In order for Arizona to secure its best recruiting class in 16 years, a lot of work had to be done by a large number of people. But now that the 2022 class has been signed, it turns out much of the success the Wildcats had in putting that group together may have been due to the work of one person and the byproduct of one shared experience.
Noah Fifita is the person, and the UA men’s basketball team’s win at Illinois was the experience.
Arizona announced the signing of 20 high school prospects on Wednesday, a class that 247Sports currently ranks third in the Pac-12 and 35th in the country. Both of those would be the program’s best since 2006.
The class features three 4-star prospects from California, which is where 11 of the 20 signees are from, as well as four from Arizona. Ten signees are ranked in the top 1000 nationally.
“We have not had more than six in the last decade,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said of his first recruiting class. “All in all this has been one heck of a day for Arizona football.”
The highest-ranked player in the class is 4-star tight end Keyan Burnett, the son of ex-Desert Swarm era defender Chester Burnett. He’s one of three signees from Anaheim’s Servite High School. It’s a group that began with 3-star quarterback Noah Fifita, whom Fisch credited with getting the ball rolling on Arizona landing a slew of Southern California players.
“That group from Servite High School, initially, and then as it kind of grew to all of Juice County, as we say, to all of Orange County, and the Trinity League, were all impacted by Noah’s commitment, and Noah’s standing by his commitment throughout the entire year,” Fisch said, noting that after Fifita committed on April 4 he started getting more and more interest from other schools but never wavered on his pledge to the UA. “And all he did was just recruit for us.”
Landing Fifita and Burnett led to the UA getting Servite’s Jacob Manu, a 3-star linebacker. That led to the Wildcats being able to flip 3-star defensive lineman Ta’ita’a Uiagalelei from Washington State, and it kept snowballing with other targets who were familiar with each other and wanted to be college teammates.
“When you get those guys, the next set of guys say ‘well, we want in,’” Fisch said.
Fisch said Arizona hosted seven recruits last weekend, and five ended up committing. Nearly all of them were part of a large group that he had over to his house on Saturday to watch the UA men’s basketball team play at Illinois.
“It was the coolest day we’ve had here,” he said. “The six people at my house, plus I think 30 family members, probably, and we’re all standing around the TV watching us win a game against Illinois. That’s when you want to hit the road with the block A.”
Arizona, which also added a transfer in ex-UCLA defensive back DJ Warnell, still has room to bring in more. Fisch said he has “roster freedom” to add between seven and 10 more players, with some coming from the high school ranks and others from the NCAA transfer portal.
One of the guys from the former group could be 4-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, another Servite product who is committed to Oregon. He did not sign on Wednesday but plans to on Thursday. Fifita, his mother and many others in the Servite-to-Arizona clan have been pushing hard to get him to flip to the Wildcats, and if that were to happen he’d end up being the highest-rated signee in program history, according to 247Sports.
Fisch, hired a little less than a year ago, said the 2022 class is the result of his and his staff’s determination to make recruiting a part of every day on the job.
“We took a very aggressive approach of recruiting that, every day, no matter what was going on, we’re gonna find ways to do recruiting,” he said. “I don’t care if it was Saturday after a loss. I don’t care if it was Sunday after a loss. I don’t care if it was Saturday after the Cal win. I don’t care, whatever it was, we were never going to miss a day to recruit and to build this roster. So whatever coaching changes happen, they happen, but we weren’t going to stand pat and not let that become a priority for us.”