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Arizona Wildcats football: Revisiting the 2008 recruiting class

Juron Criner

Juron Criner was the only all-conference player for Arizona from its 2008 recruiting class. Photo by Chris Morrison-USA Today Sports

The Arizona Wildcats football recruiting class of 2008 is in the books.

Arizona was coming off a 5-7 season in coach Mike Stoops fourth season and hadn’t had a winning record in nine seasons.

The Cats weren’t operating from a position of strength and finished 39th nationally in the recruiting rankings of Rivals.com and Scout.com, which put Arizona slightly below average among BCS conference teams.

So, how did Arizona do with its 2008 recruiting class?

Somewhere around average sounds about right.

The Cats hit on about half of the class, with “hit” defined as a starting player, but there wasn’t a lot of star power and not nearly enough defense.

Let’s take a look …

Good: You wouldn’t have known it at the time, but the eventual headliner of the 23-player class was three-star receiver Juron Criner (who was rated as only as two-star recruit by Scout.com). Criner was the only first-team All-Pac-10/12 player in this class, becoming one of the most prolific receivers in school history.

“We knew in high school he was pretty special,” Stoops said in 2010.

“He was a big, strong, physical guy. Played basketball. Could jump. I don’t know … we didn’t see anything that showed us he wasn’t going to be a very talented player.”

Good: The class was heavy on offensive linemen; seven signed with the Cats and six proved to be starters, including a pair who helped lead the 2012 line as fifth-year seniors — center Kyle Quinn and guard Trace Biskin.

Bad: Three of the offensive linemen were junior college transfers, so Arizona filled a need but didn’t get much lasting benefit. And the career of promising guard Vaughn Dotsy was cut short because of injury.

Bad: The best offensive lineman of the group — junior college transfer J’Marcus Webb — never made it to Arizona but has gone on to be a three-year starter for the Chicago Bears.

Good: Defensive back Robert Golden was one of the top-rated players in Arizona’s class and became a three-year starter and a NFL player last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Criner, Golden and wide receiver David Douglas (who appeared in one game with Tampa Bay late in the season) all made the NFL from this class.

Good: Not included here is a player Arizona landed in the spring of 2008 — Michigan State transfer quarterback Nick Foles.

Good: Quarterback Matt Scott, able to redshirt in 2011 behind Foles, was a fifth-year senior last season. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 team and was the foremost reason why the Cats posted a surprising 8-5 mark in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season.

Bad: With a class that featured six junior college transfers, five players who never played a down for the Cats, injuries, and guys who simply weren’t good enough, Arizona got useful play from only three fifth-year seniors: Scott, Quinn and Biskin. Lack of depth from the upperclassmen was a huge hurdle for Rodriguez in 2012.

Bad: Arizona went 0 for 5 in defensive linemen in this class, a huge reason why the Cats failed to have a suitable pass rush in 2011 and 2012. UA also went 0 for 2 on high school linebackers. The alarming lack of enduring defensive talent in this class helps explain Arizona’s woeful stats in the past two seasons.

Here is a player-by-player look at the 2008 class, with ratings by Rivals.com:

Keola Antolin, RB, Las Vegas, Bishop Gorman HS (3 stars)
He gave Arizona steady production for four seasons, finishing with 2,398 rushing yards, 508 receiving yards and 26 total touchdowns.

Dominique Austin, DE, La Puente, Calif., Bishop Amat HS (3 stars)
He was little-used before this year. He started the first five games before being sidelined with an injury, able to return briefly in the New Mexico Bowl.

Kenny Barnes, DE, Glendale, Raymond S Kellis HS (2 stars)
Never played. Quit the team in the summer of 2009 after redshirting.

Trace Biskin, OL, Westlake Village, Calif. Oaks Christian HS (3 stars)
Started 17 games over the past two seasons, including seven in 2012, when he battled a toe injury.

Juron Criner, WR, North Las Vegas, Canyon Springs HS (3 stars)
With excellent body control and leaping ability, Criner excelled at catching the deep pass from Nick Foles. He finished with 209 catches for 2,859 yards and a school-record 32 touchdown receptions, going on to play for the Oakland Raiders as a rookie.

Mike Diaz, OL, Cerritos, Calif., Cerritos CC (3 stars)
He started 20 games in two years, including 11 at left tackle in 2009.

Vaughn Dotsy, OL, Ventura, Calif., St. Bonaventure HS (3 stars)
He started two games as a junior early in the 2010 season before being sidelined by a back injury that forced him to give up football after the year.

David Douglas, WR, McKinney, Texas, McKinney North HS (2 stars)
Douglas caught 151 passes for 1,542 yards and 11 touchdowns at Arizona. He was on the New York Giants practice squad for most of last season before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked him up late in the season.

Zander Fabbri, LB, Bakersfield, Calif., Centennial HS (3 stars)
He suffered a concussion in 2008 fall camp and eventually had to give up football.

Phillip Garcia, OL, Cerritos, Calif., Cerritos CC (3 stars)
Redshirted in 2008 because of a knee injury, made a couple of spot starts in 2009 and then started every game in 2010 at right tackle.

Robert Golden, DB, Fresno, Calif., Edison HS (4 stars)
He started two seasons at safety and one at cornerback for the Cats before sticking with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season as an undrafted free agent.

Herman Hall, OL, Brenham, Texas, Blinn CC (2 stars)
He started 11 games as a senior in 2009, playing both guard spots.

Solomon Koehler, DT, Kaneohe, Hawaii, Castle HS (4 stars)
Plenty of recruiting hype but didn’t have the quickness needed at defensive tackle and was moved to the offensive line late in his redshirt freshman season. He was gone a year later.

Sterling Lewis, LB, Brenham, Texas, Blinn CC (3 stars)
Was a solid player, starting 15 games in two seasons and making 97 tackles.

Chris Merrill, DT, Scottsdale, Saguaro HS (3 stars)
He merely saw spot duty through his career, coming up with 15 tackles, including five in 2012.

Greg Nwoko, RB, Pflugerville, Texas, Pflugerville HS (2 stars)
Had a role in 2009 and 2010 as a bigger running back, but he lost 2011 to a knee injury and 2012 to a hip injury after moving to linebacker in fall camp.

Kyle Quinn, OL, Brentwood, Calif., Liberty Union HS (3 stars)
Quinn was a two-year starter at center, extending the program’s stability at the position after taking over for Colin Baxter. Worked out for scouts at the Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

Matt Scott, QB, Corona, Calif., Centennial HS (4 stars)
Got his chance to be the full-time starter as a senior, completing 301 of 499 passes for 3,620 yards, with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Scott has the potential to be a mid-round NFL draft pick in April.

Vuna Tuihalamaka, LB, Torrance, Calif., El Camino CC (4 stars)
He was productive as an every-game starter in 2009, with 72 tackles, including 5.5 for loss.

Jowyn Ward, DT, Katy, Texas, Mayde Creek HS (2 stars)
Only saw spot duty (11 tackles) for three years before being moved to backup offensive guard during the 2012 season.

Mark Watley, DB, Encino, Calif., Crespi HS (2 stars)
He seemed to be in line to be a contributor in 2012, but he made only four tackles as he slipped on the depth chart after making 27 stops in 2011.

J’Marcus Webb, OL, Corsicana, Texas, Navarro JC (4 stars)
He was the only member of Arizona’s recruiting class who failed to qualify, landing at lower-division West Texas. Webb, who began his career at the University of Texas, was a seventh-round pick of the Bears in 2010.

R.J. Young, LB, DeSoto, Texas, DeSoto HS (3 stars)
After making 25 career tackles at Arizona, Young transferred after the 2010 season to Louisiana-Monroe, where he led the team in tackles in 2012 with 94, including 11 for loss.

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