Following a coaching change, in the NCAA transfer portal era no news is generally considered to be good news. But sometimes you just gotta know
The Arizona Wildcats got some great news on Saturday, as it was made public that quarterback Noah Fifita, wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, linebacker Jacob Manu and offensive lineman Jonah Savaiinaea, among many others, have elected to continue their careers at the University of Arizona.
Those aren’t the only ones coming back. After the above video was shown during the first media timeout of the Arizona/UCLA men’s basketball game, dozens of members of the squad that just posted the fourth 10-win season in school history walked out onto the court at McKale Center to a standing ovation.
The trio of Fifita, McMillan and Manu arrived at Arizona in the same 2022 recruiting class as part of a quartet of prospects (along with tight end Keyan Burnett) from Anaheim’s Servite High School and were all instrumental in Arizona’s rise from a one-win team in 2021 to a 10-3 team in 2023. Savaiinaea, from Hawaii, was a Freshman All-American in 2022 and an all-conference choice this past season.
Arguably the cornerstones of the team’s hopes for 2024, even more so with a new head coach, there were concerns some or all of them would elect to enter the transfer portal in the wake of Jedd Fisch and his staff leaving for Washington.
Instead the team’s quarterback, who passed for 2,515 yards and 23 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman, its receiver who amassed 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns on 90 catches and the leading tackler in the Pac-12 are primed to give new coach Brent Brennan and his yet-to-be-named staff a chance as they move to the Big 12.
The news arrived not a moment too soon for a program and fan base that has been on edge since Fisch’s departure opened up a 30-day window for players to enter the portal. Coming off an historic season, much of the roster would certainly be in demand elsewhere if it became available. That is certainly the case with Fifita and McMillan, who could easily find roles at some of the more prominent programs in the country, likely with more NIL, too.
According to 247Sports’ Greg Biggins, though, the finalist for those two was Alabama and not Washington.
BREAKING: #Arizona All-American sophomores Noah Fifita and Tetairoa McMillan are returning to Tucson— Greg Biggins (@GregBiggins) January 20, 2024
“The boys want to run it back and keep the family together,” Les Fifita said. https://t.co/qhqBwFyTju pic.twitter.com/AfkLMP72IQ
Their return is a boost to an Arizona team that has seen several players enter the portal, including Burnett. While those players could all in theory return, it is common to see teams hemorrhage talent when a coaching change occurs.
Even still, the knowledge that two of the team’s best players have chosen to give the new staff a chance, along with the number of players who have not entered their names into the portal, speaks to the family atmosphere and brotherhood that Fisch, perhaps ironically now, recruited and instilled into the team.
The same goes for Saturday’s announcement that defensive backs Gunner Maldonado, Dalton Johnson and Treydan Stukes were returning for 2024.
While there is still time for players to enter the portal and there will be another nation-wide portal opening in the spring, assuming there are no more defections Arizona may very well still find itself ranked in the preseason top 25 and be one of the favorites to win the Big 12.