In June, Arizona held its first-ever “Polynesian College Showcase”, a camp populated with high school players of Polynesian descent from all over the country who came out to Tucson to play in front of college coaches not only from Arizona, but also Fresno State, Illinois, BYU and Fordham.
The main goal — spearheaded by defensive graduate assistant Davy Gnodle, whose ties to the Polynesian community helped set the camp in motion — from Arizona’s perspective was to start dipping its toes back into the Polynesian recruiting waters, an area that became a part of former UA coach Dick Tomey’s recruiting DNA in the late 1990s and was continued into the Mike Stoops era. I wrote all about Arizona’s Polynesian recruiting history back in June.
At Pac-12 Media Days in July, when I asked UA coach Rich Rodriguez about this topic, he said: “We gotta have success with Polynesian players because they’ll fit in here, they feel comfortable here. We may double that next year.”
Arizona actually has less Polynesian players now than it did when that story was written — linebacker Kahi Neves, a native of Hawaii, left the team before ever playing a down.
That leaves the Wildcats with offensive lineman Michael Eletise, battling with Christian Boettcher to be the starter at left guard; linebacker Anthony Pandy, a true freshman who could play, but is more likely to redshirt; and defensive lineman Sione Taufahema, a junior college transfer who just started practicing after dealing with a knee injury.
As for the recruiting part — Taufahema and Pandy were both important parts of Arizona’s 2017 recruiting class, which Rodriguez has called his best since coming to Arizona. Though, if Rodriguez is going to “double” how many Polynesian players they bring in as part of the 2018 recruiting class, simple math (I did only have to take one math class for my journalism degree at Arizona, so bear with me) would indicate at least four Polynesian players joining the fray next year.
So how is Arizona doing in that regard?
Well, only one player (2019 DT Matthew Pola-Mao) entered that camp with an Arizona offer, and afterward, a few more players had offers, including: 2019 WR Noa Pola-Gates, 2019 WR Puka Nacua and 2020 QB DJ Uiagaleilei. None of that is for 2018, though.
When I've talked to recruits from the Polynesian community, Gnodle's name is the one on Arizona's staff most frequently mentioned, and he — along with former Arizona quarterback George Malauulu — was a key reason why that camp happened in the first place.
Arizona does have a few 2018 Polynesian recruits on its board, so here’s a look at who they are and where the Wildcats stand. All ratings according to Scout.com.
OL Donovan Laie (6-6, 275 pounds, 3-star): Of these recruits, Arizona has the best shot at Laie, an Oceanside (California) HS product. It’s no secret how desperate the Wildcats are for both size and depth on the offensive line, particularly with seniors Jacob Alsadek, Layth Friekh and Gerhard de Beer all on the way out. He also holds offers from Colorado, Oregon State, San Diego State and others.
DT Paul Maile (6-3, 250, 3-star): The Salt Lake City native seems more likely bound for Utah, though I’ve heard he’s “warm” on the Wildcats. Maile is a high-end three-star recruit with some quality offers (Utah, Wisconsin, California) so it’ll take some work to pull him, especially with the Utes nearby.
TE Junior Fehoko (6-4, 235, 2-star): I’m not how high on the priority list the tight end position is right now — Arizona has four scholarship players returning at the position next year — but Fehoko certainly has prototypical size for a tight end. Unless Fehoko gets some other bigger offers, Arizona has a good chance with him if it sticks to its offer. Fehoko also holds offers from Hawaii and San Jose State
DT Jackson Cravens (6-3, 275, 3-star): Arizona is loading up on the defensive line in its 2018 class and even with some early commitments at his position, the Wildcats could still have a shot at Cravens. Though, indications are that Arizona will have to perform better than season than it did in 2016 for a real shot at him. The big defensive tackle holds offers from Washington, Michigan State, Georgia and Utah, so UA will have to battle for him regardless.
DT Tyler Manoa (6-3, 280, 3-star): Arizona had been doing well with Manoa — Arizona was one of his first major offers — but his recruitment has picked up, with offers from BYU, UCLA, Arizona State, Minnesota and others coming in. Plus, he might go on a two-year mission after high school.