Texas A&M was Grant Gunnell’s dream school. But it was the dream team of Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone that drew the four-star quarterback to Tucson.
Gunnell’s connection to those coaches was the biggest factor in his decision to commit to Arizona on Wednesday. Considered one of the top 100 prospects in the nation, Gunnell is the highest-profile recruit to pledge to the Wildcats since fellow quarterback Shea Patterson, who didn’t end up attending Arizona.
“It was definitely comfortability with Mazzone and Sumlin,” said Gunnell, who last June committed to A&M when Sumlin and Mazzone were coaching there. “And talking to the president.”
Wait, what? The president?
Indeed, as part of his visit to the UA campus in April, Gunnell got to meet Robert C. Robbins. Gunnell came away from that trip feeling good about the vibe that has permeated the program since Sumlin was hired in January: One of unity and support from the top down.
“It was the first time I ever talked to a school president,” Gunnell said. “That was sweet.
“He made sure he was around. He wanted to see me.”
Gunnell liked what he saw in Tucson, and he liked what he kept hearing from Sumlin, the Wildcats’ first-year head coach, and Mazzone, their offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Their conversations seldom are about football. And when it does come to football, Sumlin and Mazzone coach in a way that appeals to Gunnell’s sensibilities.
“They’re truthful with everything. They tell you how it is,” said Gunnell, who plays for St. Pius X High School in Houston. “Their coaching style is like I want to be coached. They’re doing a lot more teaching than just screaming at you or getting in your face. They’re like a mentor to you. They’re trying to make you better.”
Gunnell already is pretty good.
In less than three full high school seasons, he has passed for 11,356 yards and 142 touchdowns. If he stays healthy, he should obliterate the Texas career high school record for passing yards and could eclipse the mark for TD passes as well.
Gunnell also acknowledged that, like all young football players, he has room to grow. He mentioned sharpening his mental game and improving his strength.
Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth watched Gunnell closely at the recent Elite 11 quarterback competition in Southern California. Roth, who hosts the event and serves as one of the coaches, said the 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound Gunnell is “built like an NFL player. He moves better than you think. But he’s still obviously growing into his body.
“He’s got everything you want when you draw up that position. His challenge right now, like every athlete who’s that big, that young, is putting your body together.
“Once he can tie his feet to his eyes — once he can tie everything together and build his base — he’ll have an opportunity to be a unique player.”
Gunnell considers leadership to be his greatest asset. He strives to lift up his teammates, primarily by setting a positive example.
“I wake up early, go to school, do everything right, follow what my coach says,” Gunnell said.
How early? Try 4:15 a.m. Gunnell leaves the house on time to work out with his personal trainer from 5-6 before heading to school or to work out with his teammates. He called the Star on Thursday after leading a two-hour, offseason practice session that began at 7 a.m.
When school is in session, Gunnell has to stick to a strict schedule. It includes those early wakeup calls, an hour’s drive to St. Pius and back, practice, homework, dinner and a bedtime of 9 p.m.
Gunnell’s father, Chris, said he doesn’t have to push the youngest of his three football-playing sons. “It’s up to him,” Chris Gunnell said.
Further proof of Grant’s dedication: He plans to enroll at Arizona in January.
“I’ve got it all set up,” Gunnell said. “I’ve got all the credits. It’s basically a free semester to get used to college life, learn the style of the program and get with the players before summer starts.”
Current UA quarterback Khalil Tate followed that same path. Halfway through his sophomore year, he became Arizona’s starter. Gunnell watched Tate from afar, describing his 2017 breakout as “insane.” Gunnell met Tate and got to hang out with him at the recent Steve Clarkson Quarterback Retreat.
“That was cool,” Gunnell said. “He’s laid-back, kind of like me.”
By the time Gunnell arrives on campus, Tate will be entering his senior year — or, if he blows up under Sumlin and Mazzone, possibly preparing for the 2019 NFL draft. Either way, Gunnell would be competing for snaps with class of 2018 quarterbacks Kevin Doyle and Jamarye Joiner, among others, in what’s suddenly becoming a packed QB room.
But that’s a long way off. After de-committing from Texas A&M on Feb. 13, Gunnell had to find a new school. He decided to make the call in early June so he could focus on the upcoming season and other aspects of his life.
“It was a big weight off my back,” Gunnell said.
It was a big get for Arizona, which is expected to recruit at a higher level under Sumlin than predecessor Rich Rodriguez. Landing Gunnell — the third-ranked pro-style passer in the country and the Wildcats’ third commitment out of four from the state of Texas — could pave the way for a standout class.
“At the end of the day, kids will always go where they want to go,” said Greg Biggins, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.
“At the same time, Grant’s a really popular kid, a well-known kid, and everybody respects him. I think he’s going to be an effective recruiter. He’s going to draw players, especially skill players, to Arizona because of his commitment.”