In many ways, sports like football are simple: the more good players you have, the easier it is to win games.
This has been an issue for Arizona football in recent years, as it's talent level often failed to keep pace with that of the opponents. Even when the Wildcats played hard, they simply did not have what it took.
This was certainly the case in 2020, when the program bottomed out. Those were the days, with “were” being the operative word.
Credit to Jedd Fisch, whose plan sold Arizona brass on him as a coach and has now positioned a program that seemed hopeless just a few years ago as one that is most certainly on the rise.
Assuming Rushing stays true to his pledge, signing and suiting up with the Wildcats in 2024, he will become the highest-ranked player in the recruiting era to join the program out of high school. At defensive end he plays a position that can truly impact the game.
As a signee, he will say the very least impact Arizona’s perception.
Of course, Rushing is not the first high-profile commitment of Fish’s tenure. But his commitment differs from those of Tetairoa McMillan, Rayshon Luke and the bevy of players added via the portal. In Rushing, Arizona was able to land the hometown star who had every opportunity to play anywhere else. Literally, he had offers from virtually every school in the country.
His 247Sports recruiting page reads like a CVS receipt.
In a video announcing his commitment, Rushing stated, “Being a hometown kid born and raised in the heart of Tucson, this decision holds a special significance to me.
“The opportunity to represent my state, my community and my family on the football field is a dream come true. It’s a chance to give back to the place that has shaped me both as an athlete and as an individual.”
That all sounds well and good (especially if you’re Arizona) and his motivations are admirable. While other schools likely offered more lucrative NIL packages and others certainly provide a more direct and assured path to winning, the idea of being one of the players who turned Arizona into a winner was enough to earn a commitment.
It’s not always that simple. Other coaching staffs have watched, seemingly helplessly, as top talent has left the Old Pueblo. Maybe Bijan Robinson would never have stayed in Tucson. Perhaps Lathan Ransom was always destined to leave. The same goes for others who chose to play college football somewhere other than Tucson, all of whom were not successfully recruited by the various coaches who either tried (or didn’t) to land them.
Recently, Rich Rodriguez could never, Kevin Sumlin would never, and Mike Stoops only dabbled a bit in that world.
But Fisch has proven to be different.
He is a relentless optimist who feels no recruit is too big or too unavailable. He is not afraid to go after the big, umm, fish, understanding that there is value in even being considered by the country’s best players. The confidence in thinking you have a chance with the T-Macs, even after they committed to Oregon, or someone like Rushing, who was also considering Oregon, Tennessee and Notre Dame, says Fisch believes in what he’s doing, an in-turn players believe in him.
Despite what Rushing said in his video, the allure of doing everything in his hometown would not have mattered if he felt his talents would be wasted on losing teams.
And that’s where getting better players comes in. Rushing will not take the field for Arizona until 2024, meaning there is an entire season to play before he can make his first tackle or collect his first sack. But part of what attracted the No. 27 player in the ’24 class is the belief – nay, the confidence – that the Wildcats are set to improve on what they did last season, when they went from one win in 2021 to five victories in 2022.
And maybe that is the real lesson to be taken from Rushing committing. Yes, Fisch and his staff pulled out all the stops in bringing Elijah’s brother, Cruz, in as a transfer from Florida. They also landed commitments from his Salpointe teammate, 3-star defensive lineman Keona Wilhite. No doubt they also presented a competitive NIL offer, as well as a sound plan for Rushing’s role and development. You also can’t discount the appeal of Rushing wanting to be the hometown hero, the player who stuck around and elevated the program.
He may very well be that. He is a great talent, after all.
But he alone would not be enough to elevate the program, and you can bet Rushing knows that. Because of what Fisch has done in rebuilding Arizona, adding a considerable amount of talent in a short amount of time, the program was ready to legitimately go after a player like this. Even if Rushing had committed elsewhere Arizona’s arrow would still be pointing up.
But Rushing committing to Arizona shows confidence in his abilities, that he can handle the pressure and expectations of playing in front of his family and friends. More than that, Rushing committing to Arizona shows fans are not the only people who believe much better days are ahead, and that may be the most exciting news to come out of Thursday’s announcement.