Arizona Wildcats have good history with true freshmen



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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 13 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.

UCLA's Brett Hundley Jr., son of a former Arizona football player, passed for more than 3,000 yards as a redshirt freshman last year

UCLA’s Brett Hundley Jr., son of a former Arizona football player, passed for more than 3,000 yards as a redshirt freshman last year

To redshirt or not to redshirt, that is the question.

Ask Rick Neuheisel if he should have played Brett Hundley Jr. as a true freshman at UCLA in 2011 instead of wasting a redshirt year on the blooming prospect. That decision is one reason why Neuheisel is out of coaching. He stuck with the talent-strapped Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince at quarterback instead of playing Hundley, a five-star recruit out of Phoenix.

Neuheisel, now an analyst for Sirius/XM, mentioned last year on the air that he should have went with Hundley.

Cal coach Sonny Dykes, Arizona’s former offensive coordinator under Mike Stoops made headlines yesterday by naming true freshman Jared Goff as the starting quarterback with the Bears’ season opener still two weeks away.

Dykes made a similar move at Louisiana Tech, starting true freshman Nick Isham in the Bulldogs’ first seven games in 2011. When Isham became injured, Dykes replaced him with junior Colby Cameron, who proceeded to win 15 of 16 regular-season games.

“We obviously didn’t make a very good decision,” Dykes was quoted as saying about Isham three weeks ago by the Bay Area News Group.

Isham is now one of Arizona’s possibilities in its muddled quarterback competition. He transferred to the UA as a non-scholarship player last season.

TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, a longtime UA football beat reporter and AP Top 25 voter, knows a decent quarterback when he sees one. He mentioned Isham today as a possibility as Arizona’s quarterback along with senior B.J. Denker, junior Jesse Scroggins and redshirt freshman Javelle Allen.

Not one word about true freshman Anu Solomon, the talk of Tucson when he signed in February.

Sports Illustrated rated Solomon, who hails from the football factory at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School, as the No. 1 quarterback recruit who will make an instant impact this season. He went 57-3 with four state titles as Gorman’s quarterback.

Despite all of that, Arizona may not get a glimpse of Solomon until 2014. If Solomon redshirts, will that backfire on Rodriguez similar to Neuheisel’s decision to sit Hundley in favor of unproven quarterbacks? Or will it be a sound move, something Dykes obviously wishes he did with Isham after the Bulldogs (8-5 in 2011) started 3-4 with Isham at quarterback?

Tom Tunnicliffe became a starter midway through his freshman year of 1980 and led the Wildcats to an upset over No. 2 UCLA

Tom Tunnicliffe became a starter midway through his freshman year of 1980 and led the Wildcats to an upset over No. 2 UCLA

Coaches are faced with this dilemma each season after the hype of February’s signing period has died down six months later in fall camp: Is it better for the player and program to utilize a redshirt season?

Signing a recruit has evolved into a national television event on ESPN and other networks. The kid is worshiped as the next Herschel Walker or Adrian Peterson, who earned All-American honors as true freshmen. Only two others — Marshall Faulk and Sammy Watkins — have emerged as true freshmen All-Americans in the history of the sport.

Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman last season, but he did so as a redshirt freshman. It paid off on the field for Manziel to sit as a true freshman at Texas A&M and mature into the talent he displayed a year ago. Maturity off the field is another matter.

Arizona has a history of playing true freshmen quarterbacks, including Tom Tunnicliffe (1980) and Willie Tuitama (2005) in the Pac-10/12 era. They became late-season starters, abandoning their potential redshirt status, after others struggled. Time will tell if Solomon is put in the same situation.

Whereas starting a true freshman at quarterback is a risky proposition, rookies are necessary plug-ins at other positions with brute force required.

Arizona started nine true freshmen last year, including linebacker C.J. Dozier, who led the UA’s defense with season-high 15 tackles in the New Mexico Bowl victory over Nevada. Arizona has 19 players on its roster who lettered as true freshmen, 14 of them on defense.

The Wildcats will add to that number this year with linebackers Derrick Turituri, Scooby Wright and DeAndre’ Miller standing out the most. Rodriguez is also high on true freshmen slot receivers Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant.

The best true freshmen in Arizona football history, in my opinion, played in the same year, 1980 — Tunnicliffe and linebacker great Ricky Hunley. Tunnicliffe quarterbacked Arizona over No. 2 UCLA that season. He engineered two 80-yard drives and completed two touchdown passes.

Hunley talked about that game with FoxSportsArizona.com writer Steve Rivera after he addressed the Wildcats yesterday.

“It’s like I tell the freshmen: ‘Don’t be in awe because they’ve been here.’,” Hunley told Rivera. “I came here as a true freshman and was scared as (expletive) and way down on the depth chart. But I worked my way up, and by the (middle) of the year, I had to start against the No. 2 team in the country — and we beat their ass.”

Hunley started every game thereafter and became Arizona’s career tackling leader with 566.

All-purpose threat Mike Thomas deserves consideration as the only conference freshman of the year selection for the Wildcats. The receiver/returner earned that honor in 2005 as a true freshman. The award did not start, however, until 1999.

The best Arizona player to wear No. 13, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, is placekicker Max Zendejas (1982-85). He made 13 field goals of at least 50 yards and beat Notre Dame and Arizona State (twice) with late-game kicks.


Last year, this site and TucsonCitizen.com ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December, which landed as No. 38 on the list. Note, after clicking on the link, you will notice last year’s ranking. The list on this page is the current ranking.

No. 13: Arizona blows 20-point lead and shot at the Rose Bowl with 1993 collapse at California

No. 14: UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1

No. 15: L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental

No. 16: UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season

No. 17: Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus

No. 18: Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968

No. 19: Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie

No. 20: Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter

No. 21: Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure

No. 22: Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil

No. 23: Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football

No. 24: UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach

No. 25: Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma

No. 26: UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch

No. 27: Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU

No. 28: UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats

No. 29: Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era

No. 30: Arizona’s win on last-second FG over ASU ends Frank Kush’s dominance in the series

No. 31: Arizona reaches its zenith under Mike Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl

No. 32: Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run

No. 33: Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts

No. 34: ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight

No. 35: Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game

No. 36: Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU

No. 37: USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson

No. 38: Arizona Wildcats’ comeback against Nevada No. 38 in Top 50 games list

No. 39: Arizona shows signs of life under Mike Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA

No. 40: Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns

No. 41: Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time

No. 42: Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU

No. 43: Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA

No. 44: Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics

No. 45: Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally

No. 46: Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason

No. 47: “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish

No. 48: Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech

No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State

No. 50: Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal

Dropped out: Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians

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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.


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