The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 56 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.
Special teams have that name because they should be special from the clutch field goal to the blocked punt.
In recent years, such exploits have been too few and far in between for Arizona.
That’s most evident in the Wildcats’ dwindling number of blocked kicks (against the punt or field goal), a staple of success for Larry Smith mostly and Dick Tomey to a degree.
In Arizona’s first 10 years in the Pac-10 (1978-1987), the Wildcats registered 32 blocked kicks, 21 of them under Smith from 1980-1986. In the next 10 years (1988-1997), that number declined slightly to 27, all under Tomey. In the following 10 years, from 1998-2007, the number shrank to 18.
From 2008 to last season, the number of blocked kicks has reduced drastically to only six. None of the Wildcats recorded a blocked kick in Rich Rodriguez’s first season last year. Rodriguez did not employ a coach who specifically coordinated the special teams like Smith had with Bobby April, who is now in his 13th season as a special-teams coordinator in the NFL.
Rodriguez changed that direction by assigning former Scottsdale Chaparral High School coach Charlie Ragle to guide the tight ends and special teams this season.
Special teams require the kind of importance in which Smith and April preached to the Wildcats. The total number of punts, kickoffs, field-goal attempts and extra-point tries last year totaled 221 for the Wildcats. That’s 221 snaps or kicks with the ball in live action in which a special play can take place. Over a 12-game schedule, that’s 18.4 situations a game in which a special-teams player could have put the UA in a position to win.
Overall, the special-teams units during Arizona’s Pac-10/12 existence have been productive, especially with punters, place-kickers and return specialists.
Eleven different Arizona punters have merited first-team, second-team or honorable-mention all-conference selections. The number is eight for place-kickers and nine for return specialists or all-purpose standouts.
The elite in these areas are Steve McLaughlin (Arizona’s lone first-team selection as a place-kicker), punter Josh Miller (who helped the Desert Swarm defense by placing the opposition deep in their own territory) and all-purpose threat Chuck Levy (one of the Wildcats’ most versatile players in the history of the program).
Armon Williams, a linebacker who was part of the Desert Swarm defense, was also a two-time All-Pac-10 selection as a special-teams player. He earned the honor for his pursuit of returners.
All four of these players — who have qualified for this site’s All-Time All-Pac-10/12 Team — played under Tomey.
John Mackovic, Arizona’s coach from 2001-03, produced only two special-teams standouts: All-conference special-teams selection Ray Wells in 2002 and second-team return-specialist Bobby Wade in the same season.
Mike Stoops, who coached from 2004-11, had two first-team punters with Nick Folk in 2006 and Keenyn Crier in 2007, and two first-team return specialists with Syndric Steptoe in 2006 Mike Thomas in 2008.
Arizona’s significant production of quality special-teams performers under Smith and Tomey caused some big names to be left off of the all-time team on this site.
Max Zendejas was clutch with a couple of wins over ASU and this historic victory at Notre Dame in 1982. Doug Pfaff was Mr. Reliable with the memorable game-winning kick against Oklahoma in 1989. Neither Zendejas or Pfaff were selected to the All-Pac-10 first team.
Some of Arizona’s most gifted athletes were top-notch returners including Wade, Steptoe, Thomas, David Adams, Dennis Northcutt and Michael Bates.
Levy stands apart because he not only was a dangerous returner, he was an elusive running back who could also take snaps as a quarterback.
The best No. 56 to wear the Arizona jersey, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino is defensive tackle Joe Salave’a (1994-97). After playing in the NFL, he returned to Arizona to coach the defensive line in 2011. He was hired by Washington State’s Mike Leach for the same capacity last season.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.