Arizona quarterbacks coach Rod Smith and ASU offensive line coach Rob Sale spent Friday’s late afternoon and early evening watching Salpointe Catholic’s spring football practice.
A day earlier, Oklahoma linebackers coach Tim Kish stood in the same spot, and before him coaches from Boise State, Air Force, Colorado, Cal, Louisville, you name it.
“You almost lose track,’’ said Salpointe coach Dennis Bene. “There was great interest from everybody when we had (center) Kris O’Dowd, but this probably goes beyond that.’’
O’Dowd was a Parade All-American at Salpointe in 2006 and a four-year starter at USC. Now the college football coaches come to see 6-foot-6-inch, 285-pound senior offensive lineman Matteo Mele and whip-quick sophomore running back/receiver Bijan Robinson.
On Friday, two Sun Devils coaches offered Robinson a scholarship. He is just completing his freshman year, but they are late to the party. Utah and Arizona had already done so.
Last fall, Mele was a tight end, catching eight passes for 85 yards. But when Bene decided the grandson of former Arizona NFL first-round draft pick Bill Lueck might have a better future as a tackle or guard, the recruiting floodgates opened.
Washington State’s Mike Leach was the first to offer Mele a scholarship, on Feb. 9. In quick order, Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State asked Mele to play for their school. Then the stakes grew: Oregon, ASU, Arizona, Colorado, Louisville, UCLA and Cal offered. When Washington coach Chris Petersen offered Mele a scholarship last week, the number moved to 17. Or is it 18?
“It’s been wild but fun,’’ Mele said after Friday’s workout.
Mele is now one of the most heavily-recruited prep linemen in Tucson history, joining Tucson High’s Marvin Lewis (USC) and the Badgers’ Bill Dawson (Michigan State) and brother Mike Dawson (Arizona) from the 1960s and 1970s, Sahuaro’s Mike Ciasca (Arizona) of the 1980s and Sabino’s Mike Saffer (UCLA) of the 1990s. O’Dowd and Mele belong on that list.
Bene, whose team reached the 4A state semifinals last year and won the 2013 state championship, is once again loaded. Last month, Robinson was MVP of all running backs at the annual Rivals Camp in Los Angeles. I watched him run passing routes and make cuts as a running back in Friday’s practice. Wow.
He’s clearly a special talent to compare to past Tucson 5-star type halfbacks such as Amphi’s Mario Bates (ASU), Sunnyside’s Fred Sims (Oklahoma) and CDO’s Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona).
“When Ka’Deem was a freshman at CDO, we started hearing about him so after practice one day I went to the CDO freshman game to watch him,’’ Bene remembers. “He made five players miss on one play when they had him surrounded.’’
Is Robinson in that class?
Bene just rolled his eyes.