The comparisons were inevitable, and frankly unavoidable.
When Stevie Rocker Jr. committed to the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday, it continued a trend that began three years ago when he began at Canyon del Oro High School and figures to continue well into his college career.
The next Ka’Deem Carey?
“He got that comparison when he first walked onto our campus as a freshman,” coach Dustin Peace said. “He’s already dealt with it at CDO on a smaller stage.”
Rocker, a senior-to-be and a key piece of Arizona’s 2021 recruiting class, is the first CDO product to commit to the UA since Carey, a fellow running back who went on to become the Wildcats’ career rushing leader and go in the fourth round to the Chicago Bears in the 2014 NFL Draft.
“It’s a nice thing to be compared to,” Rocker said. “He did his own thing, I’ve got to do mine.”
He’s also his own kind of player. At 6-foot and 196 pounds, Rocker is already bigger than Carey was as a high school senior (5-foot-9, 184 pounds). His coach says he’s yet to show his true potential, partly due to a high ankle sprain that limited Rocker to just six games in 2019.
Peace, who has been CDO’s coach since 2009—Carey’s junior year, when the Dorados won the Arizona Class 4A state title—said Rocker’s ceiling may be higher than Carey’s.
“We’ve all haven’t seen the best of him,” Peace said. “He’s growing, he’s the fastest he’s ever been, the strongest he’s ever been. In three years he’s going to look like an NFL player. His physical capabilities, the ceiling is very high. Even though Ka’Deem got bigger, thicker (in college), he was pretty explosive right out of high school. I think Stevie’s top end will be different.”
Rocker ran for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore but just 371 yards as a junior because of injury. That likely impacted his recruiting profile, as Rocker is ranked as the No. 1,181 player in the 2021 class and the 17th-best in-state prospect. Carey finished as the No. 331 player in 2011 and eighth-best recruit from Arizona.
Fully healthy now, Rocker is anxious to get his senior year underway. The start of prep football in Arizona has been pushed back to mid-September due to the coronavirus pandemic, with many local coaches—including Peace—hoping to shift the entire season to early 2021.
“As long as we get a football season, I just want to play,” Rocker said.
Whenever Rocker is able to suit up again, expect him to show off a skill that will only further the comparisons to Carey. While he considers himself a power back, one that can take contact, he has been working on his pass catching in order to have more involvement in the offense.
Carey caught 77 passes in three seasons at Arizona, tied for third-most in school history among running backs. Rocker has only 10 career receptions at CDO but said Peace plans to put Rocker in the slot at times this season with an empty backfield.
Rocker, who is the only in-state player from the 2021 recruiting class to have committed to either Arizona or ASU so far, picked the Wildcats over BYU, California and Nevada. Though they were one of the last offers he got, once that happened “they never dropped trying to get me to come out there. Even just for a simple talk.
“They kind of made me feel like I was part of the team for them.”