Arizona’s sluggish start to the 2021 season hasn’t deterred a pair of the Wildcats’ top incoming recruits.
Tight end Keyan Burnett and quarterback Noah Fifita, teammates at Anaheim, California’s Servite High School, say they’re both all-in on Jedd Fisch’s vision for the future despite an ugly first month on the field. The Wildcats fell to Oregon 41-19 on Saturday night, falling to 0-4 this season and 0-1 in Pac-12 play.
“With the new coaching staff, it always takes time to get things rolling. I do like the coaches and how the plays are called,” said Burnett, a four-star recruit who is Arizona’s highest-rated tight end commit since Rob Gronkowski in 2007. “So I’m just excited to be a part of the first recruiting class to come in. It’ll come in time. … Everything they’re doing with the program, it’s really promising.”
Fifita told Rivals.com’s Matt Moreno on Friday night that he’s “not going anywhere.”
“I’m still locked in and I believe in Coach Fisch, Coach (Jimmie) Dougherty and what everybody is doing over there. … But when it’s time to come down to Tucson, we’re going to turn it around,” Fifita said.
Through five games this season, Fifita has passed for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions. He also has four rushing scores this year. Friday night, Servite routed San Diego Helix 42-7. The Friars’ average margin of victory this season is 37 points.
Burnett, Fifita and other members of Arizona’s ’22 recruiting class participate in Zoom calls to keep tabs on each other.
“The best teams have the best brotherhood, so that’s what we’re trying to build before we even get there,” said Burnett.
Burnett, the son of former UA linebacker Chester Burnett, is one of two four-star prospects committed to the UA’s 2022 recruiting class, joining Los Angeles-area outside linebacker Sterling Lane. Arizona’s ’22 class is rated by 247Sports.com as the fourth-best in the Pac-12.
Burnett, who said Fisch compared his skillset to New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry, is eager to join the Wildcats.
And he’s excited to start winning.
“I come from a winning background and won championships growing up, so I hope to bring that to Arizona,” he said. “We’re putting together something really special, and the guys have a chance to do something great.”
Tucson’s Miller has unique view of UA-Oregon game
Oregon offensive lineman Jonah Miller dressed for Saturday night’s game against his hometown Wildcats, but did not play. He’s still recovering from a meniscus injury he suffered in the spring.
The 6-foot-7-inch, 260-pound freshman had the best seat in the house for a Pac-12 matchup between his hometown team and his current one. Miller’s parents were season ticket holders at Arizona Stadium for eight years, so he’s seen the Ducks at their best.
“I’ve been to almost every Arizona home game my whole life,” Miller said Saturday afternoon. “And then once I started going to high school, the games were free because they were recruiting me. My whole life, we always waited for the Oregon game, because I felt like we always had a chance for some reason. It’s funny, now I go (to Oregon), and I always had a liking for the Ducks.”
Miller grew up bearing down, but ultimately landed at the current flagship program of the Pac-12.
“It’s been amazing,” said Miller, who played at Salpointe Catholic and briefly attended Sahuaro. “It’s been a ‘Yeah, you definitely chose the right place’ type of year.”
While Miller stood on the sidelines Saturday night and absorbed his first conference game, a handful of his childhood buddies were playing for the visiting team. Miller noted connections with Arizona wide receiver Stanley Berryhill, offensive tackle Jordan Morgan and running back Stevie Rocker.
Miller also reconnected with fellow Tucsonan Jamarye Joiner, who was a helping hand for the former four-star prospect in high school.
“He’s been a mentor in a way while I was going through the recruiting process, and he gave me pointers and told me how coaches would talk to me and what they were going to say,” Miller said of Joiner.
Now at Oregon, Miller is one of many Tucson products playing at FBS schools, including Texas star running back Bijan Robinson. Robinson had 18 carries for a season-high 137 yards along with 54 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Longhorns’ 70-35 win over Texas Tech Saturday afternoon in Austin.
Robinson’s performance on Saturday was the most rushing yards he’s recorded since his 183-yard game in Texas’ win over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
“It’s exciting to see all of us around the country playing football,” Miller said.
Golden opens school, reflects on games against Oregon
There was a point in time when there wasn’t so much disparity in personnel between Arizona and Oregon.
Just ask former UA defensive back Robert Golden, who played for the Wildcats from 2008-11. In ’08, Arizona nearly came back to beat the Ducks in Eugene after trailing 45-17 at halftime. Oregon held on to win, 55-45.
“Rob Gronkowski went crazy in the second half and almost won the game by himself,” Golden said on ESPN Tucson earlier this week. “That was just a great game to be a part of and experience.”
Gronkowski finished with 12 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in the comeback attempt. The following season, Nick Foles took over the starting quarterback reins and had the Wildcats in position to control their destiny to what would’ve been the program’s first Rose Bowl, but the Chip Kelly-led Ducks outlasted Arizona in double-overtime.
“We had them, but then the fans started to rush the field and next thing you know we’re in overtime,” Golden said
Golden played seven seasons in the NFL, then returned to his hometown of Fresno, California. He recently opened Golden Charter Academy, the first K-8 “zoo school” of its kind in the United States.
The school opened its doors for the first time on Aug. 9, and classes began on Sept. 13. The curriculum is centered around Fresno’s zoo. While school colors are black and gold in honor of Golden’s time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and his high school, Edison, Golden Charter Academy doesn’t field sports teams.
Students learn using reptiles, primates, big cats and other animals.
“We have a grade level that goes to the zoo on a Monday-Friday basis, and we utilize the zoo as an extended laboratory. When I said I wanted to create a school, I wanted to create the Disneyland of schools, a school where everyone wants to be and succeed,” Golden said. “The partnership with the Fresno Chaffee Zoo creates excitement on a daily basis, because the classes know they’re going to the zoo. They’re going to have fun, but at the end of the day, they’re learning from really cool things. I truly believe we’re raising the next scientists, engineers, architects, and veterinarians right here at the Golden Charter Academy.
“It makes me happy to bring such a prestigious institution to my hometown, and be able to educate the children of our future.”
The downside to having such a unique school?
“They get mad whenever we tell them, ‘We’ll see you on Monday,’ because they want to be back here tomorrow,” Golden said.