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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Draft success proves program’s worth

For the third year in a row the UA football program has produced several draft picks, including at least one pick in the first two rounds.

That might not seem like a lot, but considering the Wildcats haven’t produced a top-25 recruiting class, it is extremely impressive.

Especially when you consider schools that consistently recruit premium talent but can’t say they have produced the early-round success that Arizona has: Ohio State, Miami, UCLA and West Virginia among them.

It speaks to the player development that has taken place under the watchful eyes of head coach Mike Stoops and his staff, but it also speaks to the emphasis that Stoops has placed on recruiting the right kinds of players.

Look at the guys who have been selected in the early rounds of the last three years — cornerback Antoine Cason in the first round in 2008, offensive tackle Eben Britton in the second round in 2009 and tightend Rob Gronkowski in the second round this past weekend.

Sprinkle in 2009 fourth-rounder Mike Thomas and this year’s third-rounder Earl Mitchell and you’ve painted the Mona Lisa of what Stoops and his staff has been looking for: good football players, better people.

That wasn’t the case when Stoops first got here and started recruiting these guys.

“”That was my goal when I first got here,”” Mitchell said when asked about his role in turning around the program from the start of his freshman year to the end of his senior. “”There weren’t many team guys here at first, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to win like that.””

Mitchell, the rest of the recent draftees and a host of other players have all contributed to bringing Arizona football back from the depths of the college football world.

Draft success and back-to-back eight win seasons are the first real signs that Stoops’ plan from day one is working.

It might have taken a while, sure, but it’s the end result that counts.

Stoops’ seat was hotter than the Arizona sun after the 2007 season, but as time has progressed it is becoming more evident that the struggles he and his staff had at first were more of a reflection of how low Arizona football had fallen than how inept Stoops was in his first few years as a head coach.

Gronkowski had the NFL shield branded on his back from the minute he graduated high school, but the rest of these players weren’t bona fide NFL prospects when they first got to Tucson.

Take Mitchell, for example. He was not a future professional defensive tackle as a freshman. Heck, he wasn’t even a defensive tackle.

But Stoops and his staff saw a player who was willing to work and willing to put the team first — the exact type of player that he has always wanted — and transformed him from a middle-of-the-road H-back to a projected starter in the NFL at defensive tackle.

“”Playing defensive tackle was the last thing on my mind,”” Mitchell said after being drafted by the Houston Texans. “”It was one of the best things that coach Stoops had done for me. It was one the best moves that had got me here.””

Next year is looking just as promising. Center Colin Baxter is a guaranteed draft pick, and wide receiver Delashaun Dean, defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, and several other players can all expect to hear their names called in April 2011.

Over the last three years, Stoops has improved Arizona’s win total, recruiting quality and NFL player count.

Time will tell where the program will go in the next three years.

-Tim Kosch is a journalism senior.

He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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