The Arizona Wildcats have a quarterback problem right now, and the solution might just be 30 minutes down Interstate 10.
Cienega’s Jamarye Joiner is perhaps the best quarterback in Tucson since Sahuaro’s Rodney Peete was here 34 years ago and he is, for now at least, committed to the UA.
An exceptional athlete with a strong arm, Joiner fits coach Rich Rodriguez’s mold for quarterbacks. And with UA starter Brandon Dawkins struggling and backup Khalil Tate limited by injuries, the Wildcats may not have a quarterback of the future on their roster.
“You want a guy that can throw,” Rodriguez said recently, speaking generally about recruiting quarterbacks. “If he’s athletic enough to run and move around a little bit, that’s a bonus.”
That’s exactly what Joiner has become. Fittingly, Arizona is the only program — so far — to recruit Joiner exclusively as a quarterback, which is why Joiner committed to the Wildcats shortly after being offered last September.
But make no mistake: Arizona might have to fight until signing day to keep the most dynamic quarterback from Tucson in Tucson.
“He’s frustrated that more people aren’t recruiting him as a quarterback,” Cienega coach Pat Nugent said. “We just don’t know why because you see the kid (Heisman winner Lamar Jackson) from Louisville and these dual-threat quarterbacks, and Jamarye is that guy.”
Nugent questioned whether Joiner could be a college quarterback, too, when the standout player first arrived at Cienega from Salpointe Catholic last season. Nugent moved Joiner around the field early in the season, though it didn’t take long for the coach to change his mind.
This year, Joiner has taken a leap as a passer. Through three games, Joiner is completing 64.3 percent of his passes with 584 yards and eight touchdowns to one interception. He has also rushed for 278 yards and seven touchdowns on just 28 carries. He threw his first interception in last week’s win against Nogales on Cienega’s first drive … and then came back and scored on a 60-yard touchdown run on the next possession. Joiner finished the night completing 12 of 15 passes.
Joiner and the Bobcats (3-0) will play at Flowing Wells on Friday night.
“I’ve improved tremendously,” Joiner said. “Mentally, physically, accuracy, throwing-wise, speed. I’ve gotten better in every aspect of my game.”
Joiner’s development goes beyond the statistics, and it’s important to consider a few things when looking at those numbers. He flashed talent as a true freshman at Salpointe, but was kicked off the team and out of school. He transferred to Cienega, but was forced to sit out his entire sophomore season. The time away stalled his development.
Joiner led the Bobcats last season, and the team went 12-0 before losing in the state semifinals. Joiner finished with 1,713 passing yards, 762 rushing yards and 30 combined touchdowns, and his numbers could’ve been even better. The quarterback sat for the second half in many of Cienega’s blowout wins.
“People see me as an athlete, and I want to prove to everybody they’re wrong and say they’re wrong,” he said. “I’m a quarterback, and I can be a quarterback just as well as anyone can.”
Joiner has flashed his abilities as a quarterback the last two weeks, the world-class athleticism and arm strength to rival anyone in the state. He put on perhaps his best display in a 57-50 win over Marana in Week 1.
“He just took over the game and as much as they kept scoring, I wasn’t really worried because he was unstoppable,” Nugent said.
On one play, Joiner kept the ball on an option at Marana’s 20-yard line, rolled to the right into a crowd of three tacklers, spun to the outside as they attempted to tackle him and burst down the sideline, untouched, for a touchdown.
Cienega was at its own 26-yard line when Marana brought a blitz. Joiner took a two-step drop and fired a pass to receiver Terrell Hayward, leading to a long touchdown.
Joiner finished the game with 239 passing yards, 170 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns.
“It’s mostly athleticism, but he’s got arm strength that’s unbelievable,” Nugent said. “He makes plays by his talent level. He doesn’t make the proper read all the time. He’s one of those kids that there’ll be a wide-open receiver that’s 10 yards down the field but he’ll throw it 54 yards in between a corner and a safety and it’s a perfect pass and you look at each other like: ‘What the heck?’
“He makes plays, that’s what he does. But his arm strength is out of this world right now. He can just make every throw on the field. He can roll left and make the throw, he can roll right and make the throw and he can stand in the pocket and make the throw.”
Joiner has developed into a physical specimen during his time at Cienega. The 6-foot-3-inch, 195-pounder squats 400 pounds, bench presses 280 pounds and has the speed and athleticism to rival any player in the state.
Nugent calls Joiner “a freak out of all the freaks I’ve ever had,” which is impressive. Nugent, after all, coached NFL running back Ka’Deem Carey at Canyon del Oro.
Still, Joiner has just two scholarship offers — one from Arizona, and the other from Arizona State. Joiner says he’s heard from nine other schools — five from the Pac-12, Florida State, Michigan and LSU.
Some college coaches have told Joiner they see him as an NFL-caliber receiver or a safety.
Arizona’s coaches want him at quarterback, and always have.
“They tell me I’m going to come in and compete for the starting job right away,” he said. “I’ve always been a competitor and I’m looking to come out on top so if they put me in that state, to compete for the starting job, I’ll do whatever I have to do to win that.”
Nugent wasn’t sure Joiner’s could play right away at Arizona at the start of this season.
He has since changed his mind.
“I never thought he could play at the U of A until I watched the (loss to Houston) the other night,” Nugent said. “Then I realized: ‘You know, Jamarye, you have a chance to play because you can throw the ball.’”