The Star is counting down the Arizona Wildcats’ 2019 recruiting class leading up to Dec. 19, early signing day. Today’s profiled players: Josh Donovan and Maurice Gaines.
Position: Offensive tackle
Weight: 330 pounds
Hometown: College Station, Texas (Trinity Valley Community College)
When he committed: Nov. 25, 2018
How he fits: Kevin Sumlin and staff wanted to accomplish two tasks for the 2019 recruiting class: Add more players from the state of Texas, as well as veterans at the junior college level. Sumlin can check off two boxes with landing Donovan. After Hawaiian offensive lineman Rocky Aitogi decommitted from Arizona and flipped to New Mexico, Donovan is currently the lone juco offensive lineman and is one of the biggest recruits for Arizona’s 2019 class. Compared to the other offensive linemen in Marana’s Jordan Morgan and Floridian Jamari Williams, Donovan weighs more than Morgan and is taller than Williams. The three-star Donovan is ranked as the third-best prospect at the juco level in Texas and the 12th-best offensive tackle nationally. Looking ahead to the outlook of Arizona’s offensive line unit for next season, the Wildcats will lose experienced left tackle Layth Friekh to graduation, but return a slew of players that received solid playing time. The returners: Josh McCaulley, Cody Creason, Thiyo Lukusa, Michael Eletise, Donovan Laie, Bryson Cain and Texas A&M transfer Robert Congel.
Despite the inexperience, Arizona’s offensive line paved the way for the Cats to finish 36th in FBS and first in the Pac-12 in rushing with J.J. Taylor rushing for 1,434 yards. Although it could be tough for Donovan to squeeze into the rotation, he gives Joe Gilbert’s group much-needed depth, size and experience. Donovan could be one of Arizona’s most important recruits when it’s all said and done.
Maurice Gaines Jr.
Weight: 185 pounds
Hometown: Folsom, California (St. Thomas More HS, Connecticut)
When he committed: July 28, 2018
How he fits: Gaines is a high-schooler, but a seasoned player. The three-star cornerback was initially a part of the 2018 class, but decided to reclassify to 2019 after “there was a situation where something was going on with one of my classes that I needed. At the time, I had broken my wrist so I had a serious injury so school really just fell off for me.” Gaines then transferred from Folsom High to St. Thomas More in Oakdale, Connecticut, for his final year. Fortunately for Gaines, he steps in at a perfect time and could play heavy snaps as a true freshman, considering cornerback is one of UA’s slimmest positions. Gaines is one of two cornerbacks for 2019, joining Chris Roland from Palmdale, California.
Starter Lorenzo Burns is expected to return, but the biggest question is whether Jace Whittaker will return. Whittaker is arguably Arizona’s best option at cornerback and only appeared in one game this season due to a lingering elbow injury. Per NCAA’s new rule, players can appear in no more than four games before deciding to redshirt. There’s three options for Whittaker: redshirt and return, enter the NFL Draft or become a graduate transfer. That decision hasn’t been made, so it’s possible the Wildcats could be without Whittaker for another season. When he was out, freshman McKenzie Barnes, walk-on Azizi Hearn and utility player Troy Young filled in. Although they all return, Gaines could find himself fighting for playing time as a true freshman.
He said it: “When I went to Arizona, I just wanted to feel at home with the place and I was in a good place with coach (Demetrice Martin) from his previous job when he recruited me in the class of 2018. I’ve established a good relationship with him over the last few years. When I transferred, I didn’t know whether I was going to go class of 2018 or 2019; he was a big part of making sure I did everything right. When he gave me the word that Arizona was a place that I needed to be, I took his word for it and then when I went up there, I talked to coach (Kevin) Sumlin, coach (Marcel) Yates and I got to know them. When they told me everything that I needed to hear, I felt at home with them and I could tell them anything.”