TUCSON, AZ – A full week removed from Early National Signing Day, Arizona Football's 2024 roster is beginning to take shape.
20 players put pen to paper and made it official that they will be suiting up in Arizona Football uniforms in the 2024 season. The large crop of freshmen is paired with a few other additions via the NCAA Transfer Portal. It's high time to take a look at who could see playing time next season and make an impact in their first year as Wildcats.
Four impact freshmen
4-star running back Jordan Washington is the freshman most likely to make a big impact and see a ton of time on the field. The fact of the matter is that a good team can never have enough talent and depth at the running back position. With Michael Wiley testing the NFL Draft waters after the Alamo Bowl, D.J. Williams running out of eligibility, and Stevie Rocker entering the transfer portal, there is room for Washington.
He will join a backfield led by 2024 juniors Jonah Williams and Rayshon "Speedy" Luke. Washington, who posted 1,600 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns in his senior season, is also a track athlete and runs a 10.31-second 100-meter dash. In football terms, this means he can clear 100 yards (from a dead stop) in around 10 seconds and should be a home-run hitter if he can clear the second level of the defense.
3-star JUCO transfer portal recruit Bryce Butler played his freshman year at Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kansas. In nine games, the 6 foot 5, 295-pound defensive lineman racked up five sacks, 13.5 TFLs, and 31 tackles. He would come to Arizona with three remaining years of eligibility and a redshirt to burn.
With the impending loss of standout defensive end Taylor Upshaw after the season, and transfers Tyler Manoa and Sio Nofoagatoto'a exhausting their final years of eligibility, there is an opening along the starting defensive line for Butler. Butler would bring a massive run-stopping presence into the middle of the line and Wildcat fans can expect to see him on the field a lot in 2024.
4-star quarterback Demond Williams Jr. out of Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, elected to stay home and opted to play for the better Arizona-based FBS team. Despite Noah Fifita being firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback going forward, Williams will be competing with Brayden Dorman, last offseason's 4-star quarterback recruit, for the backup position.
If Williams wins the backup role, he will surely be used in special packages (as seen with Jayden de Laura in the 2023 season) and take the field in blowouts to gain valuable in-game reps. It's always good to keep a talented quarterback room with a healthy level of competition, and the local star with over 10,000 career passing yards in high school is a fantastic way to keep the competition.
Two-way stud and a 3-to-4-star recruit, the 6 foot 4, 205-pound Dylan Tapley signed with Arizona as a wide receiver. He will bring another large presence into a room that already boasts the 6 foot 5 Tetairoa McMillan and 6 foot 4 Jackson Holman, AJ Jones, Deric English, and Rex Haynes. With Jacob Cowing headed to the NFL after the Alamo Bowl and tight end Tanner McLachlan using all of his eligibility, there will be an opening for two more bigger-bodied pass catchers to see an increased workload. It may be hard to crack the lineup initially, with the staff wanting to see how the highly-regarded Jones develops, but he will make his name known as the season goes along.
Tapley, who was being recruited as an athlete, chose the Wildcats over a plethora of other great programs including Oregon, ASU, Kansas, K-State, and the upstart New Mexico State, among others. He posted 1,141 yards and 17 touchdowns in his junior season and notched 16 picks over his high school career. He could very well find his way into the lineup with a more rotating cast of characters set to occupy the WR3 spot in 2024.
Three transfer portal pickups
Cornerback Jordan Shaw was thrust into a more important role for Indiana back in November. In the game against Penn State, Shaw replaced starting nickel corner Noah Pierre in the DB-blitz package in a third-and-4 situation. At the snap, Shaw burst off the edge and took out Penn State quarterback Drew Allar's legs as he released the ball. Though the "sack" didn't count and Allar was flagged for intentional grounding, Shaw sent his message (and notched a half-sack in the game eventually).
This play may have put his name on the radar of other college coaches, and Arizona was lucky enough to secure his services. With the impending loss of versatile nickel- and dime-cornerback Martell Irby, having Shaw in the secondary with the pass rush abilities in his tool belt will give him an opportunity in Arizona's notorious "dime package". Shaw will join the Wildcats with four remaining years of eligibility remaining.
Chubba Ma'ae, a 6 foot 2, 347-pound defensive tackle out of FCS-level UC Davis, will bring a massive presence to the Wildcats' interior d-line for his final year of college ball. For many of the same reasons that Butler will see playing time, Davis will also likely crack the starting lineup. With Nofoagatoto'a and Manoa vacating two starting spots along the middle of the line, there will be room for both of them.
He played in four seasons over three years, including both a spring and a fall season in 2021 to account for the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Over that time, he amassed three All-Big Sky Conference nominations: third team in 2022 and second team in spring 2021 and 2023. In 36 games as an Aggie, he has notched 59 total tackles, eight TFLs, two sacks, a pair of fumble recoveries, and a blocked extra point. Expect to see Ma'ae on the field clogging up the middle often in 2024 for the Wildcats.
Very reminiscent of landing Bill Norton last offseason from Georgia in the transfer portal, Jedd Fisch and his staff have dipped back into SEC recruiting. Freshman safety Jack Luttrell didn't see any game action in 2023 thanks to an extremely packed DB room. However, having SEC-level talent on the Arizona roster is never something to complain about.
He may be hard-pressed to beat out starting safeties Gunner Maldonado and Dalton Johnson for any big-time snaps early on, but he could work his way into other packages with Arizona senior DBs Martell Irby and Dylan Wyatt moving on after the season after both being in the college ranks since 2018. Luttrell will join the Wildcats with a full four seasons of eligibility left to play.