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January 28, 2012
Quarterback will be key for RichRod at Arizona
Rodriguez built West Virginia into a national title contender only after persuading Mobile (Ala.) Daphne's Pat White to leave SEC country. He got Denard Robinson to move from Deerfield Beach (Fla.) to Michigan.
So it should come as no surprise that the new Arizona coach's latest appeal involves bringing an East Coast recruit all the way across the country.
Old Tappan (N.J.) quarterback Devin Fuller has much in common with White and Robinson. He has the same awesome speed and the same raw passing skills. But does he have that same willingness to play college football hundreds - or in this case, thousands - of miles from his hometown?
"He's a perfect fit for what RichRod wants," said Mike Farrell, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
Fuller, the No. 37 overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class, visited Arizona this week and has indicated he will make his college choice Sunday. He also has visited Nebraska, Rutgers, TCU and UCLA.
Rutgers was considered the favorite up until news broke Thursday that Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano was leaving for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fuller must decide whether the possibility of developing into the next Pat White or Denard Robinson is worth attending college 2,500 miles from home.
"[The distance] is the only drawback," Farrell said. "If Rich Rodriguez had taken over Rutgers, we wouldn't even be having this discussion right now. He's absolutely a perfect fit.''
Arizona already has verbal commitments from a pair of three-star quarterback prospects in Texas: Javelle Allen of Prosper and Josh Kern of San Antonio Tom C. Clark. The addition of Fuller would allow Rodriguez to hit the jackpot in his quarterback search.
A look at the head coaching track record of Rodriguez shows just how much Fuller's decision could matter. There frankly might not be a more intriguing search in this particular recruiting season than Arizona's quest to find a quarterback who can operate the spread-option offense favored by its new coach.
Rodriguez needs a mobile quarterback who can wreak havoc with his speed while also providing a passing threat. Not every quarterback fits that profile. Just ask Ryan Mallett, the former Arkansas star who began his college career at Michigan.
Mallett was a five-star prospect who would go on to become the third quarterback in SEC history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. But he also was a classic drop-back quarterback who lacked mobility. Less than a month after Rodriguez arrived at Michigan, Mallett announced he was transferring.
Rodriguez runs the type of offense that demands the proper fit at quarterback.
When Rodriguez has the right quarterback in his system, the results are special. White led West Virginia to victories in two BCS games and ended his career with 4,480 rushing yards, the most ever by an FBS quarterback. Robinson ranked sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2010, his lone year as a starting quarterback for a Rodriguez-coached team.
When Rodriguez doesn't have an ideal quarterback for his scheme, things can get ugly. West Virginia went 3-8 in its first year under Rodriguez. Michigan posted a combined 8-16 record in two years under Rodriguez before Robinson's emergence in 2010.
Rodriguez should have a smoother transition in Arizona because Matt Scott gives the Wildcats a returning quarterback capable of running a spread offense. Scott, a fifth-year senior this fall, owns a 4-1 record as a fill-in starter and has rushed for 650 career yards on only 99 carries.
Scott likely will emerge as Arizona's starting quarterback this year, but the job seems up for grabs once he departs. That makes it imperative for Rodriguez to find some candidates in his 2012 recruiting class.
On the surface, one contender seems an unlikely pick. Kern is a 6-foot-5 pro-style quarterback who selected Arizona before former coach Mike Stoops was fired. But he remains committed to Arizona and believes he has the proper skill set to run the spread. He rushed for 750 yards and 10 touchdowns while also throwing for 917 yards his senior year in high school.
"In high school, our offense was a run-first offense and I got to run the ball a ton this year," Kern told GoAZcats.com. "That was actually one of my worries going in with the old coaching staff. I didn't know if I was going to be able to run the ball anymore because that's not the normal offense for most colleges. But when I heard it was going to be Rich Rodriguez and the offense he brings, I was pretty excited about it.''
While Kern is more of a conventional quarterback, Fuller and Allen fit more into the White or Robinson profile.
Fuller has played running back, wide receiver, safety and cornerback as well as quarterback. Many colleges tried to recruit him at other positions, but Fuller has remained steadfast in his desire to play quarterback. Allen wasn't highly recruited in part because he didn't put up huge passing numbers at Prosper until his senior year.
That sounds familiar to the high school coaches of White and Robinson.
"A lot of coaches liked him at defensive back," recalled Art Taylor, who coached Robinson at Deerfield Beach. "There were only a few - the University of Florida, Michigan and UCF - that were really saying they wanted him as a quarterback. A lot of people were skeptical of Denard's throwing ability. I'd show them the stats. He almost threw for 2,000 yards in a season. He had to be able to throw the ball a little bit."
White faced a similar dilemma.
He played wide receiver until his junior season in high school. Many of the colleges recruiting White considered him primarily as a receiver or all-purpose athlete. White wanted to play quarterback, though, which helps explain why he switched his commitment from LSU to West Virginia in a Signing Day surprise.
"I kind of equate it with the relationship Tim Tebow has in the pros,'' said Steve Savarese, who coached White in high school. "Everybody tells him he can't. All Pat did was show them he could, just like Tim Tebow.''
Allen could turn into an equally improbable success story. The three-star prospect's offers had come from the likes of Florida Atlantic, New Mexico and other low-level FBS programs before Arizona called.
He may have been a victim of bad timing.
After running more of a flexbone and triple-option attack in Allen's junior year, Prosper switched to a spread this fall. Allen thrived in the new system by throwing for 2,347 yards and rushing for 1,539 yards. Allen threw 30 touchdown passes with only five interceptions, and he also rushed for 22 scores.
But by the time his senior year rolled around, many colleges already had focused on pursuing other 2012 quarterbacks. Perhaps their loss will turn into Arizona's gain.
"I think he's just what they're looking for," Prosper coach Kent Scott said. "His junior year, he rushed for more yards than he threw for. We've always known he's a great runner. I think the thing that kind of shocked some folks - and one of the reasons he didn't get as many looks - is that he didn't have great passing numbers as a junior. The thing I think that has surprised some people is that he's a very capable passer.''
What Allen lacks in big-time offers, he makes up for in confidence. Although he has watched Robinson and White many times and has marveled at their freakish speed and athleticism, Allen believes he might be a little more polished at this point than they were at similar stages of their careers.
"When I watch them, they were great athletes and [Rodriguez] trained them to be better quarterbacks," Allen said. "Not to be cocky, but I feel like I have a little more than what they had coming into West Virginia and Michigan. I feel like Coach Rodriguez will be able to develop me to be better than what they are.''
That's a pretty bold statement.
Then again, it wouldn't be the first time a Rodriguez-trained quarterback proved his doubters wrong.