In short order, Drake Dabney has become one of the Arizona Wildcats’ biggest fans.
The Cypress Ranch High School tight end has been enraptured by the team’s 4-1 start.
“I love watching them go out and win games,” said Dabney, a three-star recruit and the 30th-ranked tight end in the country. “I’ve been out to a lot of games. I talked to (UA assistant coach Jeremy) Springer after the first game, and I went and watched them beat Texas Tech. They’ve got things rolling. If they beat Washington, it’s a big statement.”
With the Wildcats off to a great start, a new offense in which he thrives and a verbal commitment under his belt, Dabney is having one heck of a 2019.
The 6-foot-6-inch, 230-pound Dabney has spread his wings in new head coach Sean McAuliffe’s spread offense. This, after primarily featuring as a blocking tight end in former head coach Gene Johnson’s ground-and-pound game.
Last year as a junior, Dabney might have had six catches. Maybe eight? Either way, he was not the second coming of Kellen Winslow — even if the Mustangs finished 11-1.
This year, Dabney leads Cypress Ranch — located in the Houston suburb of Cypress — in all receiving categories. Through six games, he has 19 catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns.
“We still try to keep our values in place, but it’s a lot different style of coaching — in a positive way,” Dabney said. “We’ve opened up the offense this year. It’s allowed me, at least, to show some things.”
Things Arizona coaches saw long ago.
Dabney started generating some buzz the summer before his junior season. He went to a camp at Louisville and went home with an offer, and, he said, “Once you get one, they keep rolling.” Things started to heat up for Dabney after his junior season; he now sports more than two dozen offers.
One is above the rest.
Arizona came calling in January, when Springer, the UA’s special teams coordinator, first visited. Dabney got an offer from the Wildcats on Jan. 23, and TCU, South Carolina, Cal and Oklahoma State would soon follow. Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone soon arrived, and Dabney visited Tucson for the first time for Arizona’s spring game.
“Spring game for me was a big part of it,” he said. “I was able to go early and they showed me how they did things and I talked to Coach Sumlin. It just felt right. I went on a lot of visits, and Arizona was different for me.”
In June, on his official visit, Dabney committed.
“It was several things for me,” he said. “How they need me in the offense, the education side of things — I want to go into business, and Arizona has a great business school — and the atmosphere, when I went to the game, everything was great.”
Arizona is not out of the woods quite yet.
“There’s a certain group of schools that continuously call and text,” Dabney said. “There are some schools who are trying to get me to flip, but I tell them I’m confident with Arizona. They usually respect that. Nothing has changed.”
The Wildcats, of course, are still showing the love.
“Arizona is definitely in that group,” he said. “Leading up to spring game, they made it seem like they needed me. They needed a tight end, and they wanted that tight end to be me. They’re making me feel like a need and not a want.”