Arizona got pushed around, beat up and had its nose rubbed in the football recruiting dirt the last two months, especially by the Oregon Ducks, who raided Rich Rodriguez’s once-promising Class of 2017 and turned four potential Wildcats into Ducks.
But rather than grumble through his signing day news conference, RichRod engineered one of the best pieces of damage control you’ll ever see.
“We’re not done,” he said. “This is just the start of it.”
And then he read the names of 16 players, including Ironwood Ridge linebacker Ken Samson, Mountain View wide receiver Isaiah Lovett and Tucson High receiver D. J. Hinton, as part of a class he estimated to be 40 to 42 strong.
“There’s more coming,” he said with a smile.
The only problem adding 16 names to Arizona’s Class of 2017 is that almost all of them are walk-ons. Or, in modern terms “preferred walk-ons.”
How far can you get in Pac-12 football with 16 preferred walk-ons? Arizona might be the first to find out.
The difference between the traditional walk-on and today’s PWO is this: You sign a contract to be part of the team, although it doesn’t give you any financial aid and you’re not counted toward the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players per team.
A preferred walk-on gets access to the team’s Nike gear, is allowed to use strength coaches, personal trainers and academic counselors. You also get to eat with the team without charge.
In three decades, Arizona has produced a dozen or more capable and useful walk-ons, from All-American safety Chuck Cecil and punter Drew Riggleman.
But in Pac-12 football, the reality is that walk-ons are usually just good enough to get you beat. If RichRod can turn this into a positive, if the Wildcats can develop those non-scholarship players and return to contention in the Pac-12 South, he’ll be the coach of the decade.