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Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | Last updated: 7:24pm

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Thanks to Rich Rodriguez and Sean Miller, Arizona becoming recruiting powerhouse



Recruiting is like bathing:

“You’ve got to do it every day,” said Greg Byrne, Arizona’s athletic director, “or you’re gonna stink.”

Byrne has to be pretty happy right now. His two biggest programs — and only moneymakers — are on the rise.

Sean Miller and Rich Rodriguez are good, possibly great coaches. But they’re even better recruiters. That was the case even before the calendar turned to April, when Miller and Rodriguez made two of the bigger recruiting coups in Arizona history.

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You already know about basketball’s most recent commit, Aaron Gordon, ESPN’s No. 4 recruit and the McDonald’s All-American Game MVP.

“Coach Miller was a great fit for him,” said Tim Kennedy, Gordon’s high school coach. “Coach Miller and him really hit it off.”

Then late Tuesday night word surfaced that Notre Dame wide receiver Davonte’ Neal would be transferring to the UA. Rodriguez couldn’t comment on his decision Wednesday.

Neal was ranked the No. 8 recruit by ESPN coming out of high school. He didn’t do much for Notre Dame last year — he had one reception for minus-five yards, one carry for 7 yards and 21 punt returns for 46 yards. But he was a stud coming out of high school, and the Wildcats have the tools to utilize his multi-dimensional talents.

At Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., Neal saw time at receiver, running back and cornerback, tallying a combined 29 touchdowns.

The Wildcats’ return game was shoddy at best last year, so Neal will make an instant impact in that area, which is what makes this signing so commendable for Rodriguez and his staff.

Neal chose to transfer to be closer to his girlfriend and newborn baby. Because of that, he will try to get a waiver to play right away, and will likely succeed. It was widely assumed Neal would make the move to UCLA, but after Rodriguez reportedly spoke with him and his father, Neal never even made the trip to Westwood.

“The way coach Rodriguez throws the ball around is amazing,” Neal told 247Sports.com. “They do it the entire game. I’ll have an opportunity to play inside and outside receiver in the offense. He does know how to get the ball in his players’ hands, and from there they make plays.”

The quarterback position is still a question mark. But with Neal potentially in the slot, coupled with All-Pac-12 receiver Austin Hill and a Heisman candidate at running back in Ka’Deem Carey, Rodriguez has dangerous weapons at his disposal.

That’s not to mention that in his first year at Notre Dame, Neal played in the National Championship game, something his new school has never accomplished in its history. Sure, it had little to nothing to do with Neal, and the Fighting Irish were demolished by Alabama, but that experience should prove invaluable.

However, Neal didn’t exactly handle his recruitment well last year. First, he narrowed his list of potential schools down to Arizona, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Arkansas. More than 600 students at his old elementary school gathered for a planned announcement of his college choice, but after 30 minutes, Neal was a no-show. He announced he would go to Notre Dame the next day.

That debacle aside, Neal is a huge get for Rodriguez, and for Arizona.

Neal probably won’t make a Gordon-level impact for the Wildcats, but the combination of their commitments to the UA firmly establishes Arizona as a force to be reckoned with in the field of recruiting.

“Every day you’re allowed to recruit, you’ve got to continue to be engaging and involved, have relationships with high school coaches out there, and both of those guys do a great job at that,” Byrne said.

“They understand recruiting.”

— Zack Rosenblatt is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @ZackBlatt.


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