During his first press conference as Arizona’s football coach, Jedd Fisch, in prepared remarks, outlined his goals for recruiting in the state, tying it to the program’s Desert Swarm legacy.
“We need to swarm the state of Arizona,” he said. “We need to own the state of Arizona.”
The first part was kind of corny, the second ambitious.
Every coach talks about wanting to land the top in-state talent, and it has certainly hurt to see some of the college game’s best leave not only Arizona, but Tucson to play.
Though, it’s tough to argue when the likes of Georgia, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma and other historic powers come calling. Arizona has struggled to compete with schools like those even when things were going pretty well, so the idea that the Cats could swoop in as losers of 12 straight games is a bit unrealistic.
It’s also worth noting that a roster full of Arizona-grown players is not a prerequisite for winning games, nor is it a guarantee of anything other than likely a few more parents in the stands for home games.
Yet Fisch understands that adding home-grown talent is as much about perception as anything else. Every time a talented kid leaves the state is an opportunity to wonder what is wrong with the state colleges. It doesn’t matter that Bijan Robinson and Lathan Ransom landed at Texas and Ohio State, respectively, because Arizona should have been able to convince them to stay home.
It does not really work that way, of course, but Arizona persuading players like them — or at least those a level or two below them — to don the Red and Blue would go a long way toward changing not only the talent level, but perception.
The new coach gets that, and he’s already making it happen, at least via the transfer portal.
Earlier this week Arizona landed a commitment from Malik Reed, a linebacker who went to school in Chandler before leaving for Wisconsin. At the time he chose the Badgers over the likes of Nebraska, UCLA, Colorado and yes, Arizona.
Reed joins Drake Anderson, Gunner Maldonado, Jason Harris, Davis DiVall and Gunner Cruz as players who initially left the state only to return, deciding to continue their careers in Tucson.
Each left their previous school for a different reason, and the decision to come to Arizona also featured different factors. But the message their arrival has sent is that Fisch and his staff are serious about recruiting Arizona, and already experiencing some success.
What will it lead to?
Besides some positive press, each of the players brought in comes with a strong pedigree. After all, there’s a reason they were at Wisconsin, Northwestern, Colorado, Baylor and Washington State to begin with.
They also bring with some credibility, for the coaching staff and the program. As fairly recent high school graduates, many likely still have friends and connections at high schools the Cats want to pull talent from.
Besides, what better angle could Arizona play than one that says even if out-of-state programs may seem attractive, Tucson is where you belong. Don’t believe the coaches? Talk to the players who left and came back.
Why not just start your career at the right school?
As Fisch and his staff have not had a full recruiting cycle, it will take time to see if they can make the University of Arizona the school of choice for Arizona’s top talent. As of now, the the Wildcats have a commitment from the state’s 10th-ranked player (by 247 Sports), Tristan Monday, along with the 14th-ranked guy, Grayson Stovall.
Five players ranked ahead of Monday have committed to schools, with Ohio State, USC, Florida State, Texas and Washington State earning the pledges. No one in the top 25 is committed to Arizona State.
The top 25 is filled with many uncommitted players, some of whom Arizona is still after as it looks to fill out the new staff’s first full recruiting class. From what Fisch has said and what we’ve seen, there will be an emphasis on local athletes.
Is there a danger in focusing on Arizona? While it’s great to keep talent home, according to 247Sports the state has all of six four-star rated players in the class of 2022.
For comparison, there are 24 coming from California and 51 from Texas. Even Nevada has eight, with the overall point being there is plenty of talent to be found outside of the 48th state, and it would be foolish to put an emphasis on Arizona at the expense of more fertile recruiting grounds.
That’s where the “swarm the state of Arizona” can be a bit tricky. It’s great marketing and, in reality, it’s not a bad approach to recruiting. It’s not a novel concept, and Fisch is not the first Arizona coach to speak of it.
Just, thus far he appears to be one of the first to actually do it.