It is the job of Arizona Wildcats defensive coordinator Marcel Yates to recruit Orange County and other pockets of Southern California. As he made the rounds last year, a common theme emerged.
“I was going to all the top schools and everywhere I went, they all kept telling me that the best player they played against — if they played against him — was Colin Schooler,” Yates said. “And they couldn’t understand why he didn’t have offers.”
It didn’t make much sense to high school coaches in the area that no Pac-12 team was offering a scholarship. It didn’t make sense to Yates. It didn’t make sense to Schooler.
He was a two-way standout at Mission Viejo High, making 77 tackles as a senior and gaining 1,161 yards as a running back for a powerhouse 11-1 team. He made long touchdown runs. He returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown against Long Beach Poly.
He won the linebacker MVP award at a Rivals camp in California before his senior season. He was chosen the Defensive Player of the Year by the Orange County Register after his senior season.
Schooler is big enough, listed at 6-foot, 226 pounds by Arizona. He’s smart, described as having great instincts and a high football IQ. He’s the son of a high school coach.
His brother Brenden, a year ahead of him in school, already had proven that an underrated Schooler could have Pac-12 talent. Brenden had 74 tackles and four interceptions at Oregon last season, despite being ranked as only the 1,861st-best recruit in the nation in the 247Sports composite.
So, let’s ask again: What wasn’t to like about Colin Schooler?
Yates wasn’t going to ponder that question too long last year.
“So, I went and I met the kid, I met his dad, I met his mom and I already knew his brother because I had wanted his brother here with us,” Yates said.
“I came back and said, ‘Coach, this is our guy. He loves football. He fits what you want. He fits what I want.'”
Head coach Rich Rodriguez told Yates to get it done.
Arizona offered; Schooler said yes; he signed in February; he arrived in Tucson over the summer and impressed during the “camp” portion of fall practice, which ended Saturday. Arizona now moves on to preparing for the season, which begins Sept. 2 at home against NAU.
On that night at Arizona Stadium, Schooler figures to see time at middle linebacker, even if junior Brandon Rutt starts ahead of him. Earlier this month, linebackers coach Scott Boone said Schooler physically “looks like a linebacker that can play in the Pac-12.”
Here’s Arizona LBs coach Scott Boone on freshman Colin Schooler who he has playing the middle linebacker spot right now pic.twitter.com/qpWNxArXUA
“I’m just glad Arizona took a chance on me,” said Schooler, who ended up being a three-star recruit.
“I can’t really control what the other schools are doing and, at this point, I really don’t care. I’m happy at Arizona and couldn’t imagine playing for any other team.”
But Schooler could always imagine doing exactly what he is doing right now — playing college football.
His father, Tom, was a second-team All-MAC linebacker at Eastern Michigan in the late 1980s and is an assistant coach at Mission Viejo High.
“Ever since I have been alive my dad has been a football coach at the high school level,” Colin said.
“We have always been around the game, whether we were kids running around on the sideline or just being in the garage talking football on a white board. I would be just sitting there nodding my head like, ‘When can I go play?’
“But it definitely helped me be where I am today. I fell in love with it at a very young age.”
Schooler committed to Arizona soon after Christmas, and certain comparisons started right after that. Schooler was actually had a much higher recruiting ranking than two-star Scooby Wright, but they do share the chip on their shoulder because of the “overlooked by the rest of the Pac-12” storyline.
“When I came here and talked to the strength and conditioning coaches, they told me how hard he worked in the weight room and how much time he put in,” Schooler said.
“I’m not surprised he was as successful as he was. As long as I work hard and put in a full 100 percent every single day, hopefully I will be as great as he is.”
Schooler is part of an intriguing group of young Arizona linebackers that includes true freshman Tony Fields, a likely starter at weak-side linebacker. JB Brown and Anthony Pandy are other true freshman building blocks, as are redshirt freshmen Jacob Colacion and Gavin Robertson Jr.
“We have some very talented kids right now, especially freshmen,” Schooler said.
“We’re a pretty tight group and we’re pretty competitive, too, whether it be in the weight room or talking trash to each other when we’re watching film. It’s all for the greater good. We definitely make each other better; that’s what I like about this group.”