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Arizona football: Rich Rodriguez and Donté Williams talk Wildcats' recruiting strategy

Rich Rodriguez and Donté Williams give their thoughts on recruiting this spring

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats landed the commitment of one of the top athletes in the nation on Tuesday night, Greg Johnson. Hailing from Augustus Hawkins (Los Angeles, CA), he ranks 4th among all athletes and 58th overall. This marks the 2nd 4-star commitment of the 2017 recruiting class.

After practice on Wednesday, Rich Rodriguez was asked about recruiting and what his thoughts are thus far. The recruits have not yet signed their letter of intent meaning that the coaches cannot comment on specific players.

"I think that the energy is there," Rich Rodriguez said with confidence. "I think we're off to a great start in recruiting and I would be really surprised if we don't put together one of the best recruiting classes this school has ever had."

Arizona has been able to mold their recruiting class fairly early since Rich Rodriguez has taken over, typically landing a handful of recruits in March and carrying that momentum into the summer. When you consider the recent rise in the program, as well as the rise in recruiting since this staff has taken over, Rodriguez has his bar set high.

"Not so much the early commitments we're seeking as much as the really good players that commit," he said when asked how important it was to land guys early in their recruiting process. "It's not how many, it's the quality. There's a little bit of a buzz going on. Of course, a lot of the really good players are open to everybody right now."

"I'm excited we have a lot of things planned as far as unofficial visits. Not just in the spring but throughout the summer," he added.

With the huge defensive staff overhaul just over a month before National Signing Day, Rodriguez had the tall order of retaining his committed guys, in addition to going after recruits that this staff made a late push for. While that proved to be challenging, it was nothing new for Rodriguez.

"No I think I always am," when asked if he's been more hands-on in recruiting. "Usually as a head coach you're more of a closer, I think, instead of a facilitator from the start. Nowadays I like talking to recruits in person better than on the phone but I'll talk to them any way I can. If they call me on the phone or if I can get them to visit campus, that's our biggest thing. Because if we do, they see what's going on over here, just like it's been happening, we have pretty good results."

But when you're recruiting high school kids, it's tough to actually go out and see them live in a game. With their games typically falling on Friday nights and college football going all throughout the day on Saturday, the evaluation really comes from the film.

"Yeah you have to evaluate on tape." he said about the new age in recruiting. "The hard part is, it's hard to get to watch games during the season. Nowadays you can evaluate a guy pretty well off the tape. The thing that we like camps so much for is that it can verify the tape and what you think of a player."

But coaches are able to watch some of these guys through various camps, whether they're hosted by the university or at another location designated for multiple coaches, otherwise known as satellite camps.

"Our camps, I've said this many times, are absolutely critical to recruiting," Rodriguez said. "That's why we have camps here and are anticipating satellite camps. We want to spread knowledge and teach fundamentals but let's not kid ourselves, satellite camps are a boost in recruiting."

Some of these late additions to the 2016 recruiting class, as well as 2017 commit Greg Johnson, would not have happened without guys like Donté Williams. And when Rich Rodriguez first started looking for a new defensive staff, he liked what he saw once he started learning more about Coach Williams.

"I didn't," Rodriguez said when asked if he knew about Williams' recruiting reputation prior to the search. "I started looking into it and was thinking I need to find a strong secondary guy, or defensive guy, who was a strong California recruiter. Somewhere in California."

"Talked to the guys on my staff, talked to some of the high school coaches in that area and [Donté Williams] came with a lot of high recommedations so I'm excited about him," Rodriguez said about the hiring process.

Donté Williams has been able to establish himself as a premier recruiter in the Los Angeles area. Being a younger, African-American coach, he's able to relate to these guys a lot more. And when I speak to recruits they all talk about how upfront and honest Coach Williams is. He simply tells it like it is.

Being such a prevalent force on the west coast, Donté has noticed a bit of a culture change for the better in the world of football.

"Guys in the south, their spring football is in pads. And still in the west coast our spring football is in shirts and shorts, so that's a little different," he explained. "But guys are getting so coached up year-round on the west coast, when it's always been year-round in the south. So I think the 7-on-7 is improving in that aspect."

With so many camps and competitions, recruits begin to get to know each other and become friends. You see it from recruits all across the country, congratulating guys on their latest offers and commitments. The connections that guys are making are pivotal for recruiting for now.

"I think to create the buzz early it helps. A lot. All the good players these days, because of 7-on-7, they all know each other, they all touch each other," Coach Williams said about the networking of these recruits. "A guy from California all of a sudden knows the best guy in Florida. The best player from Florida all of a sudden knows the best player from Washington. They're going to The Opening, they're going to 7-on-7's in Vegas, so that right there I think is helping a lot."

Having a guy like Greg Johnson on board will create a domino effect in recruiting. Much like Khalil Tate in the last recruiting class, Johnson will be reaching out to his guys, giving his friends an Arizona pitch to join him and make history.

"The buzz, because they all know each other, when you get a great guy committed here early, then he knows so many people," Williams continued. "Then guys wonder, 'Why did he commit? What did he like about the school so much that made him want to be here?"

"So it makes them all of a sudden look into the school, look into Coach Rod, look into some of the new coaches we have going on, the players, and see if they vibe and fit as an OKG with us."