Things are “Rushing” in a new direction for the Arizona Wildcats as newfound momentum sparked on the recruiting trail Thursday — the kind of momentum where ‘Zona only needed to travel five minutes north to ignite. And now, signs are indicating that Elijah Rushing has begun the start of Arizona’s reignited recruiting tactics.
Elijah Rushing to Arizona: Why the Prized Recruit Points to Start of Movement
Rushing, the No. 8 overall high school prospect by 247Sports and the state’s No. 1 overall prospect for the Class of 2024, pulled a recruiting stunner by choosing Arizona. His decision gives head coach Jedd Fisch and his staff their biggest recruiting win to date and, in the era of recruiting rankings, gives Wildcats football their first-ever five-star verbal commitment.
For the Wildcats, this not only gives them a rare five-star, but Rushing’s decision hands U of A a long-awaited local recruiting win…as the towering 6’6″, 251-pounder stars at nearby Salpointe Catholic, located five minutes and less than two miles north of the Wildcats.
Rushing had nearly 40 scholarship offers to choose from, including Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, and even two-time national champion Georgia trying to lure him in. But for a school that has struggled with not only keeping in-state talent home but also watched Tucson talent drift away, Rushing discovered that ‘Zona was more for him than the aforementioned national powerhouses.
“It [being close to home] was a big factor, and it was the best situation for me,” Rushing told 247Sports. “For me, it was important to put us on the map and show who we are.”
Per Wildcats insider Jason Scheer of 247Sports, it ultimately came down to Oregon and Arizona, with NIL (name, image, and likeness) mentioned at the forefront. However, Scheer writes NIL had zero to do with Rushing’s decision to stay home.
“Rushing did not choose Arizona because the Wildcats made the largest offer. That’s not to say Rushing would have chosen Arizona if no NIL was involved, but rather that there were just other factors that went into this recruitment,” Scheer said.
He broke it down with: “Salpointe Catholic is a few minutes away from Arizona Stadium and Elijah’s brother Cruz is currently on the team. The pitch from the Arizona coaching staff and pretty much everybody that knew Rushing locally was that he should stay home and become a legend.
“The pitch itself was probably easy. Oregon is ahead of Arizona as a football program right now, but the only way that is going to change is if players like Rushing stay home,” Scheer continued. “You can’t build a program without players and Rushing is one of the recruits that is going to be able to send a message to others that it’s fine to choose Arizona and it’s possible to win there.”
Rushing still must sign the letter of intent come December 2023 to officially become a Wildcat. Perhaps schools will still do their part in trying to flip him. But, his decision alone completely becomes different from past recruiting cycles from not only Fisch but previous regimes at this Southwest desert community.
Looking Back at Past Wildcat Classes Pre-Rushing
Here’s how Arizona has done before Rushing which includes the Fisch era:
2023 Class: Of the 12 enrollees, only safety Genesis Smith of Hamilton High in Chandler was the top local recruit, and he was a three-star. Twelve signings represented California—and that included January 2023 four-star linebacker Leviticus Su’a of national power Mater Dei. Not one signing, even a transfer portal addition, represented Tucson.
2022 Class: Four AZ prospects were among the recruiting additions. But the Wildcats had to tap into Chandler and the Phoenix region for their future—and three-star interior offensive lineman Grayson Stovall of Hamilton represented the highest rated in-state get as a three-star. Again, no one from the 520 helped comprise this class.
2021 Class: Fisch’s first full-season recruiting cycle saw just one Tucson player, three-star running back Stevie Rocker of Canyon Del Oro, who was the state’s No. 20 overall prospect. That class additionally saw no four-star signings.
But pre-Fisch, AZ struggled with snatching local talent, looking as far back as 2016.
2020 Class: This group was started by Kevin Sumlin before Fisch topped off the rest. There were four talents from Arizona—but they represented Peoria, Gilbert, and Florence.
2019 Class: Sumlin added two in-state prospects. The top one was junior college transfer Myles Tapusoa of Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher. The other was tackle Jordan Morgan of Marana, located 30 minutes north of U of A.
2018 Class: David Watson was the lone Tucson find for Sumlin and the ‘Cats, in what was the former head coach’s first full recruiting cycle in AZ. Watson, a tackle, was a three-star out of Amphitheater High and the state’s No. 16 prospect. That class, though, saw 10 Californian signings.
2017 Class: The final Rich Rodriguez class had a much higher number of in-state recruits at five. Drew Dixon was the 520 pickup out of Sabino High, who was the state’s 10th-best prospect. Dual-threat passer Rhett Rodriguez was another Tucson find out of Catalina Foothills.
2016 Class: This was the last time AZ recruited someone from Rushing’s high school. Three-star defensive tackle Justin Holt was the Tucson representative, a 6’0″, 295-pounder and the state’s 12th-best talent.
Long story short, only three Tucson players were signed by AZ between 2016 and 2022. But now, Fisch has his most prized verbal commitment yet. But he wasn’t alone in winning over Rushing.
Fisch’s Staff Reminds Us That There’s Recruiting Muscle Here
While this is a “we’re on the map” moment recruiting-wise for the Wildcats, Fisch does have staff members who have been lights out on the trail before, pointing to more potential recruiting wins.
Johnny Nansen now has the chance to use Rushing in his schemes once the LOI is signed. The defensive coordinator was 247Sports’ Recruiter of the Year in 2017 while at USC and is best known for finding future NFL starting defender Uchenna Nwosu and future fifth-round NFL linebacker prospect Cameron Smith.
Defensive line coach Ricky Hunley is another already known for his recruiting prowess. His efforts got the Wildcats to produce the second-ranked recruiting class among Pac-12 schools for the 2022 cycle.
Edge rush and outside linebackers coach Jason Kaufusi is another who’s proven his might on the trail, particularly in the transfer portal. He’s credited for helping lure in former five-star linebacker Justin Flowe via Oregon.
But it’s not just defensive coaches who have provided the recruiting trail muscle. Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Jordan Paopao developed bonds that led to huge recruiting wins at the University of Washington, including future NFL players Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Will Sessly. “Pao” was also instrumental in the ’22 cycle for AZ.
Now, things are “Rushing” in a different direction for ‘Zona. Prior to Rushing, Arizona got five Grand Canyon State talents to verbally choose the ‘Cats for ’24, including Rushing’s edge rush teammate Keona Wilhite and Apollo High of Glendale lineman teammates Michael Watkins and Matthew Lado. But Rushing’s verbal commitment signifies the paradigm shift needed to ensure Fisch and company are changing the way they approach local talent.