Two years ago, when Grant Gunnell was recruited out of St. Pius X High School in Houston, he was considered the future of the University of Arizona football program.
The future is here now. And the 6-foot-6 quarterback appears ready to take the reins from his record-setting predecessor, Khalil Tate.
Tate, who was the No. 10-ranked dual-threat QB in the country coming out of high school, set a high bar for those who will follow him. The four-star recruit finished his career at Arizona as the only player in program history to throw for over 6,000 career yards and rush for another 2,000 yards.
During his sophomore season he started on the bench, coming on the field during the third game to replace the injured starter, but still finished the season with 1,411 yards rushing, 1,591 passing, and 26 total touchdowns — despite playing in only nine games.
From that point forward, the job was his.
Tate set a new FBS single-season rushing record for a quarterback during that sophomore season, running for 327 yards against UCLA – and adding another 154 yards passing.
The next year, he found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, which touted the incoming junior as a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
It was hoped, when Gunnell committed to the Wildcat program, that he could step into those really big footprints left by Tate. Gunnell arrived with glowing prep credentials after setting Texas state records with 16,108 passing yards and 195 touchdowns during three-plus years as the starter at Pius X. He added to that career stat another 1,621 rushing yards and 53 TDs.
His senior year at Pius X he accounted for over 5,000 yard of offense, throwing for 4,752 yards and running for another 533.
Gunnell was the fourth commitment to the recruiting class of 2019, but would easily qualify as the crown jewel of that class, which also helped to validate new head coach Kevin Sumlin‘s reputation as a top recruiter.
Sumlin took over the Arizona program in January of 2018. Gunnell had committed to play for Texas A&M but de-committed when Sumlin left the Aggies program and headed to Tucson. Getting the youngster to follow him to Arizona was pivotal to Sumlin’s plans for rebuilding the Wildcat program, knowing that the Texas stud would be there to step in when Tate graduated.
Now Sumlin has one of the better passing quarterbacks in the country — with experience. Gunnell played in eight games during his freshman year, starting three of those. He finished the 2019 season with 1,239 passing yards for a 65.2 completion percentage — the fourth-best in the history of the Wildcat program, based on at least 100 attempts. It’s also the best ever by an Arizona freshman.
Gunnell is the logical choice to start next season, based on experience alone. He does have competition for that job, but no one else has the experience he brings to the party.
“He has played in games, he has won a game,” Sumlin explained at a recent media event. “That’s where it is right now. But it’s competition across the board.”
That competition includes redshirt junior Rhett Rodriguez, son of Sumlin’s predecessor Rich Rodriguez, who got one start last season; Kevin Doyle, a redshirt sophomore who is a former University of Michigan commit; and Will Plummer, a local recruit, who is coming into the program directly out of Gilbert High School.
After just seven days of spring practice before the NCAA shut down all sports activity, it’s impossible to tell who will end up as the 2020 starting quarterback.
But right now, the job is Gunnell’s to lose.
Which means that Sumlin’s quarterback succession plan is right on schedule.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)