The Arizona Wildcats were coming off their greatest season in program history in 1998, and captured the attention of high school recruits all across the country.
Among those was two-time Super Bowl Champion tight end Jeremy Shockey.
In The GM, a book that follows legendary general manager Ernie Accorsi through his life in the NFL, he recalls the conversations he had with Jeremy Shockey in the pre-draft process.
The Giants, who held the 15th pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, had significant interest in Shockey. Shockey, who was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma, met with Accorsi in his hometown during the pre-draft process.
While eating out a local barbecue joint, Accorsi asked Shockey why he didn’t end up going to the University of Oklahoma.
“When I got out of high school , they didn’t want me,” Shockey said. “Nobody wanted me. I weighed about a buck seventy-five. I hoped to go to Arizona, but I ended up playing junior college ball instead, putting on a few pounds.”
Shockey graduated high school in 1999, which means Arizona was just coming off their 12-1 1998 season under Dick Tomey. Arizona finished fourth in the AP Poll that season, after beating No. 15 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl 23-20.
The team featured Keith Smith at quarterback, with Dennis Northcutt and Jeremy McDaniel in the passing game, and Trung Candidate as the featured back.
The year of junior college served Shockey well, and his recruitment blew up. Recruiting profiles don’t date back to 2000, so his other offers were unknown.
“Then everybody wanted me. But there wen’t many schools in the country — there still aren’t — that threw to the tight end. Miami did, so I became a Hurricane.”
Shockey ended up playing two years at Miami and totaled 61 catches for 815 yards and 10 touchdowns. Shockey was a First-team All-American and helped lead the Hurricanes to a National Championship in 2001.
During the 2002 draft, there was word that the Oakland Raiders were trying to trade in front of the Giants at No. 14 overall to take Shockey. Accorsi ended up giving up a fourth round pick to the Tennessee Titans to draft Shockey.
Shockey became the Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year and a first team All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl Champion. He went on to play 10 season in the NFL, spending most of his time with the Giants. He accumulated 547 receptions, 6,143 careers and 37 touchdowns.
Shockey became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2017, and will wait to be inducted and wear the gold jacket.
Shockey is among the more notable prospects that Arizona ended up goofing on. Under Mike Stoops, Arizona was in the running for Cam Newton after his time in junior college. But Stoops wanted him to play tight end rather than quarterback. He ended up winning the Heisman and a national championship at Auburn.
Under Rich Rodriguez, Sam Darnold’s dad mentioned that their interaction with Arizona’s staff was one of the weirdest, as the staff wouldn’t take him unless Darnold changed his throwing mechanics. He ended up starring at USC and becoming the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Recruiting misses like this happen, but it makes you think a lot about the what-ifs.