Just over 90 miles separate Tucson from Phoenix. Take Interstate 10, and get off when you see tall buildings.
It’s the separation between visits to Arizona and Arizona State, really. The UA coaching staff has struggled to convince Phoenix-area recruits to visit Tucson in recent years.
Coach Rich Rodriguez can only shrug, and plead: Just come visit.
“At least give us a shot,” Rodriguez said this week.
Last week, finally, Rodriguez got his wish. The Phoenix area’s top recruits visited Tucson on Saturday for a “Junior Day.” Among the visitors: Five-star offensive lineman Austin Jackson from North Canyon High School, four-star safety Isaiah Pola-Mao from Mountain Pointe and three-star standouts safety K.J. Jarrell from Saguaro, receiver Bryce Gilbert from Higley, defensive end Odua Isibor from St. Mary’s and receiver Jalen Harris from Desert Ridge.
Two local standouts, Sabino’s Drew Dixon and Catalina Foothills’ Rhett Rodriguez, also visited.
All told, that’s seven of the state’s top 17 recruits, according to Scout.com. Two others — quarterback Ryan Kelley from Basha and offensive lineman Kayden Lyles from Saguaro — have already committed to Oregon and Wisconsin, respectively.
Jackson is the state’s No. 1 recruit, with offers from 21 schools, including Alabama, Oregon and USC.
Even though Arizona might not have secured any new verbal commitments, it’d be safe to call the recruiting event a resounding success.
“What’s amazing is, those kids that have come here, have remarked, ‘Gosh, I didn’t think it would be like this,’ or ‘It’s nicer than I thought,’ ” Rodriguez said. “And I’m like, ‘That’s what we’ve been saying for three, four years, and probably what they’ve been saying here the last 25 years.’
“Just give us a shot.”
That might as well be Arizona’s motto for in-state recruiting.
The Wildcats had just two in-state players in their 2016 recruiting class, Salpointe Catholic defensive lineman Justin Holt and Glendale Community College receiver Shawn Poindexter.
The UA wants more.
Dixon called the Saturday visit “great.”
“I’ve been down there a couple more times than they (Phoenix-area recruits) have, but it was great to see that other top guys are real interested in Arizona as well,” he said.
Arizona’s most notable commitments in that regard in recent years were Cam Denson from Salpointe Catholic and offensive lineman Keenan Walker from Scottsdale Chaparral, together the lone four-star commits from Arizona in the Rich Rodriguez era.
For Mike Stoops, it wasn’t much better toward the end — he added Ka’Deem Carey in 2011, Marquis Flowers in 2010, Adam Hall in 2009.
ASU, on the other hand, reeled in Arizona’s No. 1 receiver (N’Keal Harry) and No. 2 athlete (Chase Lucas) in 2016, its No. 2 quarterback (Bryce Perkins) in 2015, four-star receiver Tyler Whiley in 2014 and the No. 12 athlete in the nation (D.J. Foster) in 2012.
For at least one day, though, Arizona won the battle — as the recruits visited the UA campus on Saturday, ASU was holding its spring game in Tempe.
Of the players who visited Saturday, Arizona probably has the best shot at securing commitments from Gilbert, Harris, Dixon and Isibor, while Pola-Mao is of high priority. Rhett Rodriguez, Rich’s son, has been verbally committed to the Wildcats since January.
Dixon said, “Coach Rodriguez was saying that if we all stayed in Arizona, this could be the best recruiting class he’s had.”
- Arizona had out-of-state visitors on Saturday, too. Braxton Burmeister, a former UA commit and four-star recruit from San Diego, attended; so did two-star defensive back Gregory Jordan from Los Angeles and unrated defensive lineman Elijah Watson from Lawrenceville, Georgia.
- The Wildcats offered Watson a scholarship while he was on the visit. Watson's only other offers are from Mercer and Ball State.
- Harris told the Star in a text message that the "visit was great," he said. "The coaches really made me feel welcomed and made sure that I knew I was really wanted. It is definitely a place I can see myself at."
- Other recruits from Arizona in attendance: defensive end Xavier Davis from Red Mountain, kicker Brandon Ruiz from Williams Field and 2018 offensive lineman Joey Ramos from Deer Valley. Davis is verbally committed to Oregon State.