College football recruiters will have no choice. They will feel compelled this season to make the journey south around Tucson from observing the large talent pool in the Phoenix area.
Tucson will be worth their while thanks to standouts such as Salpointe Catholic running backs Bijan Robinson and Mario Padilla and safety Lathan Ransom, Marana quarterback Trenton Bourguet and Cienega athlete Terrell Hayward.
“Let me tell you, here’s the benefit — when you have elite kids down here in Tucson, it attracts the recruiters,” Salpointe coach Dennis Bene said. “So while they are down in Tucson, to come see Bijan or Mario or Lathan, they can say, ‘Hey, I’m down in Tucson already, so let me hit the area schools. It benefits everybody.
“The volume of kids they can see in an afternoon in Chandler or in Mesa or in Phoenix or in the West Valley, it just doesn’t compare (to coming to Tucson). There definitely is a benefit to all the schools here when you have elite players down south.”
What makes players such as Robinson, Padilla, Ransom, Hayward and Bourquet even more special is they grew up on the football fields of Tucson, maturing while playing youth football. They share a background together, symbolic of a small community unlike the sprawling metropolis of Phoenix.
Robinson is the main draw of them all after rushing for more than 2,000 yards last season as a sophomore. He has scholarship offers from heavyweights Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, Nebraska and USC.
“I just try to be that figure to all the young kids to know you can get recruited in Tucson,” Robinson said. “Tucson is a small city that colleges don’t look at all the time. That’s what I try to give to the city.”
Ransom, also a junior, has offers from Georgia, Stanford, Washington and Nebraska.
Padilla, an all-purpose back who is 5-9 and 175 pounds, is just as valuable to the Lancers’ success given his experience. A senior, he has 2,292 yards rushing with 31 touchdowns in his career.
Padilla and Bourquet, who passed for 2,984 yards last year at Marana, are not on a Power 5 recruiting list, but they certainly will play at the next level somewhere given their toughness and athleticism.
Bourquet (6-0, 165) has also shown a distinct winning ability at quarterback at the high school level and in 7-on-7 competition, leading the Tucson Turf to numerous titles. With Marana, he will be positioned behind Arizona commit Jordan Morgan, a 6-5, 270-pound right tackle.
Hayward, 5-10 and 165 pounds, has received offers from Mountain West programs New Mexico and Wyoming and he is also interested in South Dakota State.
Arizona has not offered Bourquet, Padilla and Hayward a scholarship as of yet. The Wildcats are in tough competition for Robinson and Ransom, both of whom show a high maturity level in which they will not let the attention of college recruiters affect them.
Ransom’s father Nathan is the captain and lead firefighter at the Davis-Monthan Fire Department and his mother, the former Linda Blanco, was a legendary basketball player at Sahuarita High School whose number is retired there. She also played at Pima Community College.
With that parental background and support, it’s no wonder Ransom is level-headed and one of the most athletic football players in Tucson.
“My family keeps me grounded. They don’t let me get too big-headed,” Ransom said. “They always keep me focused. I just take it all in. I will stay focused on the season now. I will focus on winning state this year. After this season, I can think about recruiting. But right now, it’s all about winning state.”
Bene said as Ransom’s coach he is an extension of his family because he tries to instill the “same values, work ethic, responsibility and work ethic” as Ransom’s parents.
“When you get kids who have those qualities already taught to them very, very strongly from their parents, well those kids are typically the ones who are successful,” Bene added. “They typically become team leaders and they typically perform at a high level.
“That’s Lathan Ransom. He came to us with great values instilled in him by his parents. If you just watch him, he practices really hard with a lot of energy. He’s very focused. He brings everybody along with him.”
In the next two years, the high visibility of Ransom and Robinson at Salpointe will bring Tucson plenty of exposure. Imagine the possibility of Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh, among others, coming to Tucson to watch the Lancers.
Rarely has this city experienced such a phenomenon, and it all comes down to players who were raised on Tucson Youth Football and call Tucson home.
“I think it’s great … great for the community, great for football down south,” Bene said. “The reality is you’re always comparing yourself to the schools up north (in the Phoenix area). There’s just so much talent up there, and so many fantastic athletes. The coaching is tremendous.
“When you have kids in Tucson who can play for anybody in the state, it brings some credibility to all the programs down here that are working really, really hard to put a good product out there.”
Some of the other Tucson-area players college recruiters will be watching this season (we will be tracking more as the season progresses):
— Empire senior offensive guard Kody McPherson
— Mountain View senior linebacker Calib McRae
— Cienega senior strong safety Thomas Webb Jr.
— Catalina Foothills senior offensive guard Kyon Smith
— Marana senior receiver Tariq Jordan
— Marana senior linebacker T.J. Cephers
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.