Slideshow: Denson, Wilson highlight highest-rated Arizona Wildcats football class in almost a decade

February 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Topped by a pair of local WRs and a guy who looks like Ka'Deem Carey, Rich Rodriguez hopes the highest-rated recruiting class at Arizona since 2006 helps him boost the Cats to the next level. Take a dip into the past in our slideshow, and follow the coverage live from during today's signing day.

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  • A month and a half after he verbally committed to the Arizona Wildcats, Cameron Denson started having second thoughts.

    It didn’t last long.

    “I just called the coaches up, they told me what I wanted to hear basically and said, ‘Just think about why you committed in the first place,’ ” the Salpointe Catholic High School star said this week. “I thought about all the reasons, and it just felt like the right place, and I kept it closed.

    “Some rumors started after that, but I stayed true to the UA.”

    And that was the extent of the drama surrounding Denson’s recruitment. The Lancers’ wide receiver expects to sign a national letter of intent with the UA today. He and the rest of the Wildcats’ 2014 recruiting class will be unveiled at a 2 p.m. news conference in the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility.

    The most talented recruiting class of Rich Rodriguez’s time in Tucson is headlined by the first two players to commit.

    Denson pledged to the UA on Jan. 12, 2013, and became the first member of Arizona’s 2014 recruiting class.

    The UA received its second verbal commitment in mid-March, when Fresno, Calif., running back Nick Wilson picked the Cats.

    In Denson and Wilson, Rodriguez had locked down two four-star recruits 11 months before signing day.

    The duo never took any other visits after committing, even as the players’ lists of suitors grew.

    Alabama, Oklahoma and UCLA all expressed interest in Denson, but he effectively shut down his recruitment after his phone conversation with the UA’s coaches.

    Wilson committed to Arizona over offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Tennessee, UCLA, Washington, Wisconsin and others.

    “I took a lot of unofficial visits before I committed, and there just wasn’t anything that stood out to me other than Arizona,” Wilson said. “Once I say I’m committed, I like to think I’m a loyal person. I usually stick with what I say. After I committed, I wasn’t looking. I was still getting calls, but nothing else interested me.

    “I knew Arizona was the place for me.”

    Here’s a closer look at Denson and Wilson:

    Cameron Denson

    Height/weight: 6-1/165

    Where he’s ranked: The Scout.com recruiting service ranks Denson as the 71st-best overall prospect in the country and the 14th-best wide receiver. He’s rated as the fifth-best player in the state of Arizona. Rivals.com ranks Denson as the 34th-best wide receiver in the country and sixth-best prospect in Arizona.

    High school stats: As a senior, Denson finished with 73 catches for 1,453 yards and 19 touchdowns. He added 31 tackles and seven interceptions as a cornerback.

    The lowdown: Denson plans to make his commitment to the UA official today at a ceremony at Salpointe. Though he’s listed strictly as a wide receiver by various recruiting services, he said the UA coaches have talked to him about potentially playing some third-down cornerback and playing on both sides of the ball. He’s the highest-rated recruit in Arizona’s class, according to Scout, and is hoping to play as a true freshman.

    In his own words: “The day I committed, it was just so relieving, and I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to go to college and didn’t have to do any more visits. I knew where I was going to go and started getting more comfortable with it. And it being home, it just made it that much easier.

    “I tried to help recruit a few guys after I committed. They always asked me what I liked about (Arizona), and I always told them, ‘I’d rather make history here than repeat it someplace else.’ I like that kind of challenge.

    “I can’t wait to sign the papers and send them on in. It’s going to be a good day.”

    Nick Wilson

    Height/weight: 5-11, 195

    Where he’s ranked: Both Scout and Rivals rank Wilson as a four-star prospect. Scout rates Wilson as the 29th-best running back in the country; Rivals has him ranked 23rd and lists him as the 37th-best prospect in the state of California.

    High school stats: Wilson missed a pair of games with a separated right shoulder, but he still managed to run for more than 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior.

    The lowdown: The running back has a similar frame as two-time UA All-American Ka’Deem Carey, and he said members of the Arizona staff joke around and call him “Ka’Deem Jr.”

    Wilson has visited the UA campus four times, most recently last month with a handful of other Arizona commitments.

    He posted a picture to his Twitter account of him wearing a No. 25 jersey like Carey but said he’s hoping to wear No. 2 for the Wildcats because, “I want to write my own legacy.”

    In his own words: “I’ve been set on Arizona from the start. I’d get calls from other coaches asking me to take visits, and I’d tell them, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ but in my mind I knew I wouldn’t.

    “Ka’Deem is most definitely one of the reasons I committed. I think our running styles are very similar.

    “I’m built like him, and we run the same, so if he can thrive in that offense, why shouldn’t I?

    “One of the main reasons I committed early was because I didn’t want to deal with all the extra pressure of doing interviews and going on visits and stuff. It was nice to go through my senior year and know where I was going. I gave Arizona my word, and I hung on with that. There was no pressure. I just focused on school.

    “It’s very humbling to finally be signing with them. I can not wait until I sign and get it all started.”

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout grade, Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2014Rodriguez24 (0,4,20)25 (0,5,16)????

    The upcoming crop of UA recruits is the highest ranked class on either Scout.com or Rivals.com since 2006. Denson is the most recognized player on this list and is one of a few four-star recruits. QB Brandon Dawkins, RB Nick Wilson, ATH Marquis Ware and LB Jamardre Cobb are among those to watch, should they stick with their commitments, in 2014.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout grade, Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2013Rodriguez27 (0,3,17)37 (0,2,18)Scooby Wright (2,2), LBToo early to tell

    Despite losing QB Matt Scott to graduation and WR Austin Hill to a knee injury, the Cats went 8-5 and won a second straight bowl game for Rich Rodriguez. True freshman Scooby Wright, just a two-star recruit according to Scout and Rivals, was one big reason. He finished tied for third on the team in tackles (83) and second in tackles for loss (9.5). WRs Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant finished Nos. 1 and 2 in receptions for the Cats (51 and 47, respectively) and combined for 8 TDs. As for busts, we'll wait at least another season to see where the rest of the class shakes out.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout grade, Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2012Rodriguez46 (0,1,15)46 (0,2,17)William Parks (2,3), CBDakota Conwell (4,3), CJ Dozier (3,3), LB

    Unfortunately for the Cats, the 46th-ranked class in both Scouts and Rivals has yet to produce more than one consistent contributor. William Parks was that, though, for the Cats in 2013. He finished tied for fourth with seven passes defensed and added two interceptions. As for Conwell and Dozier, their stories are just plain bad luck. Concussions forced the pair of three-plus-star linebackers to retire from football. Among others, WR Trey Griffey showed some promise late in the 2013 season, and RB-turned-S Anthony Lopez got some playing time as well.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout grade, Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2011Stoops70 (0,0,9)56 (0,1,15)Ka'Deem Carey (3,4), RBMichael Cooper (3,3), DE/TE

    While rewriting the Arizona Wildcats' record books over the course of three seasons, former CDO star Ka'Deem Carey became one of the Cats' most valuable recruits in team history. Not much more needs to be said about him. But he wasn't the only contributor to come from the lower-starred ranks in this class. Two-star safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant was a star for the Cats with 72 tackles, four interceptions and seven tackles for loss in 2013, and DE Reggie Gilbert, a three-star player, had four sacks, seven tackles for loss and a forced fumble. On the other end of the stick, three-star TE/DE recruit Michael Cooper did next to nothing in an Arizona uniform before leaving the team and transferring to Indiana.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout,Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2010Stoops39 (0,3,12)37 (0,4,16)Austin Hill (3,3), WRKirifi Taula (4,3), DT

    The 2010 class produced a boatload of starters and contributors. S Marquis Flowers was second on the team in tackles in 2013 and tied for first in tackles for loss. CBs Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight and S Jourdan Grandon started every game in 2013. Then-JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo played a ton of minutes at LB before running out of eligibility. Ts Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele were no better than three-star recruits, and both have developed into NFL prospects. The only guy who hasn't lived up to his billing is Kirifi Taula, who was a four- and three-star prospect who only saw playing time last year as a backup. But among all of them, three-star Austin Hill has shined the most despite missing the entire 2013 season with a knee injury. He posted 1,364 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns off of 81 receptions, and he's expected to be a key contributor in 2014.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout,Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2009Stoops47 (0,2,12)45 (0,3,17)Jake Fischer (3,3), LBAdam Hall (4,4), ATH

    With Ironwood Ridge star LB Jake Fischer and Palo Verde do-everything recruit Adam Hall in the mix in 2009, it looked like Tucson prep football would be key in leading the Cats to future bowls. Sadly, a string of knee injuries kept Hall from living up to immense expectations. Fischer was the team's leading tackler in 2013 and is a potential late-round NFL draft pick. Hall played just one more game after his 2010 breakout campaign. As of summer 2013, Hall had completed his bachelor's degree and was mulling a comeback at another school (he has two years of eligibility remaining). As for the rest of the class, DT Justin Washington, FB Taimi Tutogi, TE Terrence Miller and RB Daniel Jenkins were solid contributors for Arizona.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout,Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2008Stoops39 (1,4,10)39 (0,5,12)Juron Criner (2,3), WRRobert Golden (5,4), DB

    In a mixed bag of recruits who both outplayed and underperformed their rankings, the lasting story was another big-time prospect failing to achieve stardom. Robert Golden, one of just three players rated by either Scout or Rivals as a five-star recruit in the last 10 years of Arizona classes, ended up being a good starting CB – but hardly the No. 4 player at his position in his class. He was undrafted, but managed to catch on in 2012 with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a safety. Arizona also recruited four-star JC transfer T J'Marcus Webb (now an NFL starter), but he never played a down as a Cat. Solomon Koehler, the No. 9-ranked DT, also never lived up to expectations. Saving this class, though, were WR Juron Criner and RB Keola Antolin, a pair of two- and three-star-level recruits who started and produced for the Cats. Criner plays for the Oakland Raiders.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout,Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2007Stoops49 (0,5,7)44 (0,4,9)Rob Gronkowski (4,4), TELeVar Brown (4,3), DE

    Did the recruiting folks read tea leaves and foresee his back troubles? No matter, the four-star Gronkowski was a man among boys from the moment he set foot on the college field. And when he's healthy, he's the one of the top two or three TEs in the NFL. This class produced three other players who reached the NFL: LB Vuna Tuihalamaka, CB Trevin Wade and RB Nic Grigsby. On the other side of the equation, four- and three-star DT prospect Levar Brown was never able to gain NCAA eligibility with Arizona, and he ended up transferring to the University of Arkansas-Monticello.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout,Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2006Stoops19 (2,7,12)18 (1,6,17)Brooks Reed (3,3), DEGabe Long (5,4), DL

    In the second consecutive class that was ranked in in the top 25 by Scout and Rivals, Arizona found that until a recruit performs on the field in an NCAA game, the stars mean nothing. Mike Stoops found a pair of five-star recruits at the JC level in Adonis-like DE Louis Holmes and enormous DT Gabe Long. Further down the list of starred recruits were DEs Ricky Elmore (three stars), D'Aundre Reed (two and three stars) and DE Brooks Reed (three stars) — a former Sabino standout who now plays for the Houston Texans. Holmes, managed a second-team all-Pac-10 effort in his junior season — but tailed off hard as a senior, went undrafted and never played a down in the NFL despite his massive potential. Long didn't even make it onto the field for the Cats because of eligibility issues, and he ended up transferring to Utah. Outside of the topsy-turvy DL recruits, Arizona did manage to hit on a few others. WRs Delashaun Dean and Terrell Turner, DBs Devin Ross, Michael Turner, Cam Nelson and Nate Ness all performed well, and TE-turned-DT Earl Mitchell plays with Brooks Reed in Houston.

  • YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout,Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2005Stoops15 (0,12,9)21 (0,7,14)Willie Tuitama (4,4), QBTerry Longbons (4,4), RB

    From 1899 to 2008, Arizona quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe's 46 career touchdown passes were the best any Wildcat could muster in a college career. In 2002, Jason Johnson managed to pass for 3,327 yards in a single campaign – he was the first to break the 3,000-yard mark. Willie Tuitama changed all that by becoming by far the most accomplished passer in UA history. He shares the record for career TD passes with Nick Foles (67), and he trails only Foles on the list of all time passing yardage. With one recruit, Mike Stoops set a century of average-to-inept signal calling to the side. Of course, he was supposed to be handing it off to the next star RB, Terry Longbons of Peoria Centennial. The fellow four-star recruit was a complete dud, though, rushing for zero yards in his Arizona career. The highest-rated class in Mike Stoops' career also produced NFL WR Mike Thomas, NFL LB/FB Spencer Larsen, first-round NFL draft pick Eben Britton and solid starting linemen in Adam Grant and Adam Hawes.

  • A look at all the classes, how they were ranked, how many five-, four-, and three-star players according to each service (Scout.com and Rivals.com) and a look at the best and worst values in each year.

    YearCoachScout.com (five-star,four-star,three-star)Rivals.comPaid off for Cats (Scout grade, Rivals)Fell flat for Cats
    2014Rodriguez24 (0,4,20)25 (0,5,16)????
    2013Rodriguez27 (0,3,17)37 (0,2,18)Scooby Wright (2,2), LBToo early to tell
    2012Rodriguez46 (0,1,15)46 (0,2,17)William Parks (2,3), CBDakota Conwell (4,3),CJ Dozier (3,3), LB
    2011Stoops70 (0,0,9)56 (0,1,15)Ka'Deem Carey (3,4), RBMichael Cooper (3,3), DE/TE
    2010Stoops39 (0,3,12)37 (0,4,16)Austin Hill (3,3), WRKirifi Taula (4,3), DT
    2009Stoops47 (0,2,12)45 (0,3,17)Jake Fischer (3,3), LBAdam Hall (4,4), ATH
    2008Stoops39 (1,4,10)39 (0,5,12)Juron Criner (2,3), WRRobert Golden (5,4), DB
    2007Stoops49 (0,5,7)44 (0,4,9)Rob Gronkowski (4,4), TELeVar Brown (4,3), DL
    2006Stoops19 (2,7,12)18 (1,6,17)Brooks Reed (3,3), DEGabe Long (5,4), DT
    2005Stoops15 (0,12,9)21 (0,7,14)Willie Tuitama (4,4), QBTerry Longbons (4,4), RB
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