When Noah Fifita and Anaheim Servite High School teammates Tetairoa McMillan and Keyan Burnett visited Tucson earlier this month, Arizona’s coaching staff brought the juice — literally.
It began when Fifita, a three-star quarterback committed to the UA’s 2022 recruiting class, and his teammates posed for photos in the Wildcats’ “Desert Swarm”-era uniforms. McMillan and Burnett bookended Fifita as they took photos biting into oranges and drinking OJ. The moniker “Juice County,” hashtagged in Fifita’s Twitter bio, as a reminder of his Orange County, California, roots.
“They brought out some orange juice and some oranges. I believe Coach (Kevin) Cummings came up with that idea,” Fifita said.
Could the photos be a preview of things to come?
McMillan, a four-star wide receiver and standout volleyball player, is rated by national recruiting websites as one of the top overall prospects in California and the country. He is also considering USC, Stanford and Oregon, among others.
Burnett, son of former UA linebacker Chester Burnett, is a four-star tight end currently committed to USC.
Fifiita has an uphill battle to convince his “Juice County” teammates to follow him to Tucson, but he’s hopeful. The quarterback spoke to the Star’s Justin Spears on ESPN Tucson earlier this week about his visit, his teammates — and what he sees in coach Jedd Fisch:
How was your last visit compared to the one in March, where you couldn’t see the coaches and facilities?
A: “This one was definitely different. I got to see a lot of people and obviously the coaches. It was really the first time I got to meet everyone and walk around town. It was a great trip and I’m definitely happy with my decision.”
What was the atmosphere like seeing the coaches — and the facilities — in person?
A: “It was awesome. This was the first time I got to meet the coaches after only talking on the phone with them. They’re great people in person and over the phone, so I was just happy to meet them finally and see the facilities and the field — they’re actually reconstructing the football facilities and it looks great. I’m going to go back out there during the season to see the finished product, and I look forward to coming on down when it’s that time.”
Why is Jedd Fisch the coach you want to mentor you in college?
A: “He’s an NFL guy and has been in the game for a long time. He’s coached at some top colleges, from Michigan, and then obviously he’s coached in the NFL with the Patriots and Ravens. So, he knows how to coach talent and how to coach football, so I’m excited to play for him, but he’s also a great person. I don’t know a lot of people who go on their official visit and go to the head coach’s house and meet his whole family. He’s more than a great coach, he’s a great guy, and I’m excited to play for him.”
What was that one moment during your visit that sealed your commitment to the program?
A: “The first day. So, we got in Thursday night and then Friday morning was when we met all the coaches. So, we drive to Old Main and all the coaches were on the grass jumping around, playing music, dancing — right when I saw that family atmosphere, the energy of the coaches, that’s when I knew I was in the right spot.”
As the quarterback, do you take pride in recruiting peers and teammates to Arizona?
A: “Definitely, that’s my next goal. I’m working on ‘T-Mac’ and Keyan. Obviously, they’re big-time recruits that go to the same high school as me, and I’ve been playing with them since the eighth grade, so those are two must-haves that we gotta go get right now. I’m going to work on that throughout this time, but we also got AJ Jones from (Ontario) Colony to (decommit). He was recently committed to UCLA, and after the trip (to the UA), he decommitted. I’m going to be in his ear to commit to us. … (McMillan and Burnett) are probably the best at their positions not just in California, but in the nation. They’re great guys to be around.”
What makes McMillan and Burnett special players?
A: “What people don’t see is how smart they are. There’s a lot of game examples I can go into that shows their IQ. They’re the smartest in the classroom at all times and they know what they’re doing on every single play. But it’s their ability to make adjustments on the fly. We play in the biggest, most competitive league in the country, and their ability to make split-second decisions, adjusting their routes and sitting on windows, that’s what separates them.”
Does the coaches bringing out oranges and OJ for your photos matter, particularly for McMillan and Burnett’s recruitment?
A: “I know they’re going to go on some other visits, but nothing will come close to replicating that. That shows us they don’t want us as players, they want us as people, and that means a lot. That’s going to go into T-Mac’s decision — and Keyan’s decision, when it comes down to it.”
What’s something in your skillset that you’re looking to improve before the fall season?
A: “I’m always looking to improve, but I think the biggest thing is my feet. I’m good in the pocket and good at creating plays with chaos, but I want to actually take the top off this year and have some 50-yard rushes for touchdowns. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do that, so if we want to beat Mater Dei and St. John Bosco this year, I’m going to have that ability.”
What did you take away from driving around Tucson with UA wide receiver Stanley Berryhill?
A: “From what we’ve heard, that place gets lit during the season. I’m excited to bring a winning program back to Tucson. It’s a college town, that’s what I’m most excited about. Just from walking around, everyone is wearing Arizona stuff, everybody is supportive of the football team and I’m excited to go play for that town.”
Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @JustinESports