The Star is counting down the Arizona Wildcats’ 2019 recruiting class leading up to Dec. 19, early signing day. Today’s profiled players: Grant Gunnell and Jalen Johnson.
Weight: 222 pounds
Hometown: Houston (St. Pius X)
When he committed: June 6, 2018
How he fits: Grant Gunnell probably won’t start as a freshman if Khalil Tate decides to return to Arizona, but the Wildcats could have their quarterback of the future, or at least he looks the part and has the reputation to become the next gunslinger at UA.
Per 247Sports.com, Gunnell is Arizona’s second-highest ranked recruit behind Belgian defensive end Sylvain Yondjouen, and comes in with high expectations based off what he’s done at one of the highest levels of high school football in the country.
In October, the three-star Gunnell became all-time passing yards and touchdowns leader in Texas prep history and finished his high school career at Houston’s St. Pius X with 16,108 and 195, respectively. He broke Hunter Lile’s record. Lile played from 2011-14. Gunnell passed notable Texas quarterbacks along the way including Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Case Keenum, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield. Gunnell isn’t the prototypical dual-threat quarterback like Tate or the more recent prospects to come through the UA in the past, but his stature and arm resemble a player like Foles. How does that translate to Noel Mazzone’s offense?
Mazzone has worked with pocket-passing quarterbacks like Gunnell such as 6-foot-7-inch Brock Osweiler at ASU and 6-foot-4-inch Josh Rosen at UCLA who’s now starting as a rookie for the Arizona Cardinals. “Those are guys that look like me — spitting images,” Gunnell told the Star in September. “That was one of the main things I was looking for. I’m kind of what he wants.” With Tate at quarterback, the Wildcats could be more prone to running run-pass-option plays, but with the less-mobile Gunnell in the backfield, UA could run a similar style of offense to when Foles played from 2009-11. If Tate leaves Arizona, the quarterback job is wide open and Gunnell could be the one that gets his number called. If Tate stays, the Arizona quarterback room will be full, considering current freshmen Jamarye Joiner and Kevin Doyle return, plus Rhett Rodriguez and K’Hari Lane are also expected to be back at the UA in 2019. No shortage of quarterbacks in Tucson, at least for next season.
He said it: “A once-in-a-generation-type quarterback,” St. Pius X head coach Erik DeHaven said. “Everything he does on the field is the same as what he does off the field. There’s no difference between the two. He’s a positive leader of our young men. He is who he is. He’s special.”
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Corona, California (Eleanor Roosevelt)
When he committed: July 13, 2018
How he fits: The last time Arizona had a tall wide receiver from Corona, California, he caught a Hail Mary pass in the corner of the north end zone against the Cal Golden Bears. Austin Hill played at Arizona from 2011-14 and recorded 2,310 yards in his career in Tucson.
Johnson could have a similar career at Arizona, and the Eleanor Roosevelt High wide receiver could receive significant playing time as a freshman.
Johnson was one of several Arizona recruits that committed over the summer and he selected the Wildcats over Utah, Oregon State, Colorado State and New Mexico.
The Wildcats lose 6-foot-5-inch Shawn Poindexter —who tied Hill’s single-season touchdown record this season — the speedy Shun Brown and Tony Ellison to graduation. Arizona’s top three wide receivers are all gone and the top returners are Cedric Peterson and Tucsonan Stanley Berryhill III.
Considering Johnson is currently Arizona’s only wide receiver commit in the 2019 class, he could start as a true freshman and fill Poindexter’s role with his height.
It’s never ideal to have an inexperienced player step into a huge role immediately, especially because Johnson is considered the 133rd-best wide receiver in the nation per 247sports.com, but he could grow with the baptized-by-fire method.
Poindexter was a junior college prospect and a former volleyball player, but improved the more he played, which is a situation Johnson could find himself in.