The Arizona Wildcats have been lacking some serious size and talent on the defensive line. They relied heavily on two standout walk-ons this year, scraping by largely due to some recruiting errors in the past.
Timmy Hamilton, Anthony Fotu, and Josh Allen were all junior college defensive linemen who were in position to help anchor Arizona’s line immediately and are no longer part of the program for various reasons.
However, there are some younger pieces, including walk-ons Justin Belknap and Larry Tharpe Jr., as well as Finton Connolly and a trio of 2016 recruits in Jalen Cochran, Justin Holt, and Francisco Nelson.
Still, it has left Rich Rodriguez looking around for grown men on the defensive line to contribute right away and help the group’s woes.
On Monday morning, the coaching staff looked to Sione Taufahema, 6-foot-3, 320 pound defensive tackle out of College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita, CA). He was originally from Bishop Alemany High School (Mission Hills), the same high school as 2017 wide receiver commit Warren Jackson.
I got a chance to speak to Taufahema about his recruitment with Arizona.
“Chris Singletary was the first to contact me on Twitter about two weeks ago and he got me in contact with Coach (Vince) Amey, the d-line coach,” Taufahema said when asked about his communication with the staff. “I had several conversations with Coach Amey and he came out to see me at school this morning and offered me a scholarship.”
“It feels great,” he said about his first Pac-12 offer. “I felt like it was coming soon but I was still very surprised. Coach Amey let me know from the jump that he thinks that I can be a guy to come in and play right away and anchor down the d-line.”
“Arizona is a very great program, I do see myself playing for them,” he continued. “A plus is that my mom says I have family in the Tucson area.”
Marcel Yates is looking to add some more mature size on the defensive line while working with the pieces he had available to him. Now he’s trying to find guys who can fit the system and run his defense.
“It's kind of the same defense we run here at College of the Canyons, so it wouldn't be a really hard transition,” Taufahema explained. “And with me playing at the nose I just cause disruptions in the backfield. I can also play at the 3 technique.”
Taufahema has a few schools in his ear right now, as the rush of recruiting begins with programs now starting to end their season.
“Arizona State is for sure close to offering me. I talked to their d-line coach after I met with Coach Amey,” said Taufahema. “The d-coordinator at Northern Illinois. I think Nevada was also close to offering me but with the firing of their head coach that's up in the air.”
Taufahema is a December graduate qualifier, meaning that he will graduate in December and enroll at his future school in January to participate for spring practice. Still, he’s unsure as to when he will shut down his recruitment.
“I'm not sure on a timetable as of now but when I make my decision it's definitely based on where I can get the best education, where I feel most comfortable and the vibe that I get from the coaching staff, players, as well as the fans and people around it,” Taufahema said about his deciding factors.
“Yes. Most definitely,” he said when asked if Arizona fulfilled his wish list. “A big plus for me is that it is close to home so I can have family come to some games.”
Defensive line coach Vince Amey would like for the new target to head to Tucson next weekend for an official visit.
Taufahema was the second-leading tackler among defensive linemen at Canyons, registering 24 tackles (2.5 for loss) and a sack. College of the Canyons finished the season with a record of 5-6.
His sophomore year highlights are below: