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How one high school, second year head coach, will turn Arizona around into a national story.

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

Head coach Jedd Fisch goes back to what worked in the past for Arizona football. Recruiting top Polynesian players, recruit the best high school league in America, recruit the best teams and the best players in the country from that league. , that will get Arizona back to prominence.

Tim Daniel NFL Game Scout, Talent Evaluator, Football Writer

Tucson, AZ The Cactus Junky Report

No skin in the game. Just find it fascinating.

Interesting enough to find out the story of a legendary collegiate institution with the worst Power 5 college football team in the country from 2019-2021.

Gripping enough to see what might be the most remarkable recruiting story in college football, maybe ever, by a coach whose never played, never been a head coach and the alumni didn't want.

Heartfelt enough that four players from the same #5 nationally ranked high school team believed in a one-win coach, their love for each other, family in southern California, and what might make the best college football story of all time.

Let's see what happens in the next couple years. But let's lay the groundwork and thesis of this story. The argument proposal is filled with facts.

That dumpster fire of college football was created by its head coach during that time in 2019.

The University of Arizona needed to change the football culture and quickly. Hiring a new coach, he needed to be the right one according to the alumni; A ‘big name’ or ‘one of us.’

The administration did neither.

Jedd Fisch is not a big name and was definitely not 'one of us.'

He is now one of 'them' and he is about to become a big name as the head football coach of the University of Arizona.

The firestorm hit the fan with many calling for the heads of school president Robert Robbins and Athletic Director Dave Heeke when Fisch was hired.

Fun fact, the last time Arizona hired a ‘big name', that coach destroyed the team.

The team is different from the program. Thirty years ago, the University of Arizona was one of the top 10 teams in the entire country for several years under Dick Tomey. There, they created probably the greatest defense in the history of college football during that five-year period, known as a Desert Swarm. Giving up an average of 32 yards rushing a game in a three-year span. They were also the first school in decades to shut out the NFL talent and offense of the Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Arizona football program is one of the best. One of the best in the 90's and mid 2000's. It wasn’t in 2019 thru 2021.

However, right now with everything that is transpiring, there is probably not one college football program more interesting at this point than Arizona. Maybe the word ‘spellbinding’ is more appropriate.

A major division one school in the Pac-12 has a record of 5-23 in the last three years. But there is a great reason to explain why this bad football team from the last three years is that interesting.

After Arizona wrongfully accused and terminated fan favorite and former head coach Rich Rodriguez, Arizona hired one of the biggest names in the game of college football at the time, Kevin Sumlin. The guy that coached Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M and who won the Heisman Trophy. Sounded like a great hire. I thought it was at the time.

The downside was, the country figured out Sumlin cannot recruit at a superior level like many thought, and he used Tucson, Arizona and the University of Arizona as his personal cocktail glass and free golf pass.

He was there to coach for a paycheck and steppingstones out of Arizona. To live out his life as a young retiree, and the other half as a metaphorical 21-year-old nightclub hopper.

Just ask any resident of Tucson about Sumlin’s efforts at Arizona on the field and off. It was a disaster.

The argument was that Arizona fires Sumlin right after a 70-7 drubbing to in-state rival Arizona State. They did. Shortly after, they hire that head coach whose experience was questioned and no relation to the Wildcats football program whatsoever.

Arizona folks were mad at the hire, and the Pac-12 were laughing. The rest of the country could care less because, who cares about Arizona football and who is Jedd Fisch anyway?

The greatest football coach ever in the game of football, Bill Belichick, knows who Jedd Fisch is.

He spearheaded the hiring of Fisch in Arizona. Pete Carroll, Steve Spurrier, and several high-value players and coaches in the pro and college game did as well. I asked a few of them personally.

Those who know Jedd Fisch told me, he is a tireless recruiter, schematically brilliant, he is a player’s coach, highly skilled at preparation, and very likable.

They all recommended to the Arizona administration that Jedd Fisch should be their next head coach for most of those reasons. What people on the outside did not know was Fisch is one hell of a football coach.

But can he turn around a proud program?

Overall, you have to feel for the guy. He inherited a catastrophe of a football team with junior college talent.

It is a bad situation that Fisch wanted.

To make everyone happy and win ASAP, he had to do three things very well from the start; hire the best coaching staff possible, recruit California like your Alabama and reach out to alumni.

After his first season, what do we know now about Fisch and the status of the Arizona Wildcats football team? Fisch won only one football game in his rookie campaign as head coach. Not good.

However, we must look at the big picture. Every scout who has any knowledge about major college talent can see that Arizona is grossly underwhelming in talent that Fisch acquired.

But what we did see in 2021, was a football team that competed at a higher level. Something they have not done since 2018. Unfortunately, Jedd does have a hiccup in the history books at Arizona. He is the first coach in school history to lose to an FCS team and to whom was not supposed to be a rival in Northern Arizona University.

There is only one thing for Arizona to do, and that is to go up.

We are about to possibly see one of the greatest rebuilding projects, coaching and recruiting jobs in the history of college football. Big words, but like everything else about Arizona in the last few years, you must see it to believe it.

University of Arizona head football coach Jedd Fisch has already started the process. What he has done so far is truly remarkable. Yeah, I know, one win in his first season. But I have talked about this on podcasts, radio shows as well as written about it. Fisch inherited a recruiting class of wonderful young men who unfortunately did not have the capabilities to play at a level of a power 5 school, much less in division one. They were also recruited by on the worst recruiters and most overrated coaches in college football.

Here is what Fisch has done in his first year.

Greatest recruiting class in the history of Arizona football and the number 18 ranked recruiting class in the entire country.

Again, all of this is from a brand-new head coach, never played football before, and only one win in his inaugural season.

So how does that work?

It's quite simple. You go to the hottest bed of high school football in the entire country and southern California. While in So Cal, go to the toughest prep football league, Trinity League, in the history of high school football in America, and you recruit players from that league. You also do what made Arizoan great 30 years ago, recruit Polynesian players. Easy peasy.

The best team in that league is also the #1 high school team in the country, Mater Dei. Along with the #5 team Servite and the #8 team, St. John Bosco. Mater Dei has a huge lifeline to USC but still recruit like your life depends on it.

Fisch hit the Trinity league hard, and he reaped the rewards in landing two players from the best team in the country. Mater Dei defensive tackle Jacob Rick Kongaika and defensive end Taitaiu Uiagalelei, both 3-star players. Also, 4-star running back, Rayshon Luke of St. John Bosco, who is also one of the fastest players in the country.

But here is the support claim of the thesis. Why will Arizona be brought back to national prominence?

Jedd Fisch and Servite high school.

Fisch did an amazing job targeting players that were mis-graded in the national recruiting ranking scene. But how important are those grades? They are mostly for the media, players, families, and a little for the high schools they attend. And at times, these recruiting publications are off on their evaluation. Not a lot but in this case at Servite, they were.

In general, players are not missed unless there is no film on a player at all. But colleges do find players and there are times when they might overlook a player because of that ranking or grade, but it is rare.

However, the Servite Friars had the most underrated talent of high school players in America. People knew about them, but as an NFL and NCAA talent evaluator, I felt they were grossly mis-graded and a lot of tangibles were missed.

Nevertheless, the Friars’ top four players on the #5 team in the country were signed by Jedd Fisch. They are now Wildcats.

And this is why I am enchanted with this whole Arizona and Jedd Fisch story. Acquire a horrible football team, tell recruits he never played the game, he was a rookie head coach, 1-10 in his first season, was part of a 20-game losing streak that he ended, and alumni that did not want him.

But this is where Jedd Fisch will be legendary in recruiting.

Servite '21 class plays a significant role in building Arizona back to respectability and higher.

The key was signing the best wide receiver in the country who originally committed to Oregon but flipped to Arizona. Tetairoa McMillan is the best player Arizona has ever signed. McMillan was listed as a 4-star player in 2021, but after watching film on the 2021 top six receivers in the country. McMillan was the player that translated the fastest to Power 5 competition as well as showing an ability to improve and grow for a quicker route to the National Football League. If the quarterback gets protection, he is a freshman all-American.

However, I believe the biggest reward Arizona has received is Servite quarterback Noah Fifita. Listed as a 3-star, I shook my head watching film on him and how he was missed as a 4-star. Even though shorter in height at 5-10, his fundamentals and technique are excellent. Physically, the snap in his hips, quickness in release and whip, seeing the field and understanding the coverages that he's seen.

But what sold me on Fifita was one play. He made an NFL pass like he does it regularly. An 18-yard, cross field, out-route from the far hash to McMillan for a completion at the far boundary. That pass, along with Andrew Luck-type football IQ, and Peyton Manning-style leadership, in my opinion, Fifita will be the future of Arizona at quarterback.

Also a tight end, again who is under-graded as a 3-star, Keyan Burnett. He already has the speed and size of a major division one player. His adjustment and development will make him a weapon as a true freshman.

I really like linebacker Jacob Manu. He is a linebacker, hard-headed, hard-nosed, and to me is a Scott Del Rio type of linebacker who was a two-star and reminded me of lot of Scott Ross at USC and Wildcat Scooby Wright. Ih his lateral speed improves, he is a all P12 type here in a couple years.

But after watching all of these players work in the off-season and scrimmages, these are freshman that will make a difference.

Will the Wildcats beat a tough and well coached San Diego State team in their opening game? That's a tough one to say, especially with the rest of the Pac-12 schedule and their youth.

But they should be significantly better than 2021 and these Trinity league players will have huge role in that improvement.

Here is the moral of a great college football story.

Jedd Fisch out recruited everybody. Everybody!

Based on his and Arizona's situation, he had the best recruiting season of any team in the country.

He hired the right staff, he is out-marketing the marketing department of Arizona athletics, and he has players that are bought in and seem to have a high value of talent and character.

Overall, Servite high school will play the biggest part in turning around a major division one, Power 5 football program, and do it faster than most thought anyone would have. Overall, signing these four players makes a statement for the future.

These four players and their development will be a major reason why Arizona football will be a contender in the P12 soon. Very soon.