Some of Tucson’s top football talent have opted to go to a major-college program other than hometown Arizona in recent years.
Former Salpointe running Bijan Robinson (Texas), safety Lathan Ransom (Ohio State) and offensive lineman Bruno Fina (UCLA) will continue their football careers elsewhere.
Offensive lineman Jonah Miller, who transferred from Salpointe to Sahuaro this school year, is a Class of 2021 recruit who has committed to Oregon.
Cholla graduate Daniel Robledo, a defensive end, made headlines recently for committing to Missouri despite Arizona offering a scholarship late in the process.
The commitment today of running back Stevie Rocker Jr. to Arizona bucks the recent trend of young stars bolting the city, a bad look for Arizona. He will join the likes of former Marana offensive lineman Jordan Morgan, Cienega quarterback (now receiver) Jamarye Joiner and Sabino receiver Drew Dixon playing for the Wildcats out of high school instead of leaving for another Division I program.
Rocker, a Class of 2021 prospect rated a 3-star talent by 247Sports, remained high on coach Kevin Sumlin’s list despite an ankle injury last season that limited him to six games with 371 yards on 83 carries and only one touchdown.
Rocker had scholarship offers from Cal, Nevada and BYU among others.
“Stevie going to the U of A is exciting on a lot of fronts,” CDO coach Dustin Peace said. “It’s exciting for our city. U of A has dealt with his injury. His junior year wasn’t special. For them to have his back and continue to show support, I think that is really helping Stevie understand that this is the right place for him.
“I also think it’s a huge step for the U of A because everybody has written and talked about them not getting our local guys. Some times those local guys have paid off quite a bit for Arizona.”
Peace brought up the example of linebacker Jake Fischer from Ironwood Ridge being a standout at the beginning of the Rich Rodriguez era along with his stars at CDO — running back Ka’Deem Carey and safety Jared Tevis.
Southern Arizona Talent on Arizona's 2020 RosterA list of Southern Arizona high school players who are slated to be on Arizona's 2020 football roster:
Along with Morgan, Dixon, Joyner and four other Tucsonans on Arizona’s 2020 roster, Rocker’s commitment to Sumlin’s program is indicative of what high schools in this area have to offer, Peace said.
“Tucson can compete and can help the U of A compete at the highest level,” Peace said.
Rocker’s commitment also means two CDO running backs who played under Peace over the last decade will advance to the Wildcat program. Carey broke school rushing records at Arizona in career yards (4,239) and touchdowns (48) from 2011-13.
A rock at 5-10 and 215 pounds, Carey had muscular physical attributes that Rocker has tried to emulate with his frame in the weight room since January.
“His goal to become stronger and more confident by being in the weight room will help him become a more physical back,” Peace said. “He definitely has the capability. You have to get to a point you not only have to run around people, you have to run through them, and he’s getting there.
“He has shown glimpses of that and it will only get better.”
Peace is entering his 12th year as CDO’s coach with a state title and 14-0 record in his first season (2009) with the likes of Carey, Tevis, David Catalano (another former Arizona player) and Blake Martinez (who went to Stanford and is now with the New York Giants). Rocker will add to the Division I talent Peace and his staff have produced.
“We’re happy that we had the opportunity coach those kinds of kids,” Peace said. “You get to still hang on to the relationship because they need that guidance and support as they move on. It’s more of a friendship as they move forward.
“For me, it’s cool with Stevie because I know him going to the U of A will help foster a deeper relationship just because the connection is there and he will be close.”
Peace added that two other Class of 2021 Division I talents at CDO may emerge if the high school football season is played either in the fall or spring depending on the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are defensive lineman Chase Randall and safety/receiver Jack Greenfield, who each transferred from Ironwood Ridge last season.
Randall is a dominating physical presence at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds.
“Chase is one of the best defensive linemen I’ve ever coached as far as his motor and his physicality,” Peace said. “This year, he was just going to surprise people. It’s kind of funny when we had Blake, I always called him my ‘Go-Get-‘Em Guy.’ If we needed to be physical on a player — not targeting or anything illegal — I would say, ‘Hey Blake, run that dude over.’
“It was a matter of this is what’s going to happen and Blake had to get it done. That’s exactly what Chase is — he’s a ‘Go-Get-‘Em Guy.’ He’s just a physical, physical kid.”
Peace believes Greenfield, 6-3 and 195 pounds, is one of the strongest and fastest players in Southern Arizona.
“In football terms, he cleans 300 pounds, which is the most on our team, and he ran 11 (seconds) flat (in the 100 meters) before track season ended (because of COVID-19),” Peace said. “To run a 10 eventually and clean 300 pounds, that’s freakish in football terms for us coaches.
“I think he will be the fastest player in the city, running a 10 in the 100.”
If a season is played, either in the fall or spring, Peace is confident Randall and Greenfield can attract recruiters from Division I programs.
Peace added that with all the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season — kickoff of the season has already tentatively been pushed back to Sept. 10 and 11 because of COVID-19 — he will feel at ease tonight knowing Rocker is bound for Arizona.
“It’ll be nice to know I can get back to Arizona Stadium and cheer on Stevie Rocker as the next hometown guy,” Peace said.
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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.