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Arizona football recruiting: How Donté Williams’ departure to Nebraska affects the Wildcats’ 2017 class

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Arizona currently holds the 20th-ranked recruiting class in the nation

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon State Cole Elsasser-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats cornerback coach Donté Williams has left Tucson after one season and is now joining the Nebraska Cornhuskers as their cornerbacks coach. If you have kept up with our recruiting coverage, you’ll know how much of an impact Williams had on this top 20 recruiting class.

It’s pretty clear that recruits commit to a coaching staff, not a school. And losing Williams has certainly caused a lot of panic with this recruiting class, and for good reason.

Arizona had 27 commitments heading into the season and left the season with 26, after the staff parted ways with two-star defensive tackle Elijah Watson due to off-field issues.

These commits stuck with Arizona largely due to their belief in the staff and early playing time pitch. This class has been very vocal on social media, determined to be the class that turns it around for Arizona.

This recruiting class is so close and this coaching change is really going to tell us how badly they all want to play together, particularly the guys that Williams assumed the lead on.

The offseason is a crazy time for recruiting. We’re dealing with 16, 17, 18-year old kids, and with coaching staff changes all across the country, new offers, and more time for programs to recruit, decommitments are plentiful. While some classes might be filling up, some will be taking in new guys, which could have a huge impact on Arizona.

There are a few recruits who seem to be directly impacted by the departure of Williams.

Three-star linebacker Joshua Brown is in an interesting spot. Williams was his lead recruiter, but will presumably be operating under Marcel Yates as an inside linebacker. Williams was a clear reason as to why Brown ultimately committed, but now it could come down to what the rest of the class does and if he picks up other offers this offseason. He currently holds offers to Nevada and UNLV.

Another guy who committed due to his relationship with Williams is Xavier Bell. He felt comfortable committing to Arizona just a few days after receiving his offer, without ever taking a visit to campus. This is certainly one to watch.

One of Arizona’s higher-ranked guys, three-star safety Rhedi Short, was also recruited by Williams. He holds a lot of powerful offers, including Arizona State, Oregon, and Penn State. Short has already decommitted once, from UCLA, before committing to Arizona. His parents felt very comfortable with Williams and the proximity to home, which led to his commitment. I think we could also see Short exploring his options, although he will be operating under safeties coach Jahmile Addae.

Three-star corner/safety Scott Young is another prospect affected. He has Colorado State and San Diego State still recruiting him despite his commitment. I think this is another one that ultimately comes down to whether this class wants to stick together, believing in the rest of the staff, or feels turned off by the departure of Williams.

While Jahmile Addae led for three-star corner Malik Hausman, he anticipated playing under Williams for the next four years. Hausman’s ACL injury definitely hurt his chances at landing more offers, with some coaching staffs not being able to properly evaluate him.

Four-star running back Nathan Tilford has been a big concern for Arizona fans since he took an unofficial visit to Nebraska a while back. While Williams certainly helped, Football Analyst Miguel Reveles has played a huge role in Tilford’s recruitment, along with running backs coach Calvin Magee.

I have also been told that Nebraska has backed off of Tilford for the time being, with the desire to flip USC commit Stephen Carr now. The Nebraska staff feels optimistic that they can do so.

Greg Johnson, four-star athlete, is clearly the big fish here. He, without a doubt, committed to Arizona because of his relationship with Williams. This is going to be a tough commit to keep, and it seems like he could be following Williams to Nebraska.

Where I think this departure hurts even more is the future of recruiting. Just having all of Williams’ connections and reputation alone in the Los Angeles area made recruits give Arizona a second look.

Should Greg Johnson leave, it could not only lead to a domino effect on this current class, but also hurt the Hawkins High School pipeline, which includes multiple four and five-star prospects.

I had also been extremely confident that Arizona would land four-star corner Thomas Graham, and without Williams, I begin to doubt he comes. The Wildcats were also in play for 2018 five-star safety Jaiden Woodbey, among other highly-ranked prospects in the coming years.

With all of that being said, I think it still comes back to how much this defensive class wants to play with one another. But it will ultimately depend on who begins the decommitment parade, particularly Greg Johnson, and how long it takes them to act.

A quick reaction could be ugly for Arizona. If some of these Williams recruits begin to decommit, that could lead to some of the other prospects starting to pack their bags too. But with some time, the remaining staff could put in a good amount of work to stop the bleeding.