Coaching change sparks local player interest in UA football

The caravan of football talent rolling into Tucson is showing no signs of letting up.

Since Jedd Fisch took over the University of Arizona football program six weeks ago, there has been a sudden re-awakening of interest, particularly among the locals, in jumping on the Wildcats’ bandwagon.

Ammon Allen, a wide receiver and safety who just completed an impressive prep career at Highland High School in Gilbert, used social media on Monday to announce his commitment to the Pac-12 program, which will try to rebuild after three straight losing seasons under Kevin Sumlin.

The 6’3″, 210-pound athlete piled up 596 yards and five touchdowns on receptions last season.  But Fisch is expected to give the youngster a good look for his defensive unit.  As a safety at Highland, Allen finished his senior season with 89 tackles, 44 of which were solo tackles, and a couple of interceptions.

But Allen is just the latest from the pool of local athletes to get on board the Wildcat Express, lending some credibility to Fisch’s promise to focus his recruiting efforts on players within the Arizona borders.  Since the first week in January, it’s been a steady stream of new arrivals.

Drake Anderson and Gunner Maldonado were the first of the high-profile former Arizona prep standouts to announce their decision to return to the UofA program after initially shunning Arizona for Northwestern.  They both departed the Wildcat program in Illinois at the same time and headed for the Wildcat program in the desert.

Anderson was one of the state’s top running backs at Chandler High School, topping the 2,000-yard rushing mark his senior year and stacking up 37 touchdowns that season.  At Northwestern, he saw a significant amount of game time as a freshman, rushing for a team-high 634 yards on 154 carries, but last season he was used more sparingly and had just 62 carries for 256 yards.

Maldonaldo, an All-Arizona safety at Chandler who helped the Wolves to the 2019 Open Division championship, seldom got on the field at Northwestern, had limited playing time in just three games.  He had originally been offered by both Arizona and Arizona State before choosing the Big 10 school.

Less than two weeks after Anderson and Maldonado decided to return to Arizona, the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts snagged another Gunner.  This time it was Gunner Cruz, a quarterback from Casteel High School in Queen Creek who threw for 3,000 yards in each of his last two prep seasons.  Cruz won’t be switching conferences since he played a season for Washington State, but saw action in just one game for the Cougars, a 5-for-7 passing performance against USC.

The Wildcats have also picked up a couple of offensive linemen, Grayson Stovall who is a junior at Chandler’s Hamilton High, and Davis DiVall from Scottsdale’s Notre Dame Prep who is transferring in from Baylor.  And Jason Harris, an All-American defensive end from Higley High in Gilbert, is making the switch back to Arizona after just one season at Colorado.

True to his word, Fisch is stocking the cupboards with local talent.

Now we’ll have to wait to see if the shop-at-home strategy pays off.