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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Football signs 15 recruits

    UA football head coach Mike Stoops paces the sideline at Arizona Stadium during the Wildcats 21-10 loss to Washington on Sep. 30. Stoops brought in the nations No. 43 recruiting class according to after being in the top 20 the last two years.
    UA football head coach Mike Stoops paces the sideline at Arizona Stadium during the Wildcats’ 21-10 loss to Washington on Sep. 30. Stoops brought in the nation’s No. 43 recruiting class according to after being in the top 20 the last two years.

    Mike Stoops sat down for his McKale Center press conference yesterday looking red in the face and unusually thin in the forearms.

    Having concluded a months-long recruiting process fraught with fatigue, frustration and spite, he still was waiting on four-star defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu to fax in his signed letter-of-intent.

    “”It’s real exciting to get this day going and get it over with,”” Stoops said. “”It’s been a long road to get here.””

    Over the next half-hour, Stoops introduced 15 new athletes in a class that on paper pales to the Wildcats’ last two, which each finished in the national top 20.

    This year’s haul ranks No. 43, according to recruiting Web site, good for sixth in the Pac-10.

    But Arizona had only 20 scholarships to offer, up to 10 fewer than its conference rivals, Stoops said, and the team’s priority was adding players to replace the team’s top outgoing talent.

    In other words, the three-year-long rebuilding process is over.

    2007 Football National Signing Day By the numbers:

    Arizona’s national rank, according to recruiting Web site

    Pacific 10 Conference rank of Arizona’s class

    Average star value (out of five) of Arizona’s recruits, 29th nationally

    Average star value of Florida’s 27 recruits, as the Gators took home the nation’s top recruiting class

    Average star value of USC’s 18 recruits, as the Trojans took home the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class.

    Number of Tucson athletes Arizona recruited this year, after getting two in each of the last two classes.

    “”I like where we’re at,”” Stoops said. “”You can take the criticism, do what you want with it. I use it to motivate, to inspire me and my players. If we have to take on an ‘us against the world’ mentality, that’s what we’ll do.””

    The class is led by tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebackers Apaiata and Vuna Tuihalamaka.

    Gronkowski, of Williamsville, N.Y., is tailor-made for new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes’ scheme, Stoops said. Tall and fast enough to create mismatches with any defender, he will be groomed to play a role similar to that Brigham Young’s Jonny Harline last year.

    Harline caught 58 passes for 935 yards and 12 touchdowns as the Cougars’ No. 1 offensive weapon.

    “”To have an impact player at tight end in this system is critical,”” Stoops said. “”The tight end, in his natural position, is very important.

    “”I think a lot of people misconceive the notion that this is a spread offense with four wide receivers. This offense is set for a tight end in his natural position or can be extended out further to get some (ideal) matchups.””

    The Tuihalamakas, cousins from California two years apart in age, will each have a shot to replace linebacker Spencer Larsen in 2008. Both should also get quality playing time in their first seasons, especially Vuna, a junior-college transfer.

    An added wrinkle for Apaiata was that he didn’t play his senior year in high school because of injury, said Jeremy Crabtree, a national recruiting analyst for

    “”He’s going to have to come back and be hungry this year, and I think he will be,”” Crabtree said. “”I think people are excited with him. The kid flies around makes plays when healthy. The sky’s the limit with him.””

    The Wildcats also addressed roster needs with wide receivers David Roberts, Devin Veal and William Wright; running backs Nicolas Grigsby and Joseph Reese; and kicker Alex Zendejas Jr.

    Junior-college defensive back Marquis Hundley signed a letter-of-intent in January and is already enrolled.

    Arizona failed to recruit an offensive lineman, however, after its unit was heavily criticized last season.

    6-foot-6 Honolulu prospect Sione Tau verbally committed to the Wildcats in late November but reneged and signed a letter-of-intent with Colorado this morning.

    Stoops hinted at many such maneuvers occuring during Arizona’s recruiting. He ranted against the cutthroat nature of the process, decrying coaches who soured recruits on the Wildcats by bringing up perceived flaws in him or the program.

    “”It’s nuts, it really is,”” he said. “”The amount of money that we spend on travel to hold on to kids is ridiculous. People of higher authority, (that) they don’t recognize this, to me, is preposterous. Why don’t they change the recruiting process? … Everyone else has an early signing period – why not football?””

    Stoops didn’t volunteer any teams he considered at fault. When one was suggested, he vowed to get back at transgressors on the field.

    “”Shoot, you saw what we did to Oregon last year in Oregon”” he said of the Wildcats’ 37-10 victory in Eugene, Ore., on Nov. 18. “”They tried to steal a couple (recruits) last year, too. I don’t forget those things easily.””

    Arizona has been a tough sell for recruits because of its poor on-field performance in recent years, said Dallas Jackson, Pac-10 editor for The Wildcats finished 6-6 last season but went a combined 28-52 from 1999-2005.

    Stoops also has been an easy target because his hard-nosed, in-your-face coaching can turn off superstar athletes accustomed to being coddled, Jackson said.

    “”It’s almost like Bob Knight,”” said Jackson of the men’s basketball coach with a famously short fuse. “”If a player does something wrong, Stoops is going to yell at him and let him know. If a player doesn’t like being yelled at, he’s not going to go there.””

    Stoops said Arizona will continue shopping for players up until the summer, as the team has four scholarships left to offer.

    That number was almost one bigger, but late in the conference, Stoops was told by sports information director Tom Duddleston that Tuipulotu had finally sent his letter-of-intent.

    Stoops took an updated commitment list and settled into his chair.

    “”Kaniela, we got his paperwork,”” Stoops said, smiling. “”Whew! Now I can breathe easier.””

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