If you were keeping score at yesterday’s big media frenzy, as high school seniors signed a National Letter of Intent to play football at the college of their choice, it turned out to be pretty much a draw between the state’s Pac-12 heavyweights.
Both boasted 23 signees, with Arizona State and University of Arizona each drawing its talent from eight different states, including Arizona.
That’s pretty good recruiting, considering that both head coaches have been on the job for less than three months, with UA’s Rich Rodriguez getting a month’s head-start on Todd Graham at ASU.
However, there wasn’t a lot to crow about on either end of the state. The ASU recruiting class has been ranked eighth-best in the conference, while the Wildcats were even closer to the bottom of the pile at No. 10.
Graham’s top recruit, running back D.J. Foster, pretty much stole the spotlight when he picked the Devils over a truckload of major college programs that were vying for his services. And, most importantly, he’s a local kid.
Foster piled up more than 3,000 yards rushing for Saguaro High School in Scottsdale last season, enough to set a couple of state touchdown records and be named the Arizona Republic Big Schools Player of the Year.
The fact that he was a result of in-state recruiting efforts was extremely important, since both new coaches have vowed to put more emphasis on adding local athletes to their rosters.
To that end, Arizona added six recruits from in-state high schools and ASU picked up four.
The six that will be wearing blue and red next year include: Jamar Allah, a cornerback from North Canyon HS in Phoenix; Anthony Lopez from Mesquite HS in Gilbert, who is just listed as “athlete”; Dwight Melvin, a defensive tackle from Betty Fairfax HS in Laveen; and a 6’2″ linebacker from Chaparral HS in Scottsdale, Cody Ippolito.
But a couple of other prized prospects from the local talent pool would be among the top tier of those who signed on for the Class of 2012.
Zach Hemmila, a 275-pound offensive guard from Chandler HS, is one of three 4-star prospects in the mix and chose the Cats over Boise State and Washington. Dylan Cozens, a first-team All-Stater from Chaparral, is a 6’6″, 245-pound defensive end who is one of nine added to the defense.
The four who will don the maroon and gold for their first year of college ball include: Saguaro’s Foster; Jaxon Hood, a 290-pound defensive lineman from Chandler power-house Hamilton HS; Tight end Kody Kohl from Mesquite HS in Gilbert; and Easton Wahlstrom, a long snapper from Desert Mountain HS in Scottsdale.
Hood, who was the recipient of the 2011 Curley Culp Award, was high on Graham’s radar and his persistence paid off when Hood switched his commitment from Boston College to ASU. The Culp Award is presented each year to the best defensive lineman in the state.
Perhaps the one glaring point of difference between the two rival schools when you look at the results of NLI signing day can be found in the number of junior college players found in each.
ASU’s list includes six JUCO signees, while Arizona’s list is made up entirely of incoming freshmen.
A large number of junior college players generally indicates a need to fill in some areas where recruiting efforts failed, since most coaches would prefer to have a player for four years rather than two.
But, on the other side of the coin, the calvary coming in from the JUCO ranks should provide a more immediate impact because those players have been seasoned at the college level for a couple of years.
Rodriguez does have a couple of JUCO additions, but C.J. Dozier and Bryan Wagner have already enrolled for the spring semester.
Wagner could have a big impact at linebacker, where Arizona has urgent needs. He was the leading tackler at Akron for three years and was the second-leading tackler in the nation last year. Wagner was granted a fifth year of eligibility to play in Tucson.
In the final analysis, the Pac-12 foes appear to be starting on pretty even footing. Both teams failed miserably last season, picked up the pieces, found a new coach, and are running head-to-head on the recruiting trail.
Next season should be interesting.