Low-ranked football recruiting class? Our Kinda Guys

Low-ranked football recruiting class? Our Kinda Guys
Anthony Gimino
Anthony Gimino

By Anthony Gimino 
Special for Tucson News Now

The Arizona Wildcats will sign a class of OKGs -- Our Kinda Guys -- on Wednesday, so who much cares about recruiting rankings and what other people think?

Same as it ever was.

Coach Rich Rodriguez's 2015 recruiting class sat at 39th nationally, and ninth in the Pac-12, as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the 247Sports' composite rankings that factor in opinions from multiple recruiting services.

Simple logic will tell you that you would rather take your chances with a class that is highly rated as opposed to one in the middle of the pack, but Arizona fans have long seen ranking-defying players -- @TwoStarScoob rings a bell, right? -- and ranking-defying classes.

If we go all the way back to 1990 -- Arizona's silver anniversary class -- we'll find a group of UA recruits ranked sixth in the Pac-10 by SuperPrep, which was the industry standard at the time.

Yawn. Just sixth. Nothing special.

If only all of the Wildcats' classes could be so good.

That 1990 class, amid little fanfare, remains the best in school history.

The group featured:

One College Football Hall of Famer: Defensive tackle Rob Waldrop.

Two major award winners: Steve McLaughlin won the Lou Groza Award as the country's top kicker, and Waldrop took home the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman and was the inaugural winner of what is now the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright won that latter award after last season.

Four first-team All-Americans: Waldrop, McLaughlin, free safety Tony Bouie and punter Josh Miller.

Beyond that, Sean Harris was a first-team All-Pac-10 linebacker, receiver Terry Vaughn and offensive linemen Mike Heemsbergen earned second-team all-league honors, and Chuck Levy, while short on postseason honors, remains one of the most dynamic offensive threats in school history.

Seven of the 24 signees in that class played in the NFL, including safety/linebacker Mike Scurlock, a Cholla High grad who was one of six key Tucson recruits in that class. Vaughn, who didn't play in the NFL, is one of the all-time great receivers in the Canadian Football League.

"We recruited people we believed in," then-coach Dick Tomey once told me, "not people who everybody else believed in."

Levy, from Compton, Calif., and Sahuaro offensive lineman Mike Ciasca were the biggest "gets" -- each being a Parade All-American.

"From what I remember," Bouie said last week, "our prize catch was Chuck Levy. He was kind of the cherry on top of that class because of his speed and his reputation he created in L.A."

The class featured skill on offense, multiple-year starters on the offensive line (Heemsbergen, Pulu Poumele, Mu Tagoai), arguably the best kicker and punter in school history, and the foundation of the Desert Swarm at all levels of the defense (Waldrop, Harris, Bouie).

"From talking to Coach Tomey over the years, the hardest thing to do as a coach is to get every group of players in one class," Bouie said.

"If you look across the stretch of every program, you will see talented players at particular positions that don't cross each other's careers. If you can get all that in one class successfully, you can transform a program. That class, in my opinion, was exactly that."

When he looked around the meeting room 25 years ago, Bouie said he could sense something special.

"Each individual brought their own swagger to that class," he said. "It obviously created what became the Desert Swarm."

The pitch back then was much as it is today: Arizona is a good program on the rise. Come be a part of it.

"What closed the deal was they were honest," Waldrop told me several years ago. "They didn't sell it to me as if I was going to walk in and be a prima donna. I like to work and earn things. I thought it would be a good match.

"There was a lot of attitude in my class. We knew we were going to be better than a lot of people who were already there. I think that rubbed some of the older guys the wrong way. I don't know what it was, but our class was tight. We knew we would change things."

Waldrop, from Scottsdale Horizon High, was the linchpin, becoming the anchor of the Desert Swarm in 1992 after the team, and that recruiting class, took its lumps in a 4-7 injury-filled 1991 season. Waldrop, by today's standards, would probably be a three-star recruit, ranked near the bottom of the top 100 recruits in the West. But he was a top priority for Arizona, which beat Arizona State, Colorado and others for him.

"I remember standing outside the old football locker room, talking to him for an hour (on his recruiting visit)," said former UA linebacker Donnie Salum, who was a senior in 1989. "He was just a big kid. He wasn't tall, but he had a big, wide body. And the coaches were telling me they really wanted him."

Of course, not everyone worked out. Junior college transfer linebacker Marquise Thomas was probably as physically talented as any player in the class, but he never played because of injuries. Injuries also derailed Ciasca's promising football career.

But not only were there eventual superstars among the 24 signees, 17 became productive starters -- an extraordinarily high number of recruiting "hits." Players such as tight end Lamar Harris, linebacker/special teams standout Joe Lohmeier, receiver Lamar Lovett, defensive end Richard Maddox and offensive lineman Vincent Smith helped fill out the depth chart and set the table for Arizona's run of success in the early 1990s, including a Fiesta Bowl appearance after the 1993 season and a spot on Sports Illustrated's 1994 college football preview issue.

The themes echo across 25 years. The former "diamonds in the rough" have become today's OKGs. Rodriguez on Signing Day will issue some version of what Tomey said: "We recruited people we believed in, not people who everybody else believed in."

Time will tell about Arizona's 2015 recruiting class, but if it comes anywhere close to the standard of 25 years ago, Rodriguez will have himself quite a team.

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.