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Revisiting Arizona football’s 2017 recruiting class

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The building blocks for Arizona’s present were in this group

arizona-wildcats-recruiting-class-2017-recap-review-schooler-fields-young-brightwell Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During the bye week, we’re taking a look a back at each of the last four recruiting classes that still have players remaining on the current roster. First up was the 2015 class, followed by the 2016 class. Now we’re turning our attention to 2017.

This 2017 recruiting class was ranked as high as No. 12 in the nation. While this was mostly due to early volume, the talent was still there as this class rallied around some of the top prospects in the west and a solid recruiting staff. The class got rocked at the end with Oregon coming in and poaching several recruits, but overall the group still held many key pieces.

2017 Recruiting Class

Name Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Sports Composite
Name Position Height Weight Hometown 247 Sports Composite
Nathan Tilford RB 6-3 190 Ontario, CA 4-star 219 overall
Jalen Harris WDE 6-4 210 Mesa, AZ 3-star 490 overall
Colin Schooler ILB 6-2 215 Mission Viejo, CA 3-star 575 overall
Tony Fields OLB 6-2 205 Las Vegas ,NV 3-star 615 overall
Rhedi Short S 6-1 185 Los Angeles, CA 3-star 659 overall
Drew Dixon ATH 6-4 195 Tucson, AZ 3-star 715 overall
Bryce Wolma TE 6-4 235 Saline, MA 3-star 743 overall
Malik Hausman CB 5-11 168 Las Vegas ,NV 3-star 767 overall
Scottie Young S 6-0 190 La Mesa, CA 3-star 810 overall
Kurtis Brown DT 6-3 260 Bakersfield, CA 3-star 843 overal
Brian Casteel WR 6-0 190 Covina, CA 3-star 869 overall
Bryce Gilbert TE 6-5 230 Gilbert, AZ 3-star 908 overall
Xavier Bell S 6-2 185 Santa Ana, CA 3-star 958 overall
My-King Johnson WDE 6-4 255 Tempe, AZ 3-star 964 overall
Edgar Burrola OT 6-6 295 Las Vegas ,NV 3-star 1028 overall
Tony Wallace CB 6-0 180 Las Vegas ,NV 3-star 1095 overall
Joshua Brown ILB 6-2 222 Long Beach, CA 3-star 1115 overall
Anthony Pandy WDE 6-2 220 Harbor City, CA 3-star 1129 overall
Maisen Knight OT 6-5 300 Ventura, CA 3-star 129 overall (JUCO)
Kylan Wilborn WDE 6-2 236 Sherman Oaks, CA 3-star 1342 overall
Troy Young S 6-1 190 Mobile, AL 3-star 1482 overall
Gary Brightwell ATH 5-11 187 Middletown, DE 3-star 1674 overall
Jose Ramirez OLB 6-3 195 Auburndale, FL 3-star 1676 overall
Rhett Rodriguez DT QB 6-1 165 Tucson, AZ 3-star 1735 overall
K'hari Lane PRO 6-1 225 Montezuma, GA 3-star 1784 overall
Sione Taufahema DT 6-3 310 Valencia, CA 3-star 259 overall (JUCO)
Lucas Havrisik K 6-2 168 Norco, CA 2-star 2473 overall

Who returns for 2019?

Nathan Tilford was the highest-ranked recruit of the class, but has seen very few snaps during his career as both coaching staffs cited play responsibilities as the reason why he was not quite there yet. The hope is that new running backs coach DeMarco Murray can extract the best from Tilford and get him on the field despite a crowded running back room.

Tilford saw his first notable action in the season-opening loss to Hawaii, scoring on a 1-yard run.

The starting linebacker duo of Colin Schooler and Tony Fields both come from the 2017 class, ranked as top-650 recruits. Schooler has been invaluable during his first two seasons and Fields has been a very solid starter.

We saw Jalen Harris break out last season and it’s expected that he will be one of Arizona’s best defensive players this fall. Entering the program as a long, skinny 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Harris has since bulked up to 6-foot-5, 250 pounds.

Rhedi Short and Malik Hausman are two defensive backs who have rarely seen the field during their time. They serve as good depth but they don’t figure to be in the mix as rotational players.

Drew Dixon seems to be coming to form as a wide receiver by all accounts of fall camp. He’s a huge physical body with potential and the hope is that he can contribute.

After coming out with a strong freshman season, Bryce Wolma did not get much action in Noel Mazzone’s offense which was very disappointing to see. He is a strong blocker and pass catcher that can be a valuable piece of the offense.

My favorite commit of the 2017 class, Scottie Young Jr. entered as a starter but eventually ran into some off-field issues and was suspended from the program once Kevin Sumlin came to town. He is a terrific playmaker and generates takeaways as the starting free safety.

Brian Casteel burned his redshirt his freshman year after taking on some special teams and catching one pass in the bowl game. He had to sit out last season after battling injuries but has now slimmed down and is in the mix for a starting receiver role.

Xavier Bell has slowly started to pick up a role in Arizona’s defense as a backup spur to Tristan Cooper and will hopefully continue to pick up reps and carry a nice workload.

Edgar Burrola was Arizona’s starting right tackle at Hawaii, beating out junior college transfer Paiton Fears for the time being. He was a backup for his first two seasons after he entered the program with a shoulder injury, but has made significant progress since.

One of Arizona’s most versatile pieces on the defensive line is none other than JB Brown. He can play inside and out and while he won’t blow you away with athleticism, he will always beat you with technique and knowledge.

Perhaps we see more Anthony Pandy this season behind Fields. Pandy would be my pick as a breakout player and it wouldn’t shock me if he became a starter at some point this season.

After being absolutely abused his freshman season playing almost every snap on defense, Kylan Wilborn had a sophomore slump and saw Harris make the jump over him. Now Wilborn is in as a defensive end for Arizona and if he can return to his healthy freshman form he defensive line will be looking really nice.

Not a lot of credit goes to a guy like Troy Young, who has moved between safety, corner and linebacker during his time and can plug and play where ever the staff needs him and that is invaluable.

Gary Brightwell was an extremely late add on National Signing Day and it was head-scratching considering Tilford had been praised for his high school production, offer list and SEC size. Now Brightwell is a very nice piece on offense while Tilford is still looking for his role.

Next we have Rhett Rodriguez, who is the smartest quarterback in the room, but also the most physically limited. He’s a great backup that can hold for a couple of drives but it would be tough to rationalize him as a long-term starter should things go bad.

Lucas Havrisik was one of the top kickers in the nation and has not been put in ideal situations as placekicker, as he’d been rotated with Josh Pollack his first two years and didn’t seem to have a clear direction or duty. Now he’ll have that job all to himself this season, and in the opener he showed his value by hitting a 53-yard field goal.

Who left the program?

After entering the program as a starting true freshman, Kurtis Brown fell out of favor under the new coaching staff and will be at Fresno State this season.

Tight end Bryce Gilbert was removed from the program after his first year.

There was a lot of hype when My-King Johnson flipped from UCLA. This was a long, athletic defensive end that Arizona could build their defense around, however he was recently removed from the program this off-season.

Tony Wallace had a load of potential coming off his freshman season but did not make it to year two after failing to qualify academically. He spent a year at Independence CC in Kansas and is now at TCU.

Maisen Knight provided some junior college size on the offensive line but didn’t seem close to cracking the rotation and eventually transferred back to Ventura College after just one season in Tucson. He will spend his final year at FBS newcomer Liberty.

Jose Ramirez was a late flip from South Alabama coming in as a hard-hitting linebacker and had the ability to move up to defensive end as well. He left the program after one season, spent one year at Riverside CC and will now be at Eastern Michigan for 2019.

Arizona had a lack of quarterbacks entering the 2017 season and Rich Rodriguez took a flier on Bleacher Report sensation K’hari Lane, who put up stupid numbers at small Georgia high school but had no college attention. He never saw the field at Arizona, and has since transferred to Kansas’ Hutchinson CC.

The bad luck continued with junior college defensive linemen as Sione Taufahema got injured early in his career which led to poor conditioning. He announced his transfer mid-year in 2018, having never played a snap at Arizona, and appears to be out of football.

None of the following players signed, as this class that faced a lot of turnover up to National Signing Day. Greg Johnson, one of the top corners in the 2017 class, opted for USC; he put himself in the transfer portal this offseason but decided to return.

Braxton Burmeister left after a late offer to Oregon, didn’t see much success and is now at Virginia Tech. Adding to the Oregon flock is Austin Faoliu, who has been a starting defensive tackle; Cody Shear, who has since transferred to ASU; and Darrian McNeal, a speedster who left after one year and is out of football.

Del’Shawn Phillips won a junior college national championship and ended up going to Illinois and he is now with the Atlanta Falcons. Another junior college defensive prospect, Matt Leo, flipped to Iowa State.

Bryce Brand ultimately followed his brother to Maryland and Warren Jackson suddenly flipped Colorado State where he is preseason all-second team in the Mountain West, while Elijah Watson got into some trouble and saw his offer disappear, which led to him to Miami (Ohio).

Top players of the class

This is the tough part, as there were 27 members of the class and many of them are still on campus and have plenty of potential. Outside of the top player, you could go make an argument for the order of any of these guys.

  1. Colin Schooler is without a doubt the best player on this roster. Despite being a top-600 recruit, his offer list was suspect. Well, he’s made every Pac-12 team pay for it and I’d argue that while the play making and havoc isn’t nearly as close, his consistency, production and durability through just two years already puts him on track to have a better career than Scooby Wright III.
  2. Scottie Young Jr. is a ball-hawking playmaker. He can bring the big hit and force fumbles, or step in front of a play and come up with the interception. He has contributed big minutes since he stepped foot on campus even with his off-field issues.
  3. JB Brown is only third for me because it took about half of his freshman year to play into a bigger role. Now based on the projection for him this year, he could very well take over the number two spot. He is a big piece of the defensive line and it is lacking, which will make him more valuable as well.
  4. Tony Fields II stepped in as a true freshman alongside Schooler and has done a phenomenal job since then. Some will say he took a small step back last season, but he has been one of Arizona’s top tacklers and run stoppers in his two years and looks to have another productive two seasons at Arizona
  5. Gary Brightwell is an absolute dog a running back. He provides a unique dynamic to the offense as an overall well-balance back with speed, a good amount of power and size, as well as pass catching abilities. Arizona could very well have two 1,000-yard rushers this season. His production and usage puts him just a touch higher than Jalen Harris here.

Conclusion

This was a huge class, and there was a lot of hype surrounding this class as there were strong commitments all throughout the season and guys truly started to help recruit each other. This class saw a lot of decommitments, but what was left was still very strong. Many of these 2017 prospects stepped in immediately as true freshmen and remain in huge roles. With two more years of this class, Sumlin has a lot of instrumental pieces to his start at Arizona.