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June 24, 2013
Arizona schools struggle to keep talent home
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Success breeds success. The relationship between recruiting and winning is clouded as to which begets the other.
The last time a team from the state of Arizona at least shared the Pac-12 conference title was 2007, when Arizona State was a co-champion. The corresponding recruiting group for the class of 2008 was also the last time a program within the state signed the No. 1 player and had the lion's share of the top 15 prospects. The state has been on the rise in producing talent; it has also seen rival programs build pipelines into prominent high schools.
The decline in on-field success -- as well as the lack of consistency of ASU and Arizona -- has coincided with a precipitous fall in the signing of the best players from within the state borders.
The trend appears to be continuing with the class of 2014 because the top player in Arizona -- quarterback Kyle Allen of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain -- has committed to Texas A&M and others seemingly are set to follow his lead out of the state.
Allen lives less than five miles from the ASU campus, but he said the local program did not give him a realistic opportunity to go to the NFL or to win.
"I want to go to a place where quarterbacks succeed," he said. "Quarterbacks get to the next level (at Texas A&M), and Texas A&M was good."
Each of the last three Aggies quarterbacks has made it to the NFL. Jarrod Johnson is on the Pittsburgh Steelers' roster, Stephen McGee was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, and Ryan Tannehill was a top 10 pick by the Miami Dolphins.
Current quarterback Johnny Manziel developed under current head coach Kevin Sumlin from a three-star quarterback -- who would have been a wide receiver under Mike Sherman -- into the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
[ Y! Sports Radio: Kyle Allen with Peter Brown and Dallas Jackson ]
Arizona is the only school in the Pac-12 never to have played in the Rose Bowl. It was co-champion of the conference in 1993, but its last outright conference title was in 1941 when it claimed the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association title. It shared a Western Athletic Conference title in 1964 and 1973, but consistent success has been hard to establish.
Arizona has not had a season with more than eight wins since 1998, and it has buoyed between four and eight wins each of the last six years.
Although the Wildcats appear to be the lesser of the two options, Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said that if one of the two state schools were to rebound in the living room and on the field it would be Arizona.
"With Rich Rodriguez, I think Arizona has a chance to become an exciting program," Farrell said. "The last time there was buzz around Arizona was 'Desert Swarm,' and to these kids that might as well be a billion years ago. But I think what RichRod can do is jumpstart the program and bring in some playmakers on offense.
"At Arizona State there may be a more immediate bounce on the field, but stability and Todd Graham have not been used in the same sentence very often. While kids want a winner -- first and foremost -- they also want to know who they will be playing for."
Teammates and best friends at Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe, wide receiver Jalen Brown and offensive lineman Natrell Curtis were in attendance for the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour.
They were open about their interest in the state programs, but both had reservations.
"When I look at making a college choice and a commitment to that school, I want coaches that are going to be there," he said. "Honestly, I feel that with Graham and Rodriguez being there, both are going to change those programs around and win games. And stay there."
Brown predicted that the 6-foot-3, 340-plus-pound Curtis will choose UCLA.
As the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in the state, Brown said he feels pressure to stay local even though his roots are not in Arizona. His mother is from Wisconsin, and his dad is from Mississippi.
Curtis predicted that Brown would wind up at Arizona.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound receiver said the offense is important to him.
"It is definitely difficult because I can go to a campus and then have a coaching staff change and have to learn a new playbook; it'd be tough," Brown said. "It would be hard, especially if the head coach has a possibility of leaving, because that means the whole coaching staff is gone."
[ Y! Sports Radio: Natrell Curtis and Jalen Brown with Peter Brown and Dallas Jackson ]
In addition to Allen, Brown and Curtis, the top 10 in Arizona is chock full of four-star players. Allen's main receiving target, Mark Andrews, is ranked No. 3 in the state. Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton teammates offensive lineman Casey Tucker and defensive end Qualen Cunningham are Nos. 4 and 5. Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral athlete Tyler Whiley is No. 7, while Goodyear (Ariz.) Desert Edge athlete Ismael Murphy-Richardson and Coolidge (Ariz.) High athlete J.T. Gray round out the list at No. 9 and No. 10.
Aside from Allen, only Tucson (Ariz.) Salpointe receiver Cameron Denson has made a verbal pledge. Denson opted for Arizona.
According to Farrell, it is no shock that those teams can pilfer players.
"Each of those programs -- save for UCLA -- has been consistent winners, and Jim Mora seems to be turning the tide there, too," he said. "Until the two programs inside the state can show a commitment to winning and recruiting players, it will be a struggle to keep them from leaving."
Both are bolstering efforts with indoor facilities and a more focused message to prospects.
Allen admitted that leaving the state and choosing Texas A&M was tough.
"That was a big thing," he said, "more with ASU than Arizona.
"ASU's big thing was 'Hometown Heroes.' They wanted all the kids to stay in Arizona and win. I mean, that's good. It's how all teams win; a lot of schools, like Florida and Ohio State, they all keep the in-state kids and keep them going, but for me those weren't the good spots. There was a lot of pressure through the process, but for me it was A&M."
If Arizona entices Brown to join Denson in its receiver corps, the tide could start to turn for the program.
Brown believes that if the words translate into wins, the programs could start to find the consistency they have lacked.
"Arizona kids have what it takes to compete with the best of the best," Brown said. "We are not afraid of anything, and we want to come out and show what we can do."