Arizona is not supposed to get an Elijah Rushing.
The Wildcats may make an Elijah Rushing’s top 12, eight, five, three or whatever, but when it’s time to pick a hat an Elijah Rushing chooses one without the Block A.
And, should an Elijah Rushing pick an Arizona hat, he will most certainly change his mind within a week and commit elsewhere.
That’s how it is supposed to work because that’s who – or what – Arizona Football is.
Or, rather, was.
Elijah Rushing is not the first top-tier commit of the Jedd Fisch era. In the 2022 cycle the Cats landed five 4-star talents, headlined by Tetairoa McMillan. The ‘23 class is led by Brayden Dorman, a 4-star QB and the highest-rated passer signee in program history.
But Rushing is different. A 5-star talent who 247Sports ranks as the eighth-best player in the 2024 class at any position, he is exactly the type of player who Arizona has seen skip town only to star elsewhere.
Be it due to a lack of effort (or confidence) on the part of the coaches or the players themselves having a desire to leave home or a feeling that the best way to grow as a person and player was at a different school, Arizona simply wasn’t a serious option for the best of the best.
And to be fair, it’s not as if Arizona Football is ready to take on the likes of Georgia, Alabama, USC and others who are known for their recruiting success.
Nevertheless, programs like Arizona have to start somewhere. And while T-Mac may have got the ball rolling, it is Rushing’s commitment that has sent a message saying not only will the Wildcats recruit some of the country’s best players, but that they can get some of them, too.
Odds are slim that we are witnessing the rise of the next great college football power, and which means if the Wildcats are to succeed they will still need to rely on identifying undervalued talent, coaching it up and then scheming it to success. Landing four and five-star players is great, but you can build a very good team on the backs of three stars, many of whom just so happen to hail from the state of Arizona.
Even still, in the year 2023 if Fisch really wants to get Arizona to a level beyond competitive, sprinkling in at least a handful of highly-rated players – especially at premium positions – is a must. That’s obvious, of course, but as recently as a couple years ago it didn’t seem possible.
This was Arizona, after all, a bottom-dwelling program that should have been fearful of going after five-star talent because they’d surely get laughed out of the room.
Well, who’s laughing now?
Ari Wasserman of the Athletic wrote about Fisch before Rushing committed to Arizona, with a piece titled “Arizona’s Jedd Fisch gets it, and the prize may be 5-star DE Elijah Rushing”.
Wasserman has quotes from Salpointe coach Eric Rogers, who heaped praise on Arizona’s current staff for showing up and supporting his players, which include Rushing and his high school teammate Keona Wilhite, also an Arizona commit.
“This staff has the mindset that it can go out and get anyone in the country,” the coach said.
They can’t do that, at least not yet.
But what Arizona can do is not give up without even so much as trying and, when appropriate, go all-out in trying to land a commitment. The proof of concept exists, and when you really think about it Arizona’s recruiting success makes sense.
The city and program have plenty to offer, with good facilities, nice weather, a beautiful campus and a coaching staff with an NFL background. Arizona also has a solid NIL program and a community that lives and breathes Arizona Athletics. About the only thing missing is on-field success, though last season’s five wins were a clear step in the right direction.
Unfortunately for all the excitement Rushing’s commitment has brought, it has led to all of zero wins so far and Arizona. Along with that, this is still a program that has won six games over the last two seasons (technically three seasons, but I digress). In theory better recruiting should lead to more talented teams, and more talented teams should bring about more wins. It’s not science, but it’s close.
Ideally Rushing’s commitment, like T-Mac’s before it, serves as a catalyst for some of the state and country’s best players to look at and consider Arizona.
For years Arizona struggled to get those kind of players, the type that can truly change and elevate a program. They weren’t alone in that regard, and it would have been easy to accept that lot in NCAA Football life and simply do the best they could with what they had.
That’s how it was supposed to be for Arizona.
But that’s not how it is. Not anymore.