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Arizona assistant coach discusses recruiting strategy during pandemic, throws shade at ASU

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Arizona State v Arizona Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats haven’t been able to have in-person contact with a recruit in nearly eight months. That’s the case for every college football team during the coronavirus pandemic, as the NCAA has kept things in a “dead period” since mid-March.

So why, then, does it seem like Arizona is having one of its best recruiting cycles in recent memory, certainly the best one in the Kevin Sumlin era?

The UA has 24 commitments in the 2021 class, getting to that number on Oct. 4 when junior college defensive back Antonio Brooks joined the group. 247Sports has the class ranked 49th in the nation and sixth in the Pac-12, and if those held up that would be the Wildcats best national finish since 2017 and their best in the conference since 2014.

“What we’ve done, our plan that Coach Sumlin helped us all put together this spring really helped us be able to move forward,” said inside receivers/tight ends coach Theron Aych, Arizona’s lead recruiter. “Now this year was different, obviously we had to sell guys through Zoom. But once they get here, once they see, once we show them the pictures—we go through the virtual tour. Cody Moore, our recruiting director, did a really fantastic job with those guys, really talking to the parents. I think that really helped solidify (things), and I think it worked out for us.”

At this point a year ago Arizona only had 13 commitments, three of whom ended up signing elsewhere. And the way the 2021 cycle began it looked like the same thing was going to happen, as the Wildcats were the last power-conference program in the country without a pledge until 3-star linebacker Kolbe Cage committed on May 5.

By the end of May, Arizona had three commits. Eight more came on board in June, including 3-star quarterback Clay Millen, and July also saw eight additions to the class. Another four committed in August, with one apiece the last two months.

Along the way Arizona has only had one decommitment, that being 3-star athlete Cole Batson, who backed off his pledge in mid-August and has since committed to Boston College.

Half of Arizona’s 24 commitments are from Louisiana and Texas, two of Aych’s main recruiting areas, and two more are from Illinois. So much for needing to log all those hours flying across the country to check out players up close and personal, huh?

“I think as a recruiter, as a coach, it really helped you learn to focus on truly developing a relationship,” Aych said. “There are some times I’ve got to admit, you know, we’re boom, boom, boom, trying to see so many kids in so many days at so many schools. I can be in Kansas in the morning and New Orleans at night, and anywhere in between. So, where now I had a lot more time to really settle in and focus on those 30 kids and develop those relationships, find out what that kid and that family is really looking for.”

With the early signing period still almost two months away there’s plenty of time for things—and teenagers’ minds—to change. Speculation around the sport has been that the lack of in-person contact could result in a rash of prospects decommitting or flipping, often because they made their initial pledge too soon.

So far, though, 247Sports’ decommitment tracker has less than 200 names on it for 2021, with only 27 occurring in October. The 2020 cycle had more than 630.

“That’s the question of the year,” Aych said when asked about decommitments. “The advantage is, nobody can visit campus. The disadvantage is, nobody can visit campus. This is going to be an interesting recruiting cycle. But I do notice that, other than maybe possibly some school up north, that most guys are sticking with their commitments on both ends.”

That was Aych’s not-so-subtle way of eluding to ASU have four decommitments this month, including three on Monday. The rest of the Pac-12 has had two this month, one each for Oregon State and Stanford.