In July 2011, Arizona was heading into what would be the final year with Mike Stoops at the helm. The Wildcats finished the season with a 4-8 record and hired Rich Rodriguez a few weeks after the season ended.
Just two short seasons later and the Wildcats are back on the rise. Nothing may be able to represent the progress that the Arizona program has made with Rodriguez at the helm than the decision of Kahlil McKenzie on Thursday afternoon.
McKenzie, one of the top recruits in the country is down to just two schools, Arizona and Tennessee. While Tennessee has been considered the front runner, due to his family's connections to the school and area, the recruit has made it very clear that the Wildcats are still in the picture.
The defensive lineman has been serious about Arizona ever since visiting campus in the spring. He came away impressed with the facilities, the town, and most of all, the coaching staff.
It was a trip that he raved about and something he cited when cutting his list down to just the Wildcats and the Volunteers.
During the Rich Rodriguez rra in Tucson, recruiting has become a cornerstone for the coaches, reaching far and wide to find the perfect pieces for the program. The stars didn't flock to the desert upon his arrival, but the steady and relentless work being put in from the entirety of the coaching staff has started to catch the eyes of some of the bigger targets in the country.
In Rodriguez's first few months, the new coach almost reeled in one of the state's best players in Davonte' Neal. Despite having just a few short weeks to bond with Neal, the Arizona staff was in the final two with Notre Dame as signing day neared. Neal signed with the Fighting Irish, but has since transferred into the Arizona program.
A year later, Rodriguez was able to get one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the country (Anu Solomon), a shifty running back (Pierre Cormier), and a hard hitting cornerback (Derek Babiash) to sign with the school.
The third recruiting cycle was Arizona's best yet and could have been one of the best in recent Wildcat memory if not for a few cards falling in the wrong directions.
The coaches had already snagged some of the better recruits on the West Coast and were hungry for more.
The Wildcats signed Jamardre Cobb, Marcus Griffin, Nick Wilson, and Cameron Denson, but were unable to hold on to two big name cornerbacks (Jalen Tabor and Naijiel Hale), despite having picked up commitments from both.
The fourth cycle is upon us now and the Wildcats are again one of the finalists for a top recruit, with McKenzie having the potential to be the best commit in Arizona history.
If McKenzie chooses to be a Wildcat, he would be turning down his family's legacy at Tennessee, but would be able to start his own in Tucson. He could easily help recruit other top recruits, such as Torrance Gibson, to join him.
If McKenzie chooses to become a Volunteer, it would not shock the world, but it may be heartbreaking for the Wildcats, who have yet to reel in a player of the defensive lineman's caliber, despite being so close, so many times.
Even if he doesn't choose Arizona, the future is continuing to look bright for the Wildcats. With one of the top offensive linemen on the West Coast, Keenan Walker, already aboard, it should come with no surprise to see more and more top recruits looking towards Tucson as a collegiate destination.
The Wildcats are trending up with Rich Rod and his crew at the helm. They just need that one big recruiting win to get over the hump.
Could it be Kahlil McKenzie?