UA Arizona Wildcats football recruiting logo USE ME

The summer recruiting period was an important one for Arizona — especially considering 2019 is Kevin Sumlin’s first full class.

Nine of Arizona’s 14 verbal commitments jumped on board in the months of June and July. Three-star cornerback Maurice Gaines committed in July, and became one of Arizona’s first defensive back recruits to pledge for 2019.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 185-pound Gaines is ranked as the No. 149 cornerback nationally per 247sports.com. He picked the UA over offers from Florida Atlantic, Indiana, Oregon State, Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State. Since then, he’s received offers from Texas, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Baylor.

Originally from Folsom, California, Gaines transferred to St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Connecticut, for a post-graduation year.

The Star talked with Gaines and got to know the California cornerback.

Why did you commit to Arizona?

A: “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.”

Why did you reclassify for 2019?

A: “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 so when it came down to a time where I needed to get my mindset back, Coach (Martin) was by my side and made sure I did that. I decided to reclassify because although I could’ve qualified for 2018, Arizona didn’t have any open spots. So I ended up waiting and then I did a post-grad year at St. Thomas More and reclassified for 2019.”

What made you go to St. Thomas More?

A: “One of my friends Austin Alexander, who’s a receiver at Fresno State right now. He came out here last year for a post-grad year and I went to school with him. So when I reclassified, he told me ‘The school that I’m at will give you the best opportunity for you’ and that’s how I got connected with my current head coach.”

How is the transition going from California to Connecticut?

A: “Oh, my gosh. I love the East Coast and it’s good having the experience, but I miss home like crazy and not just my family and friends, but it’s so damn cold out here. The food is so much different. I’m just ready to go home.”

What impressed you about UA when you came for a visit?

A: “The campus is beautiful. When we got into the golf cart and took a tour around campus, I just fell in love with the campus. It’s a beautiful place to be. I loved the campus and the facilities and all of that, but meeting the people of Tucson was awesome. I loved the atmosphere and I love everything about it. I really didn’t see any wrong with me going to Arizona. It was all what I needed.”

Although you’re committed to UA, what do the recent offers mean to you?

A: “When the offers started coming in, I told coaches that I was 100 percent committed and it’s just a game where they want to flip me, but I don’t see that happening because of how close I am with the coaching staff at Arizona, but getting the recognition always feel good. It’s always a good feeling, but I have my mind focused on one school. There was never ‘Oh maybe this would be a better fit for me.’ There was never a question about it.”

Are you familiar with any of the current Arizona players?

A: “I’m cool with (freshman cornerback) McKenzie Barnes now. We didn’t play high school ball together, but 7-on-7 and going to camps together so I’m real close with him. I’m in a group chat with some of the other guys and getting to know them and we also have a group chat for the recruits right now.”

How many players are in this group chat?

A: “For the Arizona recruits, all of the commits. For the current Arizona players, probably 20-plus so it’s a lot. I’ll get to know these guys more when I come down for my visit during the Arizona State game. I had to come down for the big one.”

What do you like about Sumlin?

A: “When I first met him, he didn’t know that I was going to commit. The only person that knew I was going to commit was Coach (Martin). So when I met Coach Sumlin, he was going to give me this whole rundown on how much they want me and how excited they would be if I came here. And I just loved his energy. I loved how positive and how confident he was. He told me how Tucson can help football wise, but also academically so just talking to him and seeing how he is a genuine guy and how he could change my life, that’s all I wanted to hear.

Did you watch Arizona at all growing up?

A: “My trainer had a linebacker that played at Arizona so he used to always talk to me about Arizona before I got recruited. But it’s a funny story, my cousin D.J. Calhoun was the starting linebacker at Arizona State so I used to always watch his games. When I watched his games, eventually I saw him play Arizona so it was crazy to me that I went to the rival school. I was also being recruited by Arizona State at the time so he was trying to push me to go the other way instead of going to his rival.”

What player did you idolize growing up?

A: “I loved (longtime NFL cornerback) Charles Woodson. Charles Woodson is my favorite player of all time and he’s someone I try to model my game after. He’s an offensive player on defense and that’s something I really like to do.

“Watching his interviews and watching how he plays, he knows offenses because he played offense. Just being able to read and have a high IQ, that’s something I try to implement into my game. That’s my favorite all-time player.”

Were you a Raiders fan then?

A: “It’s weird: I grew up as a Green Bay Packers fan somehow. I moved from my dad’s house to my uncle’s, I converted into a 49ers fan because he was a die-hard Niners fan and he wasn’t going to have anyone living in his house that wasn’t a Niners fan.”

What’s something that not a lot of people know about you?

A: “I like dancing. You guys are going to see that a lot. I’m always dancing somehow. Whether it’s in a meeting, or getting food, you’re always going to catch me dancing.”

What is Arizona getting out of a player like you?

A: “A player that will do anything for the team and wants what’s best for the team. It doesn’t matter what the record is, you will never catch me on the down side. I’m always positive and I just want to make an impact for the team.”

Sports producer

Justin Spears is an award-winning sports journalist and Tucson native. He can be reached at jspears@tucson.com. On Twitter @justinesports.