When Arizona last played a college football game—if you call being on the losing end of a 70-7 result at home to your arch rival as actually playing, that is—it started six Wildcats who grew up in the state. Another nine Arizona-bred players saw action in that disastrous contest.
When the UA returns to the field, on Saturday night in Las Vegas against BYU, as many as nine in-state products could be among the starting lineup while another 10 figure to play significantly.
All told, Arizona has 18 players from its own state on its season-opening depth chart that was released Thursday. Seven of them are from the crop of 15 Grand Canyon State additions to the roster since Jedd Fisch was hired in December.
“We have a lot of great talent in this state,” said linebacker Jalen Harris, whose younger brother Jason Harris was part of that influx of in-state talent. “When you see kids at other schools from Arizona, I think it’s important to beat them and show that you don’t need to go anywhere else but Arizona.”
And that group doesn’t include Tucson-bred wide receiver Jamarye Joiner, who is recovering from offseason foot surgery and is not expected to be ready for a few more weeks. Joiner was one of two in-state prep recruits the UA signed in 2018, three fewer than in 2017.
For comparison: the 2022 recruiting class already has five commits from within Arizona.
Being able to keep the best players from the state from leaving the state has been a goal of Fisch since his first day. The 2021 recruiting class (which includes only one in-state signee, running back Stevie Rocker Jr.) was all but completed when he took over, but the transfer portal had plenty of Arizona-bred options to choose from, and Fisch and his staff managed to land eight guys who began their careers at out-of-state FBS schools.
That includes quarterback Gunner Cruz (Washington State), running back Drake Anderson, tight end Alex Lines, linebackers Rashie Hodge Jr. and Malik Reed and safety Gunner Maldonado, all of whom will start or play heavily against BYU.
“Our ultimate goal is to not let them leave,” Fisch said back in January. “There’s a lot of guys that leave the West Coast and go to other places and recognize they really much prefer to be back in the West Coast. But when they want to come back we want to be able to welcome them back, and the portal has permitted us to do that.”
One of those that got away the first time, Reed, was hosted by Jalen Harris when he made an official visit to Arizona in June 2019. A Chandler native and the No. 16 in-state prospect in the 2020 class, Reed signed with Wisconsin but left after one year, committing to the UA in May.
“I wanted him to come here bad,” Harris said of Reed, whom he teased when he showed up in the summer. “I told him I was like, ‘oh, now you want to come?’”
The UA has 34 in-state players on the roster, four more than a year ago. Three of the holdovers who are expected to play a lot on defense—Viper Rourke Freeburg, cornerback Treydan Stukes and safety Jaydin Young—were all put on scholarship during training camp.
“It’s everything,” Young said after upgrading from his walk-on status. “I’m from Arizona, and just being able to wear that A on my chest, I’m gonna wear that with pride.”
Here’s the official depth chart for the opener against BYU:
For those not familiar with some of the position designations within Don Brown’s defense, here’s a quick translation:
- ANCHOR: Strong-side defensive end. Will most likely line up opposite an offense’s tight end.
- SAM: Strong-side linebacker
- MIKE: Middle linebacker
- WILL: Weak-side linebacker
- VIPER: Hybrid linebacker/safety
- ROVER: Strong safefy