strides in his maturity and his consistency,” Stoops said.
“Either you come to realize this is the way you are going to do it or you don’t. I mean, he’s got a whole bunch of talent. I think he’s starting to see it and realize he can be pretty special. But you have to work hard.”
From Oct. 2009: A little luck helped UA uncover a gem in Trevin Wade