The Arizona Wildcats will have a lot of new faces next season after bringing in a massive 2021 recruiting class, but it doesn’t look like your traditional group of newcomers.
While Arizona signed 17 high school prospects and one junior college player, it also added eight transfers from other FBS programs. Additionally, the Wildcats are bringing in a slew of priority walk-ons that include a few players who had notable scholarship offers.
“We obviously took a different approach based on the way we were structured as a team, based on our roster at this point,” head coach Jedd Fisch said Thursday during a Zoom press conference. “We were very actively involved in the transfer portal. We just signed a couple high school kids in this group, we signed a bunch of high school kids in the last group (in) December. But this past go-round we were really heavily focused on the transfer portal to really fill some holes that we felt we needed to fill and also add depth, which we felt was necessary to do as well.”
Sixteen of the Wildcats’ 26-member class signed during the early period in December, with 10 more coming on board on Wednesday. A full list of the additions can be found on our Signing Day Tracker.
Here’s what to know about the 2021 class, how it fits into Arizona’s plans and where things go from here:
The class ranking is misleading
Arizona’s 2021 class ranks 77th in the nation, per 247Sports, and 11th in the Pac-12. That’s not very good at all, but that’s because the rankings only reflect high school and JUCO signees and not the transfers.
Of the eight scholarship transfers added, four had ratings out of high school that were higher than any of this class’ prep signees, highlighted by a pair of former 4-star prospects in ex-Colorado defensive end Jason Harris and ex-Notre Dame cornerback Isaiah Rutherford.
Many of the transfers should be around for a while
Of the eight transfers Arizona signed, seven have multiple years of eligibility remaining. And for several, they’re only one year removed from being in high school.
That was entirely by design, Fisch said.
“It’s really like bringing in a high school kid,” he said of the likes of Harris, Rutherford, ex-Northwestern safety Gunner Maldonado and ex-Washington State quarterback Gunner Cruz and ex-Baylor offensive lineman Davis DiVall, all of which will be listed as freshmen for 2021. “Those are really like bringing in a high school kid that had a year of training. Just kind of redshirted their year and now we get to take advantage of that opportunity as well.”
Ex-Northwestern running back Drake Anderson and ex-South Florida quarterback Jordan McCloud will be redshirt sophomores, giving them three years of eligibility left, while ex-Western Michigan linebacker Treshaun Howard is a one-and-done as a senior.
And Howard, the 2019 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year, should be locked in as a starter from the day he arrives. Fisch referred to him as a tackling machine and “truly a and plug and play” addition.
Not all of the transfers will be on hand for spring practice when it begins March 24. Fisch said he is “hopeful” that Cruz will be on hand, but McCloud is set to graduate from USF in May and won’t arrive until after that.
More additions are possible, and likely probable
Fisch said Arizona still has three scholarships available, and the plan is to use them if the right guys are out there.
“We have the ability to sign anybody through, really, the start of training camp,” Fisch said. “We’re going to be willing to do that. There might be a couple of guys that come earlier than that, or present earlier than that, and that will all be based on our numbers. We’re not going to shy away from bringing a great player in here, and if we have the ability to do that we’re going to do that.”
Nearly all of the 250-plus prep and JUCO players Arizona offered in the 2021 class have signed, but there’s still plenty of notable names in the transfer portal. Others are sure to enter after spring ball after seeing where they stand with their current programs, and to keep the Wildcats in the running for such guys Fisch said he’s going to make sure it’s possible for someone to join the program over the summer without having to play catch up.
“I don’t want to create scheme that is so hard to learn that you need here to be for five months to learn it,” he said. “I want to create a scheme that, on both sides of the ball, that if we have a great player we’re not going to slow them down because us coaches want to be the smartest guys in the room.”
Players recruited by the previous staff are just as important as Fisch’s signees
It was somewhat surreal back in December to see, just days after Sumlin was fired amid a 12-game losing streak, that Arizona was able to sign 16 players. A year earlier the Wildcats only signed 12 players during the early period, yet this time around they landed the bulk of their class despite not having a head coach.
“They’ve become like the forgotten group of the class because of just the way circumstances built, and that’s not really a fair situation,” said Fisch, who set up a Zoom call with each early signee and their parents soon after getting hired. “Whether we were there to recruit them or not, they are Wildcats and they are in this class. And they’re a huge, important part of our class.”
Fisch said the early signees provide Arizona with “some really quality depth” at several positions, most notably linebacker, and some could compete to start as freshmen.
“I’ve mentioned a few times that a rising tide lifts all ships,” he said. “They can come in here and immediately bring talent, speed, size and athleticism to our program and then take it from there to become starters as the years go on.”
Of the three non-transfers Arizona signed this week, one (Texas cornerback Jakelyn Morgan) committed to the previous staff but opted to wait to see who replaced Sumlin before signing.
“I think when he saw what we were going to do on defense, now it becomes exciting to be a part of this program,” Fisch said of the 6-foot-1 Morgan, who he described as “the epitome of that long-armed corner” Arizona wants to build around.