Sometimes a shift is so gradual, its effect isn’t realized until an event forces retrospection.
The Phoenix metropolitan area underwent unprecedented growth from 2000-09, as more than one million people made their way to the area, causing a 33 percent population increase.
The subsequent housing collapse helped curb the boom and took some focus off the changed landscape, but there is one place where the results are resoundingly evident: the Arizona high school football scene.
With a population increase so substantial, it seemed only a matter of time until the East Valley jumped up the list of destination spots for college football recruiters. A greater pool of players meant overall improvement and an increased ceiling for the cream of the crop.
For many coaches, it took time to buy in. Arizona had long been known as an area large on space but short on elite talent, and few wanted to waste their time unless it was a sure thing. So Nebraska dabbled and Southern California would swoop in and steal top-flight recruits when needed, but in the early 2000s, it wasn’t open season quite yet.
By 2008, the movement began. Michigan came down to recruit elite defensive lineman Craig Roh from Chaparral and quickly noticed the vast potential in his teammate, Taylor Lewan. Desert Vista’s Devon Kennard and Saguaro’s Corey Adams were also national recruits.
And now, five years later, the bandwagon is standing-room only.
Arizona — and the East Valley, in particular — has become a recruiting destination at a level never before seen, with this year’s senior class most responsible for the shift.
Desert Mountain’s Kyle Allen is rated as the No. 1 quarterback in the nation by Scout.com, while Hamilton offensive tackle Casey Tucker has also been given an illustrious five-star rating. Mountain Pointe wide receiver Jalen Brown, Desert Mountain wide receiver Mark Andrews, Mountain Pointe offensive lineman Natrell Curtis, Chaparral wide receiver Tyler Whiley and Hamilton defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham are among seven in-state players listed as four-star recruits.
All told, there are 38 East Valley seniors who boast Division I scholarship offers with nearly six months to go before Signing Day.
“It’s the best-case scenario,” said Brandon Huffman, the West region football analyst for Scout.com. “Especially in states that aren’t Florida, Texas or California, you either have elite talent or depth. Arizona has both this year.”
All summer, it seemed like a new, under-the-radar player popped up with a notable commitment.
Perry tight end/defensive lineman Lane Veach reclassified two years ago and missed much of 2012 with a wrist injury, but performed so well at camps that he drew the eye of college recruiters and verbally committed to Stanford.
Desert Vista defensive lineman Jalen Jelks had a modest 39 tackles and four sacks a season ago, but racked up 13 scholarship offers before choosing Oregon on July 22.
Andrews and Allen both received offers from defending national champion Alabama, but in an even better illustration of the talent in the class, so, too, did Chaparral tight end Trevor Wood, ranked as the 10th-best player in the state.
“When’s the last time you saw more than one kid from Arizona being offered by Alabama?” said Matt Guida, Queen Creek’s star running back who has offers from four Division I school. “That shows you we’re coming up.”
Allen verbally committed to Texas A&M in June, following Tyler Bruggman (Washington State, 2013), Connor Brewer (Texas, 2012) and Brett Hundley (UCLA, 2011) as premier Arizona quarterbacks to pledge to major colleges in recent years.
In past seasons, though, only one signal-caller from the state went on to a BCS school. This year, Allen’s commitment was followed by Saguaro’s Luke Rubenzer, who chose Cal.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I feel like the Arizona high school coaches do a really good job of promoting other schools’ players,” Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said. “(Desert Mountain coach Tony) Tabor was great. He would say, ‘Hey, you might not have a shot at Kyle, but there is a really good quarterback right down the street at Saguaro.’”
While this is a special year in Arizona, it also seems like the start of a trend.
Huffman believes Arizona has surpassed Washington and Utah as the West Coast’s second-most plentiful state to find recruits, trailing only California.
Coaches seem to agree, as Division I programs have sent a swarm of assistants down to monitor players. It’s leading to more opportunities for the local athletes, which is a much different scenario than Queen Creek coach Joe Germaine faced when he left high school here in 1993.
The former star quarterback for Mountain View was lightly recruited despite setting school records and ended up at Scottsdale Community College. After one year there, he made it to Ohio State and eventually the NFL.
“It seemed like back then (players) didn’t have the opportunity they’re having now,” Germaine said. “I think it’s great to see. It’s deserved.”
The abundance of talent should make for a fantastic football season. Hamilton, the preseason favorite in Division I, has eight starters with at least one Division I offer. Mountain Pointe, Chaparral, Chandler and Saguaro are also loaded with multiple Division I recruits.
It’s always a mixed bag after high school, but perhaps there is a player or two destined to be a college or pro star, like a Hundley or Terrell Suggs.
With the way this class is stacking up, maybe there are five.
“It’s really cool to say Terrell Suggs went to a school 15 minutes away from your house,” Rubenzer said. “It’s really cool when you see their bio and they’re from Chandler or Scottsdale.
“We’re all pushing each other and we’re all supporting each other. We’re trying to put our names on TV on Sundays, or at least on Saturdays. Everyone has those big aspirations, and they’re coming true. Dreams are coming true.”