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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona football’s recruiting class falls from mountain tops thanks to Williams, Taggart

Column: Arizona footballs recruiting class falls from mountain tops thanks to Williams, Taggart

Heading into the 2016 season, Arizona’s recruiting class shined. It was certain that the Wildcats were going to have a bright future regardless of how their season played out.

Everything was gravy. The Wildcats had a top-15 recruiting class and were No. 1 in the Pac-12, according to 247 Sports, so just when it appeared to be all good in the hood for Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, who had three four-star recruits, the class nosedived to the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference.

It’s not necessarily a fall from grace, because Arizona wasn’t used to having a class of that caliber in recent years, but rather a “too good to be true scenario.” With personnel change not just within the program itself, but also around the Pac-12, the class that was supposed to help maintain Rodriguez’ job security now leaves the program in shambles.

For Rodriguez, he thinks National Signing Day is bushwhack.

“I still think we should have no signing day,” Rodriquez said. “It’s ridiculous that two sides don’t come to an agreement like everything else in life. You spend about $27,000 per kid once they commit … For all the [athletic directors] listening, get out of this ridiculous circus that is national signing day when kids are pulling hats out of boxes and jumping out of helicopters announcing kids where they’re going and glorifying kids to where they can never meet their expectation.”

Let’s start with the loss of cornerbacks coach Donte’ Williams who left Arizona and accepted the same position at Nebraska in November for a larger paycheck. Williams made $215,000 in his first season in Tucson and Nebraska will pay him $400,000 during the 2017 season.

Williams was the type of coach that could relate to players better than anyone else because of his swagger that came along with his young age, as well as lacing up the cleats every practice to go against his defensive backs. He was the backbone of the recruiting class, and once he left, the recruits followed.

Four-star athlete Greg Johnson decommitted the same week Williams left for Nebraska. There’s one four-star player out the window. Then three-star inside linebacker Delshawn Phillips followed Johnson a week later and decided to take his talents to the University of Illinois.

Does it stop there? Nope. Matt Leo, the 6-foot-7 defensive end from Arizona Western College, spurned Arizona and signed with the Iowa State Cyclones. Junior college prospects are difficult to evaluate, but Leo’s size would’ve added depth at a position that needs it.

So with Arizona’s class already taking a huge hit with Williams bolting for Nebraska, Oregon proceeded to hire new head coach Willie Taggart, who immediately rained on Rodriguez’s recruiting parade.

Taggart didn’t just make it rain, he brought the whole damn monsoon season with him, swiping essentially the most prized recruit of the class in four-star quarterback Braxton Burmeister who was thought to be the quarterback of the future.

Not only did Taggart take Burmeister, but he also snagged 6-foot-3 defensive tackle Austin Faoliu, three-star athlete Darrian McNeal and somehow got Cody Shear to flip from the Wildcats to the Ducks on National Signing Day.

Shear’s hometown is Eugene, Oregon, but he told the Arizona Daily Star on the day before National Signing Day he was going to commit to Arizona.

“When a young man decommits a week or a day or a couple days before signing period, it kind of puts everyone in a bind,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t particularly like the theatrics signing day has become and kids the way they think is ‘I got an offer, let me just decommit and all the time with the other coaches’ … It’s gotten worse.”

Every single player Taggart took from Arizona were committed to playing in the Old Pueblo and were in the mix to receive playing time almost right away.

So in a matter of two months, Arizona lost a pair of four-star and eight three-star recruits because of a few personnel changes at Arizona and within the conference. Recruiting is one heck of a beast. Imagine being 53 years old like Rodriguez and having to constantly kiss the ring of 17 and 18-year-old athletes. It’s a battle every year, and the obstacles in Rodriguez’s way were too much to overcome in 2016.

Arizona went from top dog in the Pac-12 to No. 10 and fell to No. 45 in the country with only one four-star recruit being running back Nathan Tilford from Ontario, California.

Who knows, maybe this class will prove the doubters wrong. It’s not like this class will cost Rodriguez his job, because he’s done more than he’s been asked so far during his tenure at Arizona. There are some recruits who have the potential to make a huge impact because of certain positions Arizona needs to desperately fill, especially up front.

This class is on par for what Rodriguez has brought in with other recruiting classes during his time in Tucson. This year was allegedly the class of the future but turned out to be a forgettable one.

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter

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