The state of Texas, ignored for too long by former head coach Rich Rodriguez -- he didn’t have close ties to the region -- is a perfect fit for new head coach Kevin Sumlin, who was the head coach at Houston and Texas A&M before joining the Wildcats in the offseason.
Eight of Sumlin’s committed/signed players in the 2019 class — including four-star quarterback Grant Gunnell (Houston), his four-star receiver teammate Jalen Curry and four-star cornerback Bobby Wolfe (Houston) — are from Texas. More are on the way.
“I’ve recruited there for 20 years, so I know a bunch of people,” Sumlin said of Texas. “Relationships are important.”
Texas is important.
Former UA coaches Dick Tomey and Mike Stoops judiciously recruited the state of Texas while at Arizona, avoiding going to head-to-head with schools like Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma for the elite prospects but often feasting on the ample remaining three-star talent.
It worked pretty well.
I put together an “All-Texas” team for the Arizona Wildcats, spanning the Pac-10/12 years. Not all these players came directly from Texas — such as Michigan State transfer Nick Foles — but all played high school ball there and help deepen the connections.
With apologies to those who just missed the cut — including receivers David Douglas (McKinney) and Dan Buckner (Allen), offensive linemen Mani Ott (Houston), Jose Portilla (Houston) and Blake Kerley (Houston), defensive linemen Donald Horton (DeSoto) and Justin Washington (Cypress), linebacker Sterling Lewis (Copperas Cove) and cornerback Jey Phillips (El Paso) — here is the All-Texas team:
QB — Nick Foles, Austin (2009-11)
This one is easy, folks. The reigning Super Bowl MVP is the only Arizona quarterback of the Pac-10/12 era to even attempt a pass in the NFL.
RB — Kelvin Eafon, Seagoville (1996-98)
The offensive captain of UA’s great 1998 team rushed for 16 touchdowns that season while sharing the backfield with eventual first-round pick Trung Canidate. Dick Tomey, to this day, calls Eafon — who spent his first two seasons at Arizona on Lute Olson’s basketball team — one of the greatest leaders he ever coached.
RB — Clarence Farmer, Houston (2000-2003)
Brimming with talent, he led the Pac-10 with 1,229 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2001 in the midst of the unhappy John Mackovic era. Farmer’s potential, though, went unfulfilled, limited by a knee injury in 2002 before he was booted from the team in October 2003 by interim head coach Mike Hankwitz.
WR — Mike Thomas, Desoto (2005-08)
“Money Mike” ended his career with 259 receptions, which was a Pac-10 record at the time. He’s now third on the list, behind Washington State’s Gabe Marks (316) and Colorado’s Nelson Spruce (294). He twice earned first-team all-conference awards.
WR — Cayleb Jones, Austin (2014-15)
The transfer from Texas was a big target for Anu Solomon and others, as Jones led the Cats in receptions in 2014 and 2015. He finished his two-year tenure at UA with 129 catches for 1,926 yards and 14 TDs.
WR — Troy Dickey, Houston (1992-93)
The passing numbers were way different back in Arizona’s play-defense/run-the-ball Desert Swarm days, but Dickey and WR Terry Vaughn were a formidable duo when the Cats went to the air. The numbers — 55 receptions for 776 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons — don’t do justice to the career of Dickey, who looked the part at 6-3, 215 pounds. He died in January at the age of 46 after suffering a stroke.
TE — Rod Lewis, Dallas (1989-93)
He converted from outside linebacker late in the 1991 season and was a full-time starter — often as a valuable in-line blocker — for the 1993 team that walloped Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
C — Bruce Wiggins, Houston (1997-2000)
Started 31 career games, including every one in 1998 and 1999, as Arizona led the Pac-10 in rushing each season. Was second-team all-conference in 1999.
OL — Yusuf Scott, LaPorte (1996-98)
Scott, nicknamed “The Big Stack” for his mammoth size and the way he collected pancake blocks, was brilliant at right guard in 1998, earning third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. He and Joe Tofflemire are the only Arizona offensive linemen to win the Pac-12’s Morris Trophy as the league’s best at the position, as voted on by the conference’s opposing defensive linemen. Scott left school early after the 1998 season and was a fifth-round pick of the Cardinals.
OL — Frank Middleton, Beaumont (1995-96)
The transfer from Fort Scott (Kansas) Junior College was the team’s main starter at left guard in 1995 and at left tackle in 1996, when he earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors. He went on to an eight-year NFL career (four each with the Buccaneers and Raiders), starting 92 games.
OL — Peter Graniello, El Paso (2004-07)
A three-year starter at left tackle, recruited by John Mackovic’s staff, he helped coach Mike Stoops’ offense grow, earning honorable mention all-conference honors in 2005 and 2007.
OL — Joe Longacre, Katy (2005-08)
He redshirted in 2004 as part of Mike Stoops’ first recruiting class and then was nearly impossible to get out of the lineup. He started 40 times at guard for Arizona, including the final 36 games of his career.
DL — Earl Mitchell, Houston (2006-09)
Mitchell, after playing fullback for two years, bulked up after the 2007 season to become “Big Earl,” a rock in the middle of Arizona’s defensive line. He made a team-high 12.5 sacks as a senior before embarking on a still-current NFL career in which he has started 54 games.
DL — Lionel Dotson, Houston (2004-07)
The defensive tackle was honorable-mention all-conference as a junior and was second-team as a senior, when he had nine tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. Finished his UA career with 14.5 tackles for loss before going on to play parts of four seasons in the NFL.
DE — Idris Haroon, Houston (1997-2000)
One of his “highlights” was somersaulting into the end zone at the end of a fumble return against Stanford in 2000 (his emulation of Ortege Jenkins’ flip at Washington from two years earlier drew a 15-yard penalty). He also had a key sack and forced fumble of Carson Palmer in a win at No. 18 USC that season, when he was honorable-mention All-Pac-10.
LB — Ronnie Palmer, Spring (2005-08)
The three-year starter ranks 23rd in Arizona history with 275 career tackles, including 21 for loss. He led Arizona with 85 stops as a senior.
LB — Xavier Kelley, Denton (2006-09)
Undersized but athletic, he was a starter at outside linebacker for most of his final two seasons, finishing with 150 tackles, including 13.5 for loss and six sacks, as a Wildcat. Was second-team All-Pac-10 as a senior.
LB — Zeno Alexander, Houston (1987-90)
It took him a while to get adjusted after moving from tight end — and offenses tried to pick on him as they wanted no part of Chris Singleton on the other side. But Alexander grew into a team leader by his senior season, with 44 tackles and honorable mention all-conference honors. (His linebacker teammate, Arnuf Mobley from Dallas, had loads of talent, but his UA tenure was short and marked by academic issues.)
CB — Trevin Wade, Round Rock (2008-11)
Two-star Wade wildly out-performed his recruiting ranking, becoming a three-year starter, picking off 12 passes and twice being selected second-team All-Pac-10.
CB — Michael Jolivette, Houston (2000-03)
He is Arizona’s career leader in passes broken up with 44 (in 36 games played), and he intercepted 12 passes. Was second-team all-conference as a redshirt freshman and honorable mention as a sophomore before a knee injury limited him to two games in 2002.
CB — Wilrey Fontenot, Humble (2004-07)
He started every game at Arizona — 46 in all — teaming with Antoine Cason on the other side, as Mike Stoops never changed his starting cornerbacks for four seasons. While Cason was the star, Fontenot was steady, making 174 tackles with seven interceptions and 25 pass breakups.
S — Cam Nelson, Dallas (2006-09)
Three-year starter was a team co-captain as a senior, finishing with 208 tackles, including 13 for loss from his strong safety position.
S — Michael Johnson, Pflugerville (2005-06)
Johnson was a key early transfer from Tyler (Texas) Junior College for Mike Stoops, with 107 tackles and five interceptions in two seasons. Johnson, a seventh-round pick, went on to be a key rookie contributor for the New York Giants in their Super Bowl-winning 2007 season. He started 35 NFL games.
P — Keenyn Crier, Spring (2007-10)
His Twitter bio, in part, reads “Mr83yds,” a reference to his 83-yard effort against USC — about 60 which traveled in the air before being downed at the 1. Crier, a four-year starter, averaged 42.4 yards on 212 punts.
K — Jason Bondzio, Humble (2007-08)
He holds the school record for career field goal percentage (83.3, 35 of 42) and for accuracy in a single season (87.5, 14 of 16, 2008).Three of his makes were from 49 yards.
AP — Syndric Steptoe, Bryan (2003-06)
Steptoe, who caught 19 passes in the NFL and works in the Arizona Alumni Association, was a versatile performer who had 1,584 receiving yards, 590 punt return yards (including two touchdowns) and 1,757 kick return yards.