CULVER CITY, Calif. — The Arizona Wildcats had 25 committed recruits as of Aug. 12 last year, and this could be another year in which the class is nearly complete before the season begins.
“Unofficial visits are now more important than official visits,” coach Rich Rodriguez said at Pac-12 Media Day on Friday. “That’s when kids are making their minds up.”
Arizona has 14 committed players — the most in the Pac-12 — and several of those are coming in this weekend for their official visits, which means the school pays for the trips.
Unofficial visits — paid for by the recruit’s family — typically occur earlier in the recruiting cycle at the players’ convenience.
That helps the school to put together big recruiting weekends — with unofficial visits or official visits — such as the one this weekend as the program opens up the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility to prospects for the first time Saturday. The football program moved in last week.
“I think the timing worked out great,” Rodriguez said.
“We had over 30 guys RSVP us, and they are all ‘offer’ guys. So I’m expecting a big night for us. We want to show it off. We showed them a lot of pictures, but they haven’t seen it in person.
“Plus, any time we get a guy on campus, it gives us a shot because they get to know us a little bit.”
The Wildcats are hoping to pick up at least a few commitments after these visits, preferably several.
Given the increasing frequency of early commits, Rodriguez backs an idea that is often discussed among football coaches — an early signing period for high school recruits, just like in basketball. Football signing day is always the first Wednesday in February.
“There should be an early signing period the third week in December,” Rodriguez said. “It’s crazy that there’s not.
“Most coaches, I think, are in favor of it. It saves schools time and money. It will put a little sanity back into this commitment stuff, where guys are taking trips just to take trips.
“I mean, a guy who is committed to you who is taking visits somewhere else isn’t committed; he’s just interested. He ain’t marrying you; he’s dating the whole world. So, if he doesn’t sign with you in December when he’s committed … hello?
“Have an early signing period in the third week of December.”
Rodriguez offered one more suggestion to alleviate the year-round nature of recruiting.
“We need to have a dead period in July — two or three weeks — to give the assistant coaches some sanity,” he said.
“Because you have to be available when these kids call you. It’s like schoolgirls chasing Justin Bieber. At some point, you need to put the phone down and have a little quiet time. …
“The coaches talk about it, and hopefully it will happen. The frustrating part is that to get the legislative part through the NCAA, it almost takes an act of Congress. I mean, it’s ridiculous.”
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Rodriguez was asked at Media Day about Arizona State All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton. He returned for his senior season after posting 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last year.
“Awesome,” Rodriguez said of Sutton.
“He’s a great player. He plays hard. He can stop the run. He’s a great pass rusher. I usually don’t talk about guys on other teams, but he should have come out early.”
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Jourdon Grandon, the team’s returning starter at free safety, cross-trained at cornerback this spring but he will return to his former position.
The Cats return their top three cornerbacks but has virtually no other experience at free safety other than Grandon, a junior. He was limited late last season because of a concussion.
“Jourdon was playing pretty well until he got hurt,” Rodriguez said.
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The Pac-12 Networks is preparing a show for this fall on a classic Arizona game — the 16-3 victory over top-ranked Washington in 1992. The look-back will feature new interviews with former players (such as Heath Bray and Tony Bouie), coach Dick Tomey and media members, including Brian Jeffries and Greg Hansen.
Can’t wait to hear Bray’s passion roar through the television screen.
“We didn’t luckily win that ball game,” Bray told me in 2010. “Let’s be very blunt about this: We beat their ass.”
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Other stories from Media Day:
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Here is the entire group media interview with Rodriguez from Media Day. That’s receiver Terrence Miller on the left and linebacker Jake Fischer on the right (curiously, no one asked him in this setting about joining the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, but he addressed the topic several other times during the day):