It’s football signing day, and the fun of it is to get caught up in all the hope, all the rankings. Somewhat sadly for Arizona, those rankings are expected to be fairly average.
The thing is, you just never know how these classes are going to work out. (Related: Cats get three signing day surprises.
Several seasons ago, I wrote a story for the Tucson Citizen that revisted what is almost inarguably Arizona’s greatest recruiting class ever. I reached into the archives for the story from February 2005, which is posted below in its near entirety (taking out parts that are now irrelevant).
It is, to me, nearly impossible to believe it has been 20 years since these guys signed, but, anyway, here is the story …
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In 1990, Dick Tomey signed 24 players in a class that had some sizzle — including Parade All-Americans Mike Ciasca and Chuck Levy — but was largely relegated to the middle of the Pacific-10 Conference by recruiting analysts.
The headline in the Tucson Citizen read: “UA recruits get ‘average’ tag.”
“There was a lot of attitude in my class,” said Rob Waldrop, a defensive tackle who became the cornerstone of the Desert Swarm defenses.
“You couldn’t tell us that we couldn’t do something. We knew we were going to be better than a lot of people who were already there, and I think that rubbed some of the older guys wrong sometimes. But we knew we would change things.”
Individually, the group is without peer in the history of UA football and, judging by the postseason honors, would rank as one of the best in the Pac-10.
The class signed in early 1990 featured:
**Two national award winners: Waldrop (Outland Trophy, Football Writers Association of America defensive player of the year) and place-kicker Steve McLaughlin (Lou Groza Award).
**Four All-Americans: Waldrop, McLaughlin, free safety Tony Bouie and punter Josh Miller.
**Five first-team All-Pac-10 players: Waldrop, McLaughlin, Bouie, Miller and linebacker Sean Harris.
**Two second-team All-Pac-10 players: Wide receiver Terry Vaughn and offensive lineman Mike Heemsbergen.
The depth of the class was also impressive, with starters such as offensive linemen Mike Ciasca, Pulu Poumele and Mu Tagoai, defensive end Richard Maddox, defensive back Mike Scurlock and several others, including Vincent Smith, a mammoth transfer from Colorado.
“Anybody would be hard-pressed to point to any class at any school during the period we were at Arizona and say that that class had a better result,” Tomey said.
Collectively, this group would provide the main thrust to Tomey’s best days in his 14-year UA career, including a 16-3 victory over No. 1 Washington in 1992, a co-Pac-10 title in 1993, a 29-0 shutout of Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl and the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 1994 season preview issue.
How did Arizona pull it off?
The recruiting pitch was simple.
Tomey had just completed his third season and was coming off a 17-10 Copper Bowl victory over North Carolina State, only the second bowl win in school history.
“You know, they weren’t overselling anything. That was the neat thing,” said Ciasca, who was rated the top offensive lineman in the country by SuperPrep magazine.
“Michigan, USC, Florida State … they were selling tradition, ‘we’ve done it, we’ll do it again.’ One of the things that stood out in my mind was the chance to be the first to start the history, to not just be a spoke in the wheel.
“It was all the same pitch to everybody. We all bought into the fact that we wanted to be the first.”
Tomey’s plain talk appealed to Waldrop, even if the coach might have taken the regular-guy approach a bit too far.
“Tomey came into my house on a recruiting visit, opened the fridge and pulled out a carrot cake and starting eating it,” Waldrop said. “Who was I to argue? I mean, he must have been comfortable.”
Ciasca led a large Tucson contingent that included Harris and his uncle (but more like a brother) Lamar, who were considered “at-risk” academically but earned degrees. Ciasca’s teammate, Joe Lohmeier, suffered a broken leg in his senior season of high school, but Tomey visited him in the hospital and assured him he still had a scholarship.
In all, six local high school players signed with the Wildcats, most of whom weren’t heavily recruited.
“I think back then, diamonds in the rough were what we were looking for,” said former UA assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Bill Morgan, now the Arizona athletic department’s compliance director.
“We had a good feeling about so many in that class. There was a kind of a satisfaction when it was over. And then we got them here in August for camp and some of the luster goes off and you say, ‘Hey, he doesn’t look as tall as when we were recruiting him.’”
Waldrop and Vaughn were a couple of the instant hits, playing as true freshmen. Others took longer to develop.
“The first time I saw Josh Miller punt — and we laugh about it to this day — he was awful,” Tomey said.
Much of the class signed in 1990 was rushed into duty as redshirt freshmen in 1991, when injuries decimated the starting lineup. By early 1992, it was all systems go, and an 8-7 loss at No. 1 Miami — when the Wildcats were four-touchdown underdogs — signaled that the class had arrived.
“Something happened on that trip,” Waldrop said. “Everyone just let loose. We lost, but we destroyed them statistically. That is where a lot of frustration came out.”
It was this class that propelled Arizona to the second-most overall victories (71) in the Pac-10 during the 1990s.
“I think that the run in the 1990s is probably underappreciated in Tucson, but as time goes on it will be looked at as a real outstanding decade of football for Arizona,” Tomey said. “And, no question, this class really helped get it going.”
Related links from the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network:
Brad Allis, Wildcat Sports Report: Cats mostly fill their needs, Part I
Brad Allis, Wildcat Sports Report: Cats mostly fill their needs, Part II