Rodriguez follows familiar path in stocking UA roster with tough competitors like four-star QB Solomon.
By JACK MAGRUDERFS Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. – Back in the winter of 2004-05, Pat White and Steve Slaton were not on the national radar as must-have recruits. White was nowhere to be found among the national recruiting services top two-way quarterbacks. Slaton did not crack the list of the top 50 running backs.
One list they were on was Rich Rodriguez's list of "OKGs," and that was more than OK with the coach of West Virginia's upcoming program.
“Our Kinda Guys,” Rodriguez called them back then, and he's looking for the same kind as he stocks up his roster for a second season at Arizona.
Slaton would become a freshman All-American, and he and White confounded defenses for the length of their college careers under Rodriguez, helping transport the Mountaineers to the national stage.
This is not to say Rodriguez’s second recruiting class at Arizona, the first one over which he has had full control, will set the Pac-12 on fire as the
Wildcats look to build on an 8-5 season. But Rodriguez did land the OKGs he wanted, including perhaps the quarterback of the future in Anu Solomon.
It requires more than the size and ability necessary to play at the top college level, and the particular skill necessary to fit the Rodriguez way. It is a mentality issue, too.
“They are competitive and they want to keep getting better,” Rodriguez said.
“Particularly at the quarterback position, you want to have guys who are gym rats, so to speak. Guys who want to study the game. Guys who want to keep working on it and know everything there is about your program inside and out. To play that position, you probably have to have more knowledge of the schemes and the inner workings of the game than any other position because let’s face it, you are the guy that has to be able to see the whole field and recognize what is going on.”
After landing junior college quarterback Jesse Scroggins, a former USC enrollee who already is on campus and will participate in spring practice, Rodriguez brought in four-star quarterback Solomon of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High and athlete Khari McGee of Fresno (Calif.) Edison High. All will compete with holdover B.J. Denker to fill the void left by the departure of Matt Scott, who compiled 4,126 yards in total offense in his only year in Rodriguez’s system.
Solomon may have a good a chance to any to step in. White, after all, was a freshman when he took over at West Virginia. Solomon passed for 2,849 yards and 35 touchdowns when Bishop Gorman won its fourth consecutive state championship last season. He was 56-4 in four high school seasons.
“He can throw," Rodriguez said. "He runs well. He’s a tough competitor. He’s a winner. He has the skill set we are looking for in a quarterback. More than anything he is a competitor, a tough guy, a winner. He should have a great future here."
Rodriguez believes past success can be a predictor, and he skews that way in identifying targets, where some recruiting evaluators may base their judgments strictly on the measureables. It is another reason that players like Solomon are OKGs.
“I think a lot of times guys recruit on potential, and I understand that, but production is better than potential,” he said.
“You want to see a guy who will be productive in college, find a guy who will be productive ion high school. I think the same thing is true in the pros. You want to find a guy who will be productive in the NFL, find a guy who is productive at the highest level in college. It usually works out.”
Arizona announced a class of 24 players Tuesday and has two openings created when wide receiver Mario Alford and linebacker Brandon Golson, a pair of highly touted junior college players from Georgia, backed off their commitments to sign with West Virginia. Of course it is impossible to gauge a class until several years down the road. The White/Slaton group was ranked 45th in the nation at the time.
Scroggins enrolled at USC but left for El Camino College when he found little time available behind Matt Barkley. He played eight games at El Camino, throwing for 1,148 yards and eight touchdowns. He might the kind of diamond in a rough that college recruiters hope to hit on.
“I don’t want to say he was forgotten about, but he was kind of lingering out there in junior college-land and maybe looking for a place to prove himself," Rodriguez said. "So the timing was really great for us, and I think Jesse has an opportunity to come and compete right away. I think he has matured from his experiences. I think he is hungry to prove himself all over again,” Rodriguez said.
McGee, 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, is listed as an athlete by most recruiting services, but Rodriguez indicated he will be given a long look at quarterback.
"Some have accused me before of collecting quarterbacks," he said, chuckling. “OK, I’m guilty as charged. I like having a lot of quarterbacks, and I like to have competition at that position and have at least two, preferably three, that we feel we can win with. Anu is in this class, Jesse, Khari. Three guys who can athletically throw and run, and I think can all play quarterback at this level."
Quality freshmen will have as good a chance as any to play as any holdover, Rodriguez said, especially on a defensive unit that is down in numbers and will not be fully stocked until the next recruiting cycle.
“We don’t ever guarantee a guy will start when he gets on campus," he said. "That is not fair to him or the players you have on campus. But we don’t recruit backups. We recruit them to come and compete. They have to earn it. But if they are good enough to help us win games, we will play them as soon as they are here."
Beside the three quarterbacks, the class includes six wide receivers, five linebackers, four defensive linemen, two offensive linemen, two running backs and two defensive backs. Scroggins and offensive lineman Steven Gurrola of Glendale Community College are the only junior-college transfers.