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What Jedd Fisch and Matt Doherty said at Arizona's Early Signing Day press conference

jedd-fisch-national-signing-day-arizona-football-demond-williams-pac12-big12-2024 Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona was able to sign 20 players for the 2024 recruiting class on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period, including 16 high school prospects, one junior college player and three transfers.

“We were able to fill our needs, fill our wants, and we were able to sign six guys from the state of Arizona,” UA coach Jedd Fisch said. “We were able to take care of really the needs we had defensively offensively, and at the same time, we’re gonna continue to just build upon the last two years of recruiting.”

Arizona currently has the seventh-best recruiting class for the Big 12 next year.

Here’s what Fisch and Director of Player Personnel Matt Doherty said at their presser to discuss the signings:

Fisch on the theme of the 2024 class: “I would say this class really filled a lot of needs for us in terms of depth, and be able to really build a program the way we wanted to.”

On the quarterback room: “We wanted to make sure we always had a great quarterback, that’s number one, right? Currently in our quarterback room, we have the Freshman Player of the Year in the Pac-12 of 2021 and the Freshman Player of the Year in the Pac-12 in 2023 and now we have an elite freshman coming in. So, we’re always going to be able to build our quarterback class.”

On the running back room: “We wanted to make sure we continued (to add to) our running back room, we needed to replace two there, three really when you count Stevie Rocker and then Mike Wiley and DJ (Williams) all moving on. So, we were able to get Adam Mohammed, who is just a fantastic high school football player. I mean, you look at some of his records that he set here, No. 2 all-time in Arizona state history in touchdowns scored behind Bijan Robinson, one touchdown ahead of Christian Kirk one touchdown ahead of Ka’Deem Carey and rushed for 5,000 yards. So, you got Adam and then you got Jordan Washington. So, Jordan Washington is the fastest high school track sprinter in America. One of the top three, I guess, ran a 10.24 100 (meters), 20.81 200 (meters) and so we’re able to get those two guys.”

On the wide receiver group: “When it comes to receivers, we’re only losing just Jacob Cowing. So, losing Jacob we were able to sign Audric (Harris) and then signed Brandon Phelps who is the all-time in the state of Arizona wide receiver, all-time leader in receptions, all-time leader in yards, all-time leader in touchdowns. So, when you have those two guys coming in, then we have guys like Dylan Tapley and Charlie Crowell coming into the tight end position.”

On the defensive line additions: “We want to get youth to then push the older guys then we want the older guys to teach the youth and the d-line. So ,with that Eduwa (Okundaye), with Bryce (Butler), you’ve got a little bit of a different age bracket there. Then you got Chubba (Ma’ae) that’s got one year left.”

On the linebacker corps: “We went back to the youth because of the fact that we have Jacob Manu, Justin Flowe. Then we have Taye Brown, then we have Kamu (Ka’aihue). Now we have Stacy Bey coming in.”

On the secondary: “We are really loaded up. We loaded up with guys in the secondary because all of our secondary is returning but all of them are moving on, or the safeties for sure at the end of (next) year.”

On positions Fisch is targeting for future additions: “Always looking at pass rushers always, looking at guys that can score touchdowns. So, wide receivers are always a position that I always like to look at and then linebackers, continue to build our linebacking core up. So, those right now are the three spots that I would say are the highest of the list and then you can never go wrong getting big people in your building. So whether that would be offensive line or defensive line, usually we don’t turn down big.”

On having players being able to play multiple positions: “I think there’s a lot of players here that when we signed them, their question was am I gonna play offense or defense or I should say when we recruited them. And then when they committed their question was am I committing as a receiver or as a safety? Am I committing as a linebacker or a running back? Am I committing as a corner? Or is that my or my committee as a slot receiver? Those are all good signs because I think there’s huge value in versatility and if you have versatility among the players, we have the ability to move them around. And they have the ability to really flourish in our system.”

On the prior relationship or connection with each transfer portal addition: “Jack (Luttrell) had a relationship with Coach Akina when Coach Akina was at Stanford and I think Coach Akina from what I understand was very close in the recruitment process to bring him to Stanford. Jordan Shaw was very tight in with Coach Richardson, was very tight and with Mondo, Armond Hawkins and had relationships within our whole, really the secondary side of our program. And then Chubba (Maae) when he went into the portal, he was a Long Beach Poly player. So we knew him from there. He knew Woe Woe so he called up Woe Woe, Wendell Moe and also reached out to Dom Alessio, and the guys that we have in the Long Beach Community, obviously Coach Nansen, who played at Long Beach Jordan, and to get up to UC Davis and check them out. So those were the three guys that really stood out in the portal side of things and really, we’ve kind of limited our portal acquisitions to that.”

On recruiting heavily out of highschool rather than the transfer portal: “Our (juniors) are (freshmen) from 2022. So, why would I go out in the portal and go take a junior or a senior rather than a guy that’s been with us for three years or two years going into three, knows our system and can lead our program. The guys that are out there portaling, in my opinion are out there portaling because people left their program and they need to fill spots. Or, they’re deciding that high school recruiting isn’t that important. I don’t see it that way, I think our job as college coaches is to recruit high school players and develop high school players. And then if you need to fill a need, you go ahead and go fill a need with a portal player. Free Agents so to speak, the best football teams build their program through the draft in the NFL, and then they use free agency as a way to supplement a spot or two. Similar to what college football has become, the draft is recruiting and free agency would be the portal. I would much prefer to train than retrain and I would much prefer to coach a player that walks in our building that wants to be here as a high school kid that we can develop. And we’ve proven and we’ve shown our commitment to those players. And those players can be in our program and our strength and conditioning program and our training program. And I think it’s a testament to our staff that people don’t like to leave here. And I think what you’ll see is our team continues to get better because guys don’t leave here.”

Doherty on concentrating on recruiting highschoolers over the portal: “It’s the reduction of uncertainty. You’ve got a longer, more drawn out timeframe to recruit and evaluate the players on the high school side. So, you understand what you’re bringing into your building, what you’re adding to your culture, and whether or not that’s going to appreciably improve a given position room, given who they are and what they’re capable of.

“With the portal stuff, obviously it’s a more truncated evaluation process. And even if you’re going to go about it very deliberately throughout the course of the year, let’s just say for information sake we’ll look at everybody’s roster and we’ll have a grade on every returning starter that has at least one additional year of eligibility. Even if you did that in the most organized fashions you’re not able to get to know the player. But for that small two week window, that frenzy is taking place as you put it. So, just backing up coach’s point inspires much more confidence to recruit them, get to know them, understand what their strengths and weaknesses are, where they need to be worked on the most. And then cultivate that when they’re in the program. So, you’re getting guys who know how we like to lift, they know how we practice, they can hack it in our grind. And it’s more of a crapshoot when you’re dealing with less time to figure it out and get to know people.”

Fisch on how the recruitment process went with the three signees from Glendale Apollo High: School “We were able to get three players from the same high school, in Arizona and a high school that hasn’t traditionally put out player after player in division one program. It’s kind of a unique group this year. When I went there to their high school a week ago and had a visit with their head coach and the three players. You hear about historically, it has not been a high school that’s put out player after player in the same group. But that group happened to have been one in which really, traditionally what happens is you locate a player, you go watch that player and then you like who’s. Right so let’s say you go watch (Michael) Watkins right and then you’re like, wow, I really liked the way Watkins is playing. Now who’s the lot who’s that other guy over there? Who’s that tackle that they got? Oh, that’s (Matthew) Lado lets figure out what he does. Let’s start researching him. Holy cow this running back’s got more yards than anybody in the state. This running backs is the number one back in the state. We got to do more on this. Coach Graham you need to come out and watch his player play. And then what happened was Coach Carroll and Coach Graham kind of got together and they said we should take all three of these players. We should take the center, we should take the tackle and we should take the back. And that’s what we were able to do.”

On what position Watkins will play: “Our thought process right now is that anytime we can cross train any offensive lineman that’s a success. So, we’re looking to cross chain Wendell Moe at guard and center. We’re looking to cross train Watkins guard and center. We’re looking to cross train JT Hand, Grayson Stovall this whole bowl prep. We’ve been cross training JT, and Grayson, and they’ve been rotating with the twos and there has been some times that we put JT in with the ones and let Josh (Baker) go to guard. As we’re kind of working through the rotation, I think there’s great value. What big Jonah was able to do by play guard, play tackle, and when you get a chance to go in the NFL, if you could show a scout that you’ve been a cross trained and b have the ability to play more than one position. That’s what we’re looking for. Unlike some of the spots where you could have a receiver and a db in this case, if you can have a guard to center we’ll take it. And that’s kind of where we’re looking to kind of work with those two guys. With those guys, I should say with Watkins.”

On how the sales pitch has evolved from year one to now: “We have a better understanding of our team and we have a better understanding of our needs and wants. So, as we’re able to go out there to the landscape we’re able to share specifically with the player. This is how you fit into our system. This is who you would be replacing one day. So watch him look to see what that looks like. Take an eye and see do you like the way T-Mac produces? Do you like the way Jacob Cowing produces? Do you like the way Jonah Coleman produces? Okay, well those guys are juniors next year. You would be an incoming freshman. Do you like the way Isaiah Ward as a pass rusher? Ephesians Prysock as a corner, Tecario Davis as a corner Jacob Manu as a linebacker. They’re all juniors next year and now we’re able to point the players and they’re able to say do you like the way they develop? Do you see how much better they’ve gotten? You know how does a player come in here that had no offers and become a first team all Pac-12 linebacker in two years. How does a player come in here that had minimal offers that chose to come to Arizona, brought three of his teammates and become the freshman player of the year and be on the Heisman watch list from a year from now. It’s the development of the players and now we could sell the development rather than talk about hey, if you come here, we will develop you, now we’re able to show them how players on our team have developed.”

Doherty on signing six in-state freshman: “Obviously, it was talked about at the outset of Coach Fisch being hired but then put into practice. It’s just the consistency and then it’s the volume in terms of the people involved, starting with the head football coach. I think all six of these guys that signed today would tell you, he was at the forefront of their recruitments, he was at the forefront of the building of those relationships. He used every opportunity he could to visit them in person, spend time with them when they were here, regardless of the context, not just official visits, but anytime that they set foot here. Which stands to reason, I haven’t counted this out but I would venture to guess that those guys were here at a higher clip than maybe some guys that don’t live inside the state. So, I think it’s just the sorry to use the cliche practice what we preach but it’s really that simple. And then spelling out the individual plan for those guys. We don’t skim, we don’t cut corners just because they’re in state. We don’t take it for granted and just assume that because we reside in a certain area code that they will maybe sacrifice some things to play here. So, they get the full breath of our efforts. Obviously, it’s very special in terms of their ability to represent the state here.”

Fisch on what he saw from 4-star quarterback Demond Williams: “He doesn’t throw a lot of incompletions. That’s the first thing I would say, which is an incredible sign of somebody that knows how to play the game of football. He has an elite athleticism in terms of speed. He’s flat out fast for a quarterback. He does a great job of taking over a game at any given moment that you can really put the ball in his hands and he can win you the game. He took Basha to their first ever state championship. He’s a 4.0 student, both football student and academic student. He loves the game of football, he fits in what we do. I once made a comment that, you don’t want a football team that when you look at your position group and everybody’s kind of all over the place and you don’t really know what you’re trying to get. Our quarterbacks are a certain look, and they have a certain skill set, and they have a certain feel, and they play the game a certain way. And that enables us to game plan for those guys and puts us in position that Demond can now continue to learn from and grow without having to throw, well this will be different for you Demond and this will be different for you. No, it’s not that. So everything about Demond, he’s the best player in the state of Arizona. He was the number one ranked quarterback in the state of Arizona. It was a huge deal for us to get him, to want to join our program. His father played college football at Michigan State, his mom’s from Tucson. I mean, this is who should come to Arizona. This is who should be here. I had Sean McVay watch his film, I had Josh McDaniels look at his film, Mike Lombardi look at his film and all these guys are just singing this kid’s praises, and they just know how elite of a player he’s going to be one day.”

Doherty on what the plan is on player visits: “Without getting to the tradecraft, it depends on what their experiences have been here, if any beforehand so we never it’s never the same experience twice. That’s to put it succinctly but it’s pretty thorough and it’s a good mix of both football and then what their life would be like outside the realm of football at this university, and that’s social, that’s academic, and so on and so forth. So, I don’t want to say we themed the days as such, but there is a kind of rhyme and reason to how it all flows. And at the end, we really just want to make sure that the the opportunity here is spelled out to the nth degree from top to bottom, as I just said, football and beyond. And not only that, do they know and trust who they’re going to be leaving their child with and so when all those boxes are checked, we usually end up with pretty successful Sunday mornings.”

Fisch on what is the most important thing UA does on an official visit: “I would say this to add on to that with the official visits and I tell parents this all the time, coaches job are to sell you and sell your son to come play for us. Players jobs are to tell the truth. So they got nothing, they got no skin in the game. As a matter of fact, some of them are like wait a second, I don’t want that guy to come here. So, my philosophy is this and our philosophy is this as much time as a player can spend with our team. the better chance we have to get a player to commit to us because they can ask our kids anything. And the same regard is anytime we have any event with the parents of the official visitors, we ask our players to be involved and sit down and talk to the parents, ask questions, answer questions, and be fully honest and transparent. So when a parent asks a kid, they asked Noah Fifita, Noah, tell me about coach. I’m not around, I’m not there. He’s able to answer that question and he’s able to tell them exactly what it’s like to be coached here. Exactly what type of program we have and I believe that’s the most important thing we do on an official visit.”

Doherty on who he sees contributing right away out of the signees: “I hate putting undue expectations on kids so I don’t want this to get misconstrued. I’m gonna go with Rahim Wright. I think Rahim is incredibly versatile in terms of what he brings to the table. I think he’s a three position player in our secondary. I think he’s smart enough to digest all three of those and contribute at those spots early on. Certainly has the toughness and the speed to be a special teams player and a difference maker in that phase of the game as well. So I think he would be an early favorite for a meaningful contributor early in his career.”

Fisch on who will be the surprise of the class: “I think there’s gonna be some guys out there that’s going to surprise us like they always do. I did go to Audric Harris house on a home visit and was just blown away on what it looks like right now. He’s looks like he’s gotten taller, bigger. He had a huge senior year. So, I’m excited to watch Audric play. Obviously, Rahshawn Clark was a huge get for us late in the game. Watching his tape was just, he’s special. He’s a special player. So he’s gonna be fun to watch and then there’s so many interesting players in this class that are going to bring a skill set that either we have that they’re going to build upon or something unique that we haven’t seen yet. So it’ll be great to see Demond out here, right in 10 days. It’ll be great to see Jordan Washington out here in 10 days or whatever it is, two weeks. And then we have seven or eight guys coming in mid-year. And to be able to watch them and see what that looks like. It’s gonna be a blast to get this team back together. Just got to figure out how it doesn’t become a continuation of last season. We don’t need a 20 month season. So we need to take a little bit of a break from the time the Alamo game ends and the next team meeting. So we don’t so our players and our coaches don’t feel as if this is just the season that never ends but there’s actually an ending after the Alamo Bowl and then a start sometime in January with the new freshmen, the transfers, and then all the returning players.”