If you’re wondering why Kevin Sumlin still doesn’t have a head-coaching gig, well, first of all, go get some sun, bud. There’s bigger things to wonder about.

But let’s just say you are. Well then look no further than April’s NFL Draft.

If you were anywhere near Union Station in Kansas City that night, you can be forgiven for temporary blindness from the wattage beaming off Bijan Robinson’s teeth.

Forget some random late-1st cornerback: Robinson’s smile was the steal of the night. He bandied about pre-draft media opportunities like the soon-to-be brightest star in the league. He boasted about his hometown, Tucson, and his high school, Salpointe Catholic, and about his Texas Longhorns offensive linemen, who opened so many holes for him in a brilliant 3-year career, and about Steve Sarkisian, the coach who inherited him and under whose tutelage he bloomed.

Absent, of course, was any talk about Sumlin and his former team, the Arizona Wildcats. Which, if you’re an Arizona fan, must be quite infuriating.

Robinson will forever be the one that got away — one of many who got away. The Salpointe Catholic running back was one of the nation’s top targets, a throwback to the days of power backs, the top player in the country at his position, 2nd-rated player in the state and 21st-ranked prospect in the nation.

And on Signing Day, much like Draft Day, the Wildcats weren’t even in the conversation.

Which is why Tuesday’s news about Elijah Rushing is so promising.

Rushing, the consensus top high school prospect regardless of position in Arizona and the among the best edge rushers in the country, has the Wildcats in his top 4, along with Oregon, Tennessee and Notre Dame, and he’ll announce his decision a week from today on 247Sports’ YouTube channel.

Will the Salpointe Catholic star choose Arizona? Only he knows at this point, and maybe even he doesn’t know. But that is besides the point. Just being in the conversation is a massive step for Jedd Fisch and the Wildcats.

If he seals the deal, it’s a brand new day for the Wildcats.


In April, I had a nice conversation with Robinson’s former coach at Salpointe, Dennis Bene.

It’s hard to really express the kind of talent Robinson was as a Lancer. He broke the state rushing record despite barely playing in most second halves. He was coveted by the top programs in the country from his freshman season. Name a prominent high school recruiter, and he was on the Salpointe sidelines over the summer.

Except, curiously, Arizona.

Maybe the Cats figured they couldn’t fight with the big boys. Maybe they figured it was a lost cause. Maybe Robinson made it clear early that he wanted to spread his wings. But, ultimately, Robinson left Tucson and never looked back.

“It’s a touchy subject, but I’ve talked to Coach (Jedd) Fisch about it,” Bene said. “There could’ve been a chance for him to go to Arizona. UA had a chance, but just didn’t close it.”

Bene has since left Salpointe, but the school is still Southern Arizona’s preeminent football factory.

It’s no surprise that Rushing has thrived there.

What is a surprise is that he’s considering staying home.

But maybe it shouldn’t be. Because Fisch did not throw in the towel early. He maintained soon after his hire that he wanted to put up a wall around Tucson, that getting the area’s best players, along with some talented players from up the road in Phoenix, along with many, many players from talent-rich Southern California, was going to be the key to Arizona’s fortunes.

Lo and behold, he’s kept up his promise.

“It’s what I talk about with Coach Fisch — you have to swing for the fences,” Bene said. “There are some really talented players in Arizona. You won’t compete unless you have that talent.”


Two things of significance:

  1. Official visits are among the most special weekends in a young recruit’s life. Wined. Dined. Sometimes more. Sometimes a lot more. The fact that Rushing used one of his — and the first of his, at that — on Arizona says a lot. Kid could have gone anywhere in the country, and chose to learn more about the most familiar place in his life.
  2. Rushing’s older brother, formerly a preferred walk-on at Florida, transferred back home to Arizona in the offseason.

Either one of those alone, and it’s promising. Together, and something feels like its brewing.

What a commitment that would be for Fisch and the Wildcats, whose 4-win improvement last season was overshadowed by major bounce-back seasons by USC and Washington. In some ways, though, improving from 1 win to 5 is more impressive than going from 4-8 to 11-3 or 11-2. The Trojans and Huskies did not have completely bare cupboards when Lincoln Riley and Kalen DeBoer were hired. Did both have significant infusions of talent that helped them turn the tide quicker than most would have thought? Yes.

But Arizona was almost completely bereft of talent when Fisch arrived, and he’s made them respectable in short order. If the Cats can pull off an upset or two and become bowl-eligible this year, Tucson would be rocking.

If that happens, Fisch has a mighty potent pitch to sell. Especially to Tucson’s scarce Pac-12-level talent.

In 2021, the city had just two of the state’s top 20 players — Oregon-bound offensive lineman Jonah Miller and Canyon Del Oro running back Stevie Rocker, who was the first commitment of Fisch’s first class — and Arizona signed just 2 of the state’s top 30 players overall, including the Pac-12’s leading receiver last year, Dorian Singer. In 2022, Tucson had just 2 of the state’s top 50 prospects — Rushing and Salpointe quarterback Treyson Bourguet, who signed with Western Michigan — but Fisch and the Wildcats signed the state’s 17th, 19th and 20th prospects in tight end Tyler Powell (Brophy in Phoenix) and Chandler Hamilton teammates EDGE Russell Davis II and offensive lineman Grayson Stovall. This year, Fisch dipped into the Hamilton well once more, signing safety Genesis Smith, ranked 11th in the state, and teammate Taye Brown, a talented linebacker.

But the 2024 class is shaping up pretty special for the Cats. Arizona already has a commitment from Rushing’ defensive-line mate Keona Wilhite, a 3-star end ranked 10th overall in the state, along with commitments from American Leadership Academy (Gilbert) wide receiver Brandon Phelps along with Apollo (Glendale) running back Adam Mohammed and offensive linemen Matthew Lado and Michael Watkins.

If Arizona adds Rushing to that group — and maybe even picks up another Salpointe commitment in 3-star tackle Luis Cordova — then something is really going.

If that’s the case, the Wildcats won’t just be in the conversation anymore. They’ll be leading the conversation.

On Signing Day, and on Draft Day.