PHOENIX — Even before this year’s Arizona’s high school seniors reached their final year, the group was regarded as perhaps the best collectively the state had ever seen.
National Signing Day supported that notion Wednesday, as the states’ top talents put pen to paper, officially committing to some of the nation’s elite college football programs.
Many of Arizona’s best talents gathered at a Phoenix hotel Wednesday morning for a National Football Foundation event to announce the signings of their Letters of Intent. The event brought much of the state’s top talent into the same room.
"I know we’re not a Texas or a Florida or a California, but per capita I think we put more kids out," Scottsdale Desert Mountain coach Tony Tabor said. "Just from seeing kids get up there and announcing places like Stanford, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and places like that, I would say this is as good of football as you’re going to get.
"It’s a great class of kids. I don’t know if you’ll see that every year."
Hamilton’s Casey Tucker was ranked as one of the nation’s top offensive lineman and will continue his football career at Stanford.
Tabor this past season coached two of Arizona’s top four prospect, per Scout.com, including No. 1 ranked quarterback Kyle Allen, who is already at Texas A&M. The other, receiver Mark Andrews, made his commitment to Oklahoma official Wednesday.
Also among the top prospects formally announcing their signings Wednesday at the NFF event:
Not represented were a few top high school talents also committed to elite Division I programs including Phoenix Mountain Pointe receiver Jalen Brown (Oregon), Phoenix Mountain Pointe offensive lineman Natrell Curtis (Oklahoma) and Phoenix Desert Vista defensive tackle Jalen Jelks (Oregon).
That list of schools alone speaks volume about the talent coming out of Arizona that this year.
"We’re a state that’s coming up and competing with the big names like Texas and Florida," Tucker said.
Added Rubenzer: "That just kind of shows we can contend with anybody in the country. It proves a lot. The competition in this state is really good, and it’s cool to be a part of that this year because we’ll be remembered. A lot of these guys are going to be real successful in college and some of them further on."
While some of the Arizona’s top talents, including Rubenzer, did not have offers to remain in state, others did but chose to play elsewhere. Cunningham had ASU among his top few choices, as did Tucker, who considered Oregon and Texas A&M but narrowed his choices in the end to ASU and Stanford.
"The biggest two factors were staying in state and the education," Tucker said. "The education was what made my choice."
Of Scout’s top 10 Arizona recruits, only three — Tucson Salpointe receiver Cameron Denson, Whiley and Wood — signed Wednesday with ASU or UA.
"It was really important to me," Whiley said. "I wanted to stay and play in front of my family and friends. They’re a big part of my life, so I wanted to play in front of them."
Tabor believes as ASU’s Todd Graham and UA’s Rich Rodriguez continue building their programs, more in-state talents will choose to play collegiately in Arizona.
"They both are on the upswing, they both are winning," Tabor said. "There’s been some very positive things on both sides, and I think that will continue to make kids want to stay home."
Bailey agreed the tide may be turning. Either way, the talent level displayed in Arizona high school football last season is likely a good indication of more strong classes in the state’s future.
"The football here has definitely gotten a lot better over the past few years," Bailey said. "I think it’s going to continue to get a lot better. It’s a better place for football now than it used to be."