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Arizona football recruiting: Donte’ Williams leading a new era

We talked with Donte’ Williams at Media Day about Arizona’s culture change in recruiting

Donte’ Williams coaches up Kwesi Mashack
Jason Bartel

The Arizona Wildcats currently find themselves safely within the top 25 of all major recruiting class rankings. There was a rush of commitments this summer, much like the past few summers, with 15 in the span of about six weeks, boosting their ranking heavily.

The new coaching overhaul has significantly changed the dynamics of recruiting, tapping into richer high school programs across the country. The team is also in contention to land around 30 recruits in this class, with at least five projecting to be 4-stars.

The reason? Arizona is becoming a destination for players, a place where they feel comfortable, hoping to contribute immediately, become winners and make it to the next level.

"I think it became a little more than just save their spot," assistant coach Donte’ Williams said about the hype and energy surrounding this recruiting class. "Guys actually feel like this could be home for them. You have guys from all over. You have guys from Florida, California, so that’s as far west and as far east as you can possibly go."

Getting recruits to visit campus has been the key for U of A. Rich Rodriguez has said before that it had even been difficult to get some of the Phoenix kids to take unofficial visits down to Tucson. That’s started to change, as the staff has had over a dozen of the top 25 recruits in the state on campus. Add that to the bus loads of 7v7 teams and high schools that send their kids on unofficial visits, and recruits start to give Arizona a second look.

"I think they actually truly see what Arizona is all about because so many of those guys have come up here before their official (visits)," Williams explained. "So many of those guys get to see the atmosphere, the city and everything else and they like what they see and can call this home."

When I speak to recruits about their process with Arizona, many of them say that they have either already established a great relationship with Williams in the past, whether that may be through his time at San Jose State or Washington. And if they haven’t built a relationship with him yet, the recruits have asked around about him and Arizona, hearing nothing but great things.

Recruits love how he can relate to them. They appreciate his honesty and trust his plan that he has in place for each of his players, developing them into a better man and player.

"Quite a few," Williams said about guys he’s had relationships with during his time at San Jose State. "A lot of these guys nowadays are coming from the bigger high schools. So many guys now are like super powers as far as high schools."

Williams even mentioned that he had been involved in the recruitment of Cody Ippolito and DaVonte’ Neal during his time at Washington.

"Whether they were at one school and transferred to another or they’ve pretty much been good players since 9th or 10th grade and I’ve had relationships with them prior."

Look through Arizona’s commitment list and you’ll find that a lot of the recruits come from top-ranked programs across the country. Most recently, the staff has tapped into powerhouse California programs including Centennial, Hawkins, Long Beach Poly and Mater Dei, among others.

"The huge thing is the head coach," Williams said about Rodriguez and the biggest selling points for Arizona. "It always starts from the top down and when you have a head coach that’s known as a winner and just known for getting the best out of guys."

"People forget when I say that just two years ago Arizona was playing in the Fiesta Bowl," Williams added. "So, I mean, when you get a winning head coach, it’s always easy."

But the football program can only be as successful as the people running it. Greg Byrne has proved to be one of the most proactive athletic directors in the nation, and has continued to put an emphasis on football.

"And then when you have an AD that’s all about football and different things like that you start getting an atmosphere that’s adhesive to winning," continued Williams. "Once you have all that it’s easy."

Despite having 26 commitments in this class, inflating their national rankings, there are still plenty of big targets that U of A can close on, including 5-star wide receiver Joseph Lewis, 4-star corner Thomas Graham and 3-star defensive end Odua Isibor. Don’t count 4-star defensive end and USC commit Hunter Echols out either, who I’ll have more on later.

As more recruits begin to play out their senior season, be on the lookout for any late bloomers that explode onto the scene and receive an offer from U of A as well.