Rich Rodriguez Arizona Wildcats #AZOKGDAY presser highlights, observations

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In today’s press conference, Rich Rodriguez touched on everything from DaVonte’ Neal’s move to cornerback to inviting as many as 12 walk-ons who could make an impact in the future.
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Quotes from Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez during today’s National Signing Day press conference with some corresponding observations:

On freshmen having an impact:

“More than anything we were preaching the first couple of years (that) we weren’t guaranteeing they would start but they can look at the roster and see the opportunity. I never get into once you step on campus I will guarantee you that you will start because that’s not fair to them or the guys on the team. But we also tell them that we do not recruit anybody to be backups. We want everybody to compete right away whether you’re a junior-college guy, a freshman guy, a transfer guy … Once we get you on campus and on the roster, you’re expected to compete for playing time. I think those guys can see early that they were going to have an opportunity. If we recruit and develop them the right way, two or three years down the road it’s going to be harder for a freshman to come in and break the lineup. But there will still be some that do that. And I think as our program continues to grow, you’ll see some young guys making an impact but there will be less than there is right now. Right now, guys coming at certain positions can make an impact right away. Two or three years down, the road it might be a little more difficult.”

Observation: Rodriguez wants to build the program to the point where it is driven by talented veterans, mostly juniors and seniors, with the youngest guys learning in practice and through the actions of the older players. The Wildcats will have 27 five-year seniors and five-year juniors on the roster next season after having 29 last season. That’s a substantial veteran base that helped Arizona win 10 games.


On recruiting Hawaii:

“I’d like to. That ought to be my primary area. I should tell (recruiting coordinator) Matt Dudek, ‘I’ll take Hawaii and (recruit) anybody over there who is a Division I Rose Bowl-caliber type of guy.’ We still cover the area. That’s considered West coast but that would be a good one. We need to get more in Hawaii. Up north … maybe not so much. Up north there is a lot of good football players in the midwest and northeast but I’d rather go to Hawaii.”

Observation: Rodriguez was talking tongue-in-cheek about recruiting a tropical island rather than Ohio or New Jersey, for example. Arizona should maintain a pipeline of tough, devoted Hawaiian and Samoan players that Larry Smith and Dick Tomey started. Arizona junior-college recruit Anthony Fotu, an impact defensive end from Oakland (Calif.) Laney College continues that tradition.

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On recruiting guys who can play at multiple positions:

“There’s quite a few. The area coach, position coach, the coordinator and myself all have to approve them. There are several guys on this list who were approved for either side. To me, that gives us a little more flexibility and versatility. I mean, counting in this class, just because of what the numbers were, DaVonte’ Neal is the same way. Two hours ago, he got moved over to defense that he requested (with) my approval because we need some help in the secondary … He wants to play over there and I think he can play over there. He can probably still play some offense. He’s an example of a guy that’s in this class numbers-wise that’s versatile enough to play on both sides of the ball. We’ve told these guys where we want them. We kind of listed where we want them and we let them know their primary area. But with Cedric Peterson, for example, we’re going to start him out at wide receiver … I think that’s where he wants to go. But as he develops and we go through the process, if it looks like he’ll play more on this side (he will). All these guys I think are willing to do that.”

Observation: Arizona has four incoming receiver recruits along with three cornerbacks who can be interchangeable based on the Wildcats’ needs. With the influx of more receivers to the already crowded group — Austin Hill is the lone standout who exhausted his eligibility — Neal believes he can fit in faster at cornerback. Both cornerback spots are up for grabs with Jonathan McKnight using his eligibility and Arizona starting redshirt freshman Jarvis McCall battling at the other end to maintain his starting role.


More on Neal:

“We’ll put him at corner in the spring. Hopefully, he will learn and contribute there. I bring that up now because that’s the kind of example as some of the guys here that can do that (play both ways). I think you have to do that nowadays because of injuries. Eighty-five scholarships may seem like a lot but when you get guys who are injured and you go through a schedule like we have next year … we have 12 straight weeks with no open date. I don’t know if that’s ever happened here. We’re the only one I think in the Power 5 conferences that probably has that so if the folks at the Pac 12 are listening, I’m not going to say anything to get fined. But I don’t know how that happens. To play 12 straight with no open date at this level, you better have a lot of guys who are ready to play.”

Observation: Rodriguez is obviously not happy with the Pac-12 and its television scheduling that resulted in this snafu. To answer his thought, yes, Arizona has played one season in which it did not have a bye week. That happened in 1980 when Arizona went 5-6 in Smith’s first season. Arizona had a high of three bye weeks in 2008, which coincidentally was Mike Stoops’ best year in Tucson.


More on Arizona’s versatile recruits:

“I don’t know if there is a centerpiece as much as some versatility. I look at some of the (junior college) mid-year guys that should make an impact in (safety) Paul Magloire, (tight end) Matt Morin and Anthony Fontu. Those are three JC guys (with) Paul and Matt in particular bounce-back guys from D-I to JC that we think will help our team right away at their positions. I didn’t take a quarterback for the first time in I don’t know how long, maybe ever as a head coach. So that was a little bit different for us too. We’ll take one next year and the year after that and probably every year after that.”

Observation: Rodriguez is not bent on “chasing ghosts” as he calls it, namely five-star recruits who can leave the staff hanging until the end. He’s all about filling needs with guys who have been through some battles. With no quarterback recruited this year, that puts pressure on redshirt junior Jarrard Randall and redshirt freshman Brandon Dawkins to become viable backups for Anu Solomon.


A transfer in the works?

“Maybe. We might have one and again it goes back to I wish we had a couple more (available scholarships). The rule that the young man be able to graduate and pretty much go wherever they want as far as finding a different major they don’t have at their current school, it behooves us to have a spot for a guy who can be an immediate help and fill an immediate need. We think we can maybe do that but we’re not actively shopping. You don’t shop for guys like that. They just happen.”

Observation: Rodriguez wants guys who’ve been through the wars so a transfer would make sense. But he does not have enough scholarships to shop around.


Impact of camps

“Camps are absolutely critical. In fact, I don’t know, without looking at it, but half of these guys probably we evaluated in camp and they evaluated us. … Camps, if not the most important thing we do in recruiting, it’s one of the two or three most important things we do in recruiting. Our camps we have here, our seven-on-seven camp and divisional camps and our satellite camps that we are a part of, it’s absolutely critical. If we can get more young men to visit campus unofficially it would make recruiting a whole lot easier. Matt did a thing: Over 60 percent of guys who have made unofficial visits we wind up getting. I mean, this is a beautiful campus, especially this time of year. It’s about 75 degrees, 78 degrees in the next couple of days with sunshine. Most of the people we compete against don’t have 78 degrees and sunshine on Feb. 4 or 5. So you need to come to Tucson, is what you need to do.”

Observation: Rodriguez said more than once that all his staff needs to do is make contact and get the prospects on campus. Everything will take care of itself after that.


On cornerback recruit Sam Morrison, son of former Desert Swarm member Darryl Morrison:

“Great family. He comes from a great high school program (Gonzaga High School in Washington, D.C.). You talk about a bright-eyed (player who is) excited to be a Wildcat and part of the Wildcat family for a long time, it is Sammy and his family. When Coach (Tony) Dews started to talk about recruiting him, I’m like, ‘Are we chasing a ghost here?’. They have to fly over a lot of good schools to get here. But they had some ties and they made the effort to make an unofficial visit, so it was a natural to recruit him. He committed early and stayed with it.”

Observation: Rodriguez again showed his hesitation to recruit a player he views as a reach. But Sam’s parents both attended Arizona. The family has actually relocated to Phoenix from D.C. Rodriguez won’t recruit a national player if the player does not visit the campus unofficially.


On social media impact:

“It’s helped and it’s hurt. It’s helped in a lot of ways because of the communication and you get to know the young man and his family. They get to know you. It’s been terrific. There’s way more positives. But it’s been negative too not just for prospects but also for young kids in general. Some times they put a certain reflection of themselves and that’s not who they really are but they want attention or they seek attention where the attention is given to them before they’re really ready. You know young people are forced to mature a lot quicker than they used to be. You know, 16 or 17 year old and being a kid so to speak, you can’t do some of the things you did 20 years ago. It’s on your resume for life. So you really gotta be conscious about that in the things you put on social media. But on the flipside of it, it does force some guys to mature quicker and understand the spotlight that they’re under. If you’re a highly-recruited guy in particular football or men’s basketball, everything you do is gonna be out there just like our guys. Social media can help enhance your reputation or it can hurt it and you’ve got to be conscious of that. … We have guys in our football office that follow that everyday. That can put a profile of who you are. On flipside, it can be positive and also we can show our program off on social media and I think our guys do a good job of that.”

Observation: Arizona, primarily Dudek, is watching your every move on social media to see if you are really an “OKG”.


On Morin:

“One, his athleticism (stands out). He was a quarterback in the past. You can tell he’s an athlete. After you visit with him this guy’s got a certain personality and love for football that you want everybody to have. So you saw his athleticism and different positions that he played and then getting to know him, he’s a guy who will enhance your locker room too as far as being a positive, love football, let me learn whatever you want me to learn kind of guy.”

Observation: Sounds a lot like when Rodriguez talks about Scooby Wright, does it not?


On home visits:

“My favorite part of recruiting is the home visit both when I get to go into homes or the schools to visit with them or they come to us and visit our campus or come to my home. I think to me without question it is my favorite part of recruiting because it’s not over the social media (and) it’s not over the phone. It’s getting to see them in person-to-person and getting to know them and them getting to know us. … Most of the time nowadays when it gets to that point mostly they are already committed. So it’s not nearly as impactful but it may be in future. Who knows? But I like that part. I would put our staff’s personality up against anyone’s and it’s easy to portray that when they see us in person.”

Observation: Rodriguez is convinced that his personality with that of his close-knit assistants can win over parents as much as the athletes. It is obvious that Rodriguez does not pull punches and incorporates a brotherly atmosphere with his assistants. He enjoys the more relaxed setting of an unofficial visit than the rigid exercise of official visits. He went so far as to say “unofficial visits are way more important than official visits nowadays”.


On improving Arizona’s recruiting:

“All of these kids who will be seniors next year or juniors next year are wanting to be like their teammates they saw on TV, or signing a scholarship paper. I think we’ll see it more. I definitely think the interest from some really talented guys will be there more than it was in the past not just because of our success that we had this year but because of our facility, because of our stability as a staff and because of all of the other things the U of A brings to the table. Like in-state, I don’t know how many top-level Division I players there are in this state, but there is always some and some guys haven’t give us a shot. I know I’ve complained about it before. We’re going to keep recruiting them until they tell us no several times. But if they just get on campus … now I don’t know what anybody else has to offer that we can’t. It will be disappointing if all of the best players in this state don’t give us a shot.”

Observation: Some of the top Phoenix-area talent continues to leave the state. Players signed with Michigan State, Nebraska, Oregon State and even Colorado. Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne is doing his part by trying to make Arizona more visible in Maricopa County, including a game against BYU at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale in 2016.


On Tucson-area recruiting:

“There will be some Division I players to come out of this area. It may not be today but in the next few weeks. I can’t announce it today but whenever it happens, in two or three weeks, I think we will have collected the greatest, best group of invited walk-ons in the entire country. it’s a passion of mine. it’s a passion of the staff and we can’t announce who they are until they’ve been accepted by the school and put down a deposit. But I think we will have a dozen or so maybe when it is all said and done. I wouldn’t be shocked out of those invited walk-ons that there’s three or four who will wind up getting playing time within the next two years and four or five wind up getting scholarships. And that’s without really recruiting them. That’s just them making unofficial visits and when they talk to us we explain our vision for our walk-on program. Some will be local and wind up being Pac-12 players …There’s good football in this area with the potential to be better. I think it can get better and there’s some really good coaches there. The good part about it is most of the best ones that have come through here have come to our place and will continue to do so.”

Observation: Unlike last year, when Rodriguez signed Cam Denson and Kaelin DeBoskie of Salpointe, Arizona did not get a letter of intent from a Tucson-area player. Demetrius Flannigan, a safety from Mountain View, has committed but he was not one of the announced signees today. A number of Tucson-area players may attempt to walk-on and earn a scholarship. One of them is Sabino safety Albert Green.


On recruiting extremes:

“The recruiting sites and the attention is fun and exciting and it shows the popularity of football, but some of it is way over the top. I mean this pulling the hat stuff out … Making an announcement with your family about where you want to go, that’s exciting. There’s nothing wrong with that. But putting five hats on a table and then it’s like which one is the chicken under it or the ball under it …. I mean give me a break. Holy cow now the guy is going to come and think he’ll win the Heisman trophy as a freshman. Some players control the deal and sometimes schools control the deal. We had a guy in the past we were his first offer for a long time, and the only offer for a while and then he got a couple of other schools at the end. He wanted to be part of that three-hat deal. Frankly, I didn’t think he was going to do that to us. So I said, ‘Let’s make it easy. Throw ours out and make it a two-hat deal.” And he did. So that was a good thing. It’s way over the top. Some guys are top players in the country and they are truly torn, but to put three hats out there or four hats, you know to hold a school hostage like that, I don’t know if that’s necessary. To have an announcement with your family there and your school there, absolutely. I think that’s an exciting moment for you. But the dog and pony show stuff, nah.”

Observation: Do I need to translate that other than if you want to play for Rodriguez show up to the press conference with only an Arizona cap.

ARIZONA FOOTBALL CLASS OF 2015 COMMITMENTS
Stars based on Scout.com’s rating. Rank indicates national ranking.

BOLD: HAS SIGNED WITH ARIZONA

OFFENSE (12)

Pos Rank Rating Name Hometown/School Ht/Wt Commit Date
WR NR *** Darick Holmes Newbury Park (Calif.) HS 5'9"/175 03/29/2014
OT No.82 **** Keenan Walker Scottsdale Chaparral HS 6'6"/280 04/26/2014
OT NR ** Alex Kosinski Larkspur (Calif.) Redwood HS 6'5"/270 04/28/2014
TE NR *** Jamie Nunley Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta HS 6'4"/212 06/02/2014
RB NR *** Orlando Bradford Shreveport (La.) Calvary Baptist HS 5'9"/195 06/06/2014
WR NR *** Cedric Peterson Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde HS 6'0"/190 06/20/2014
TE NR *** Brion Anduze Silverdale (Wash.) Central Kitsap HS 6'4"/235 06/20/2014
OG NR *** Cody Creason Folsom (Calif.) HS 6'4"/270 07/27/2014
OT NR *** Harper Sherman New Westminster (B.C.) Secondary 6'5"/260 08/01/2014
OG NR *** Nathan Eldridge Anthem Boulder Creek HS 6'4"/275 08/09/2014
TE JC ** Matt Morin Mission Viejo (Calif.) Saddleback 6'3"/240 09/15/2014
WR NR *** Darrell Clark New Orleans (La.) Warren Easton Charter HS 6'0"/165 01/24/2015

DEFENSE (11)

Pos Rank Rating Name Hometown/School Ht/Wt Commit Date
DT NR *** Finton Connolly Gilbert Camp Verde HS 6'3"/255 11/23/2013
S JC *** Paul Magloire Yuma Arizona Western 6'2"/215 05/22/2014
CB NR *** Sam Morrison Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga HS 5'11/170 06/10/2014
S NR *** Anthony Mariscal Bakersfield (Calif.) Liberty HS 6'0"/192 06/17/2014
S NR ** Demetrius Flannigan Mountain View HS 6'3"/180 06/25/2014
S NR *** Antonio Parks Reserve (La.) East St. John HS 5'10"/177 07/04/2014
DE NR *** Kendal Franklin New Orleans (La.) Easton HS 6'3"/240 07/08/2014
CB JC *** Dane Cruikshank Glendora (Calif.) Citrus 6'2"/195 08/06/2014
CB NR *** Shun Brown Shreveport (La.) Calvary Baptist HS 5'10"/165 10/11/14
DE JC *** Timmy Hamilton Coffeyville (Kan.) 6'4"/250 11/30/2014
DE JC **** Anthony Fotu Oakland (Calif.) Laney 6'4"/285 12/17/2014

ARIZONA FOOTBALL CLASS OF 2014 GRAYSHIRTS (3)
Joining a season later because of eligibility and/or injuries.

Pos Rank Rating Name Hometown/School Ht/Wt Commit Date
S NR *** Devon Brewer Fresno (Calif.) Central High East HS 6'0"/175 06/05/2013
WR NR **** Jace Whittaker Oceanside (Calif.) HS 5'9"/150 06/24/2013
TE NR *** Darrell Cloy La Habra (Calif.) HS 6'3"/215 07/27/2013

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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